Dead Disciplines

That the university is a reflection of capital’s current manifestations, the state’s current investments, and the elite’s current disposition is an idea well articulated by its greatest critics: Fred Moten, Stefano Harney, Davarian Baldwin, and others. The churn of these fickle investments requires an endless fashioning and refashioning of the university’s component structures - its disciplines, departments, and dependent scholars. Disciplines branch, rebrand, and fade into obsolescence, and even those professing their antiquity must be made New every generation or two.


Yet the effacement of old and superseded theories need not imply an absolute disappearance. Indeed, the fossil record of the university requires that each member of its present ecology engage with the scholarship of fields long past, departments effaced and traditions nullified. These “Dead Disciplines” lend explanatory force to the intellectual history of the academy’s present: Said ushered in the death of self-declared “Orientalists”, as Chomsky did for Whorfianism. The humanities provide an especially abundant archive for the examination of these disciplinary pasts in relation to our scholarly moment. 


The project of this reading group will be to take under consideration five instances of disciplinary death – philology & comparative literature, Oriental & area studies, vitalism, theology, and race science & eugenics – and posit their potential afterlives. Rather than accept these eulogized epistemes to be presumptively dead, this reading group will hold the methods and commitments of these one-time fields to be alive and instead attend to the departmental rebrandings which reincarnate a dead discipline. Each session will bring together coupled monographs which take up death and rebirth, respectively, as well as optional readings intended to flesh out the disciplinary landscape. By attracting participants from across several disciplinary formations in the humanities, we hope to trouble received genealogies, interrogate sharp periodizing “turns,” and prompt untimely engagements with humanities past.

Fall schedule of meetings at 2:00pm
Location: TBD

September 12

September 26

October 10

October 24

November 7

November 21

December 5


Spring TBD