622 Works

A Conversation with Carlo Rotella

John Plotz, Elizabeth Ferry & Carlo Rotella
Carlo Rotella of Boston College is author of six books, among them the amazing Good With Their Hands: Boxers, Bluesmen, and Other Characters from the Rust Belt (University of California Press, 2002) and most recently The World Is Always Coming to an End: Pulling Together and Apart in a Chicago Neighborhood (University of Chicago Press, 2019). What is he reading in the darkness? He starts by praising sagas, makes a case for stories of disagreeableness...

A Conversation with Paul Saint-Amour

John Plotz, Elizabeth Ferry & Paul Sain-Amour
Who better to talk about Dark Times than the author of an unforgettable scholarly book about the grimness of the interwar years, Tense Future? Paul Saint-Amour, Professor of English at University of Pennsylvania and author of various prizewinning books and brilliant articles, joins John to talk about realism, escapism and the glories of science fiction. Paul wonders if immersive reading is even possible during this terrible imminence. Can we really gaze at the dental work...

Laurence Ralph

John Plotz, Elizabeth Ferry & Laurence Ralph
In the third episode of our Global Policing series, Elizabeth and John speak with anthropologist Laurence Ralph about his 2020 book The Torture Letters: Reckoning with Police Violence. The book relates the decades-long history in which hundreds of people (mostly Black men) were tortured by the Chicago Police. Fascinatingly, it is framed as a series of open letters that explore the layers of silence and complicity that enabled torture and the activist movements that have...

De/Industrialization with Christine Walley

John Plotz, Christine Walley & Elizabeth Ferry
On a blustery fall morning, RTB welcomed Christine Walley, anthropologist and author of Exit Zero: Family and Class in Postindustrial Chicago. In the early 1980s Chris's father, along with thousands of other steel workers, lost his job when the mills in Southeastern Chicago closed. The book is part of a multimodal project, including the documentary film, Exit Zero: An Industrial Family Story, (with director Chris Boebel) and an NEH-funded digitization project of the Southeastern Chicago...

Leah Price on Children's Books

John Plotz, Elizabeth Ferry & Leah Price
What do children love most about books? Leaving their mark on inviting white spaces? Or that enchanting feeling when a book marks them as its own, taking them off to where the wild things are? To understand childhood reading past and present, Elizabeth and John talk with the illustrious and illuminating book historian Leah Price. They explore the tactile and textual properties of great children's books and debate adult fondness for juvenile literature. Leah asks...

A Conversation with David Plotz

John Plotz, Elizabeth Ferry & David Plotz
Aside from being John's (younger, brighter, handsomer-and definitely hirsuter) brother, what has the inimitable David Plotz done lately? Only hosted "The Slate Political Gabfest", written two books ("The Genius Factory" and "The Good Book") and run the amazing travel website, Atlas Obscura. So, what is he reading? The fully absorbing "other worlds" of Dickens and Mark Twain tempt David, but he goes another direction. He picks one book that shows humanity at its worst, heading...

Writing and Reading from Gilgamesh to Amazon

Elizabeth Ferry, Martin Puchner & John Plotz
Book Industry Month continues with a memory-lane voyage back to a beloved early RtB episode. This conversation with Martin Puchner about the very origins of writing struck us as perfect companion to Mark McGurl's wonderful insights (in RtB 67, published earlier this month) about the publishing industry's in 2021, or as Mark tells it, the era of "adult diaper baby love." Aside from being a fabulous conversation about Martin's wonderful history of book production through...

A Conversation with Stephen McCauley

John Plotz, Elizabeth Ferry & Stephen McCauley
On March 20th, John talked to Stephen McCauley, author of such brilliant comic novels as Object of My Affection (also a Jennifer Aniston movie) and most recently My Ex-Life. Steve brings light to dark corners in this the second installment of Books in Dark Times. He sings the praises of Charles Dickens, of Anthony Trollope (Elizabeth, offstage, chuckles delightedly) and the world-escaping delights of both Waugh's Brideshead Revisited and the Mapp and Lucia novels of...

