Faculty

Prof. Sianne Ngai to Address Relationship Between Aesthetic Judgments, Capitalism in Humanities Day Keynote

Sianne Ngai

An original literary scholar, Sianne Ngai has centered her work on unspooling the social and political histories that form the aesthetic judgments of novels, movies and photographs, as well as the lesser art forms of show tunes, YouTube videos, rubber duckies, stainless-steel banana peelers and emojis.

The author of three serious, philosophically dense books with deceivingly innocent titles, “Theory of the Gimmick: Aesthetic Judgment and Capitalist Form” (2020), “Our Aesthetic Categories: Zany, Cute, Interesting” (2012), and “Ugly Feelings” (2005), she taps into American’s ordinary use of language to uncover political complexity and ambivalence.

Gaming Islam

Featured image is courtesy of Inkle Studios/Heaven's Vault.

The protagonist of Inkle Studio’s science-fiction adventure game Heaven’s Vault is an archaeologist by the name of Aliya Elasra who was born on the planet of Elboreth in a faraway nebula. Her name is Arabic, she wears a headscarf, and her planet looks a lot like the old quarter of an Arab Middle Eastern city. But Aliya is not Muslim and neither Islam nor any other earthly religion features in the game.

One of the central characters in Infinity Ward’s first-person shooter Call of Duty: Modern Warfare is Farah Ahmed Karim, the commander of a liberation force battling the Russian occupation of her homeland. Karim’s name is also Arabic. The chemical attack on her city, her torture in prison, even the furnishings in her family home look like they were lifted from portrayals of the Syrian war. But Karim comes from Urzikstan, a fictional Caucasus country bordering the Black Sea whose name is probably a mashup of Uzbekistan and Kyrgyzstan, neither of which have sizable Arab populations.

What do video game characters like Aliya Elasra and Farah Karim teach us about the representation of Islam and Muslims in video games and the entertainment industry more broadly? Two professors at the University of Chicago, Alireza Doostdar (Divinity School) and Ghenwa Hayek (NELC), have embarked on a collaborative multimedia initiative sponsored by the Martin Marty Center to explore these questions.

September 18, 2023

Summer Program Expands Humanistic Research

Sam Remondi researches the Taschenbücher Collection in the University’s Special Collections

The College Summer Institute in the Arts, Humanities, and Social Sciences (CSI) provides UChicago undergraduate students with a research community and mentors like what their science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM) peers experience in the laboratory. In 2023, CSI paired 23 undergraduates with faculty research mentors for its immersive nine-week summer research program. The students presented a wide range of research projects during a celebratory closing symposium on Aug. 17, 2023.

“When I started my work with the CSI this summer, I had already conducted a fair bit of research at UChicago, though never related to the field of Assyriology,” said Sarah M. Ware,  a rising fourth-year student majoring in Classics and Medieval Studies. During the summer, she worked with a team of Assyriologists at the Institute for the Study of Ancient Cultures (ISAC), conducting research in preparation for their upcoming exhibition Back to School in Babylonia, which opens on Sept. 21.

“I had the rare opportunity of stepping completely outside my field and examining how those at the top of their field of Assyriology use text, media, and research archives, both differently from and similar to how I use them,” Ware said.

NEH Recognizes Three UChicago Humanities Scholars

New NEH Grants

Allyson Nadia Field is writing a transformative book about Black love in early American cinema, while Steven Rings is analyzing Bob Dylan’s overlooked musical sound. Through translation, Judith Zeitlin is capturing the literary merit of nearly 500 ghost tales written by a renowned Chinese author.

For their work, the National Endowment for the Humanities selected Field and Rings as the first Public Scholar recipients at UChicago’s Division of the Humanities to each receive $60,000 grants and Zeitlin and collaborators at the University of Wisconsin, Madison, to obtain a Scholarly Editions and Translations award of $298,954.

“These three humanities scholars are undertaking work that reverberates outside of academic circles and will enrich broader audiences,” said Deborah L. Nelson, dean of the Division of the Humanities and the Helen B. and Frank L. Sulzberger Professor of English Language and Literature and the College at UChicago.

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