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Organizing Fellows: Kevin Rozario (American Studies) & Michael Thurston (English Language and Literature)

In the Underworlds of mythology, ritual, and poetry, and in Undergrounds of subterranean space (sewers, subways, cellars) and oppositional or avant-garde movements, things occur that are interesting and important. Both Underworlds and Undergrounds have existed for thousands of years in religious mythologies, in literary narratives and folk tales, and in political cultures, as well as in the interpretation and use of subterranean spaces, both natural and built.

The creation of Underworlds into which characters descend and the use of Undergrounds in which revolutions are hatched have held meaning across wide spans of geographical and cultural space, and in every historical period. Some might look to Odysseus invoking the shade of the prophet Tiresias from the Underworld at the inaugural moment of the European literary tradition, while others see groups devoted to subversive ideas finding refuge in the catacombs under Rome in the first century BC; while still others pursue Gilgamesh into an Underworld, or trace Mao Tse-tung to caves in the mountains of China, where he harbors his revolutionary forces; or follows the Underground Railroad leading slaves to freedom; or examines Bohemia as a distinctive kind of creative space; or investigates the effects "blogging" on mainstream politics and journalism.

The substantive areas of research that might be pursued within this framework are almost unlimited, and the organizers hope to bring together scholars from the broadest range of fields to pose a wide array of questions about that which goes on under the surfaces, in undergrounds and underworlds. Why have such spaces exerted such power over our imaginations? What are the material and symbolic functions of underground spaces, in urban development, in economic organization, and in social relationships? How does the presence of an underground shape how we inhabit and experience space above ground, whether physical or conceptual? To what extent might such spaces liberate us from the rules and constraints of the dominant and normative order above ground? Indeed, how have undergrounds and underworlds, as places and as metaphors, formed, deformed, and transformed the world we inhabit?

The organizers view this project as enabling the broadest possible intellectual engagement, and so as long as the eyes of scholars are focused downward, under the surface, toward undergrounds and underworlds, a rich variety of perspectives, methodologies, and areas of research interest are encouraged.


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