Caleb Crain on Daisy Ashford's \"The Young Visiters\"

Caleb Crain & John Plotz
John's favorite avocation is editing a Public Books column called B-Side Books, where writers resurrect beloved but neglected books. Now comes a book that collects 40 of these columns (the Washington Post review was a big thumbs-up, and John talked about the B-side concept on Five Books). This week's B-Sider is celebrated American novelist Caleb Crain (Necessary Errors and Overthrow). When not photographing cowbirds and orioles for his brilliantly titled Steamboats are Ruining Everything, Caleb...

Introducing a New Podcast

John Plotz & Aarthi Vadde
Novel Dialogue: where unlikely conversation partners come together to discuss the making of novels and what to make of them. Join Aarthi Vadde, a scholar of contemporary literature and Victorianist John Plotz as they take a four-continent journey (ok, fine a virtual four-continent, Zoomish journey) to talk turkey with novelists and critics the world over. In fact, episode two takes place in Turkey, where Orhan Pamuk , in conversation with Bruce Robbins, reveals a hankering...

Stitching the Past to the Present

Corina Stan, John Plotz, Aarthi Vadde & Caryl Phillips
Caryl Phillips, professor of English at Yale, world-renowned and prize-winning novelist (from The Final Passage to 2018's A View of the Empire at Sunset) shares his thoughts on transplantation, on performance, on race, even on sports. Joining him here are John and the wonderful comparatist Corina Stan, educated in Romania, Germany, France and the US, author of The Art of Distances: Ethical Thinking in 20th century Literature. It's a rangy conversation. John begins by raving...

On Being Unmoored

John Plotz, Aarthi Vadde, Sarah Wasserman, Chang-rae Lee & Anne Anlin Cheng
Season three of Novel Dialogue launches in partnership with Public Books and introduces some fresh new voices into the mix. John and Aarthi welcome Chris Holmes, Emily Hyde, Tara Menon, and Sarah Wasserman into the ND pod as guest hosts. And have they brought a series of scintillating conversations with them! In our series premiere, Sarah sits down with acclaimed novelist Chang-rae Lee and Anne Anlin Cheng, renowned scholar of American literature and visual culture...

Helen Garner is Hacking at the Adverbs (Elizabeth McMahon, JP)

John Plotz, Aarthi Vadde, Helen Garner & Elizabeth McMahon
Helen Garner sits down with John and Elizabeth McMahon, a distinguished scholar of Australian literature. Helen's novels range from the anti-patriarchy exuberance of Monkey Grip (1977) to the heartbreaking mortality at the heart of The Spare Room (2008). She has also authored a slew of nonfiction, plus screenplays for Jane Campion's Two Friends and Gillian Armstrong's wonderfully Garneresque The Last Days of Chez Nous. After a reading from John's favorite, The Children's Bach, the trio...

Because I Couldn't Be a Dancer

John Plotz, Aarthi Vadde, Sigrid Nunez & Tara Menon
The brilliant New York writer Sigrid Nunez's most recent novel is What Are You Going Through; her previous one, The Friend, (2018) won the National Book Award. She speaks with Tara Menon, of the Harvard English department, and author of a terrific article about Sigrid Nunez in the Sewanee Review. The conversation ranges widely and then plunges into depths. Because life is defined by grief and mourning, so too are my novels, says Nunez. She...

The Sins of Our Ancestors: Conservative Evangelical Christianity and Cosmological Responses to Racial Division in Post-Apartheid South Africa

Douglas Bafford
This dissertation analyzes the efforts of South African conservative evangelical Christians to build multiracial congregations in the wake of apartheid histories of racial violence, division, and inequality. Drawing on sixteen months of ethnographic fieldwork conducted predominantly in Johannesburg, I trace their efforts to address the ongoing salience of race in everyday life through a theologically and socially conservative lens. I ask what semiotic and discursive techniques they employ—some of which emerge from Southern African history,...

The Journey to Diagnosis: Clinical Encounters Between People Living with hEDS and the Doctors Who Treat Them

Zoe Anna Pringle
Hypermobile Ehlers Danlos Syndrome (hEDS) is a subgroup of connective tissue disorders, characterized by widespread joint pain, frequent subluxations and dislocations,

Leaving Christianity: How Morality and Personal Autonomy is Leading Young Adults to Become Religiously Unaffiliated

Angela Rose Self
This senior thesis analyzes why young adults in the United States are disaffiliating with organized Christianity and becoming religiously unaffiliated. The rise of a morality that values personal autonomy along with the decline of religious participation is proposed to be one of the reasons as to why this phenomenon is occurring. As religious affiliation effects political views, this could have long lasting consequences for citizens in the United States.

