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.