University of Virginia, College and Graduate School of Arts and Sciences

Public Humanities Lab


Communities build tools to solve individual problems, but scholars build tools to solve communities’ problems. PocketHinman, a pocket version of a Hinman Collator, aims to help individual scholars understand how texts vary. It’s a tool that they can use at home, in a library, or anywhere they want to study. Because the idea of blink comparison undergirds the design, the app has many more applications than the original aims.


Public Humanities Lab Projects 2019/2020

The current projects that members of the Public Humanities Lab are involved in are:

Rotunda Planetarium -

Rotunda Planetarium revisits Thomas Jefferson’s inaugural vision for the UVA Rotunda through an array of digital projectors that will transform the Rotunda’s dome room (UVa’s architectural centerpiece and a UNESCO world heritage site) into a vast enlightenment planetarium. A paired exhibition, “Rotunda Planetarium: Science & Learning in the University of Virginia’s First Library,” will display books, instruments, specimens, and artifacts from the Rotunda’s early history. (Primary Investigators - Neal Curtis and Madeline Zehnder)

Books UnBound  -

The Books UnBound Working Group explores the reading practices that characterize our constantly-evolving relationship with print culture and digital media. Reading is not merely a matter of text comprehension but rather, as Jean-Luc Nancy observed, an activity that can lead to “everything else, to what is sometimes called action and sometimes experience” (2009, 42). This working group examines the intersections between reading and action, where “action” is understood broadly to include activism, pedagogy, performance and the formation of networks of care. We also examine how communities--in Charlottesville and beyond--have mobilized the production, consumption and distribution of print materials to cope in times of crisis. To this end, we are launching a website that explores radical and free reading spaces through photo essays, interviews, blog posts and videos. If you are interested in participating or contributing to the project, please contact (Primary Investigators - Mathilda Shepard and Dipsikha Thakur​)

Transitional Justice 

Transitional justice focuses on ways of moving from the present to increasing just states of affairs. The goal of our project is to establish a community-driven reading group that explores this issue at various levels. We are currently exploring ways of developing the necessary infrastructure to make this possible. (Primary Investigators - Dana Moyer and Jeffrey Carroll)

Imagining Just Cities

The Imagining Just Cities Research Group is focused on delving into the opportunities that cities provide as structures for equity and inclusion through both physical and social systems.  Centered on spaces of incarceration, local government, and neighborhoods, the group strives to consider how new voices can be heard and more transparent/accountable processes designed in order to realize cities that are truly the production of their broader communities.  To accomplish this the group will be pursuing divergent, but similar projects to uncover these opportunities. (Primary Investigators - Ciara Horne, Savannah Morrison and Matthew Slaats)

The Public Humanities Lab Members 2019/2020


Madeline Zehnder - Madeline is a PhD candidate in the University of Virginia’s Department of English, where I focus on writing of the 18th- and 19th-century Americas, aesthetics, material culture, and book history. My dissertation project examines relationships between people and portable objects in nineteenth-century literature and material culture, and has received support from several fellowships, including the Stephen Botein Fellowship at the American Antiquarian Society and the Anthony N.B. and Beatrice Garvan Fellowship in American Material Culture at the Library Company of Philadelphia 

Mathilda Shepard - Mathilda Shepard is a PhD student in the Department of Spanish, Italian and Portuguese. Her dissertation examines cultural responses to the Colombian conflict in the post-Cold War period, mapping emergent forms of ‘life politics’ that have taken shape in grassroots cultural production as artists, activists and intellectuals attempt to imagine alternatives to militarized social life. Her general research interests include anti-war movements, collaborative cultural production, ecological thought and the aesthetics of resistance in the global south. (

Dipsikha Thakur - Dipsikha Thakur is a fourth-year PhD student at the Department of English at the University of Virginia. Her dissertation focuses on the production of national borders as sites of terror in literary and cultural texts. She focuses specifically on the twenty-first century global anglophone novel to examine this particular mode of cultural production and its consequences for migration and migrant justice.

Jeff Carroll - Jeff Carroll is a PhD student in philosophy at the University of Virginia. His research interests include social and political philosophy, philosophy of law, and PPE (politics, philosophy, and economics) with a special focus on how to theorize about justice. Jeff earned an MA in philosophy from Georgia State University and a BA in philosophy and political science from The Ohio State University. (

Dana Moyer - Dana is a PhD student at the University of Virginia Department of Politics. I received my MA in Political Science from Villanova University and BA in Government & Law and Spanish from Lafayette College. Her research agenda focuses on political violence in developing countries, particularly Latin America, in both authoritarian and democratic regimes. (

Matthew Slaats - Matthew Slaats is a PhD student in the University of Virginia School of Architecture in the department of Urban Planning.  His research focuses on contemporary forms of urban social transformation and community decision making that lead to community capacity building and strengthening the practice of democracy. The particular interest of his research centers on the ways that the international municipalist movement is imagining alternative economic and political systems outside of European, Western logics. 

Ciara Horne - Ciara Horne is a second-year Systems Engineering Ph.D. student in Dr. Devin Harris' MOBLab and Dr. Leidy Klotz's Behavioral Science for Sustainable Systems program. She is currently researching how to use machine learning and data science to detect and quantify urban decay in U.S. cities. This work will be used to indicate inequalities in civil infrastructure and social systems so that cities can equitably address issues that disproportionately affect marginalized communities. 


IHGC Graduate Student Public Humanities Lab’s end-of-semester event | Thursday, April 25. 