Civil Tongues: Examining the Role of Language in Ethnic Group Mobilization for Violent Contestation

Maria Smerkovich
How does language as an ethnic trait affect group mobilization for contestation against the state? Are linguistic groups less likely to engage in violence, and if so, why? Existing studies have shown religious groups to be particularly conflict-prone, owing to characteristics that stem from their distinguishing trait. Their insights have implications for linguistic groups. Unlike religion, language is adaptable; it is additive rather than substitutive, and amenable to change, so that group boundaries are less...

Efficient Methods in Deep Learning Lifecycle: Representation, Prediction and Model Compression

Long Sha
The proliferation of digital technologies has led to an explosion in the number of large datasets available in the last few years, placing traditional machine learning approaches to data processing and modeling at a competitive disadvantage. Nevertheless, analyzing complex, high-dimensional, and noisy datasets can be a tremendous challenge. Deep learning, as part of a broader family of machine learning methods, has shown superior performance in dealing with such challenges in the past decade.

The Comedy of the Culture Wars: American Humor, Second Wave Feminism, and Gay Liberation, 1969-1989

Sascha Cohen
This dissertation examines how several genres of American comedy represented issues relating to the women’s and gay liberation movements during the 1970s and 1980s. Television comedy writers, cartoonists, and stand-up performers responded to feminism, changing gender roles, and the new visibility of gay men in multiple, sometimes contradictory ways. Humor from sitcoms and magazines helped Americans make sense of the liberation movements and adjust to social transformation, by bringing previously taboo, private topics into public...

Reconceptualizing Security: Clientelism and the Provision of Order in Lebanon

Kelly Alicia Stedem
This dissertation, Reconceptualizing Security: Clientelism and the Provision of Order in Lebanon, seeks to understand the logic of public goods provision by clientelistic political parties, or political parties that offer the conditional exchange of material goods or resources to voters for political support. It asks what explains the variation in the provision of security and local policing by political parties? Empirically, this project studies the variation in security provision across political parties in Lebanon in...

Picture Groups and Simple Minded Collections

Eric J. Hanson
The goal of this dissertation is to extend the theory of picture groups and picture spaces (as developed in works of Igusa, Todorov, and Weyman) to the class of τ-tilting finite alge- bras. In particular, we aim to generalize the result that the picture space has the structure of a K(π,1) (or Eilenberg MacLane space) for the picture group. In Chapter 1, we further explain this motivation, discuss the fundamentals of representation theory, and introduce...

The Effects of Civil Conflict on Child Exploitation and the Role of the International Community

Tamara Valeria Botteri
This thesis addresses how a civil conflict impacts reported incidents of child exploitation. I hypothesize that civil conflict increases the incidents of child exploitation in the state of the conflict and speculate that increased incidents of child victimization occur when the following conditions are present: 1) an increase in the number of non-state armed groups present in the conflict; 2) the insurgents’ ability to gain power within the geography they hold; 3) weakened state institutions...

Patrons of the State: Reciprocity, Belonging, and Life with Down syndrome in Denmark

Olivia Spalletta
In 2004, Denmark became one of the first countries in the world to extend free prenatal screening for Down syndrome to all pregnant women, regardless of age. The new guidelines were intended to shift Denmark from a “paradigm of prevention” of disabled births toward an era of autonomous, informed decision-making for pregnant women. Nearly two decades on, what is the impact of the guideline? Surprisingly, the rate of termination of fetuses diagnosed prenatally with Down...

Dynamics of Awake Hippocampal-Prefrontal Reactivation for Spatial Learning and Memory-Guided Decision Making

Justin Shin
Integrating episodic experiences to drive efficient behavior stems from the ability of the brain to encode and retrieve mnemonic representations of the surrounding environment. The capacity of an organism to maintain and flexibly manipulate these internal representations is crucial for adapting behavior to changing environmental conditions, and there are multiple brain regions that coordinate activity to facilitate the physiological processes that underlie the neural substrates that control behavior. Notably, the hippocampus and prefrontal cortex are...

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