At 3:30 pm, we will host an open conversation on strategies for creating mutually engaging partnerships between universities and communities. We welcome interested parties with any range of experience and/or interest in public humanities, community activism and advocacy, open access, alt ac, digital humanities, community building, and the arts to attend and share your experiences with us. This discussion will be held in Wilson 142.

After this discussion, from 5:00pm-6:30 pm we will celebrate the end of the semester with an informal reception in the lobby on the first floor of Wilson Hall. There will be plenty of refreshments, as well as the opportunity to learn a little bit about what the lab has been up to this year.


Women’s Self-Defense Training Workshop

Please join Professor Lisa Speidel for a Women's Self-Defense Training Workshop on Wednesday, May 1 from 5 pm - 6:30 pm. The program will focus on issues concerning acquaintance assault and practicing hands on techniques to thwart various kinds of assault. The workshop will be held in Memorial Gym (MEM Multi Purpose Room 1).

Professor Speidel is affiliated with UVA’s department of Women, Gender, and Sexuality Studies, the Maxine Plazter Lynn Women’s Center, and the Sexual Assault and Resource Agency. This workshop is hosted by the Feminism is For Everybody reading group and the IHGC’s Public Humanities Lab. 

Spaces are limited, so please contact Samantha Wallace ( to reserve your spot. 



Call for Proposals: IHGC Graduate Student Public Humanities Lab

The Institute of the Humanities & Global Cultures (IHGC) Graduate Student Public Humanities Lab warmly invites applications for our 2019-2020 cohort.

The Graduate Student Public Humanities Lab is an interdisciplinary, graduate student-led collective within the IHGC at the University of Virginia that aims to develop collaboration among academic departments, encourage partnerships with communities in Charlottesville and beyond, and generate lively discussion, research, and advocacy initiatives (

Each year, the lab is made up of new working groups, pitched by a new cohort. The working groups receive funding to pursue a research or advocacy initiative on Grounds. The two primary investigators of each working group are also Core Members of the Lab and are expected to attend monthly meetings and participate in the lab’s long term strategic planning. You can read about our 2018-2019 working groups here.

Those interested in proposing a working group for 2019-2020 are welcome to attend an open house from 12pm-1pm on Tuesday, March 19 in Wilson 117 to learn more about the lab and speak with current members.

Proposals must include the names and departments of the two primary investigators, a description of the potential project of no more than 2 pages, and a budget breakdown based on a potential grant of $2,000. We are particularly interested in projects co-lead by graduate students from different departments or that cross disciplinary boundaries. To apply, please send an application to Justin Greenlee or Kelli Shermeyer by April 1.


The Graduate Student Public Humanities Lab is ​an interdisciplinary, graduate student-led initiative within the IHGC, which aims to develop collaboration among departments, to address specific issues in working groups dedicated to these topics, and to provide a common space for scholars and the wider community to generate lively discussion, research, and advocacy initiatives over the course of the coming year. Eight core members from across the University of Virginia compose the Public Humanities Lab, and lead the lab’s four working groups as principal investigators.

Working Groups, 2018-2019

Circulating Spaces Season 2, Podcast Series: In the Fall of 2018, Circulating Spaces launches its second season, titled “The Global Reach of Public Media.” Episodes will explore developments between literature and new media, online publishing, and migrant writers. The second season animates the concept of the “living humanities” through its focus on contemporary, alternative modes of artistic production, as well as the transformation of literature across media. For more information, please visit the Circulating Spaces website at To subscribe to the podcast on iTunes, visit

Primary Investigators:
Ankita Chakrabarti
Christian Howard

Feminism Reading Group: Drawing on Sara Ahmed’s Living A Feminist Life, which argues that “feminist theory is generated from everyday life and the ordinary experiences of being a feminist at home and at work” and borrowing its name from bell hooks, the Public Humanities Lab’s “Feminism Is For Everybody” reading group will consider what it means to live/practice feminism(s) in ordinary life. How can feminist concepts of living be rendered as an approach to what public humanities could be? We return to canonical feminist texts that focus on feminism as lived experience. We aim to re-explore “the personal is political” within the current political and social climate. Texts include Sister Outsider, Audre Lorde; Feminism is for Everybody, bell hooks; The Handmaid’s Tale, Margaret Atwood; The House on Mango Street, Sandra Cisneros; This Is How You Lose Her, Junot Díaz; and excerpts from The Second Sex, Simone de Beauvoir and Borderlands/La Frontera: The New Mestiza, Gloria E. Anzaldúa.

Primary Investigators:
Astrid Lorena Ochoa Campo
Samantha Wallace

Juxtaposition as Inquiry: Traditional bibliography has long recognized the effectiveness of juxtaposition as a technique for doing historical research. Putting dispersed materials together to recreate a particular moment in history is fundamental to the approach of descriptive bibliography and putting technical knowledge together with materials from different times is as fundamental to analytical bibliography. This group will examine ways of doing and demonstrating this technique of juxtaposition for wider audiences. Building on the virtual shelf browsing technology of the Rotunda Library Online and the collation technology of PocketHinman, we will further develop both of these approaches while considering how the core technique of juxtaposition operates in both and can be further generalized for a wider audience. In both cases, our effort will be focused on enhancing the particular while understanding them as part of a larger, more general, approach to the study of the history of texts.

Primary Investigators:
James Ascher
Sam Lemley

Art in Public: The group builds upon our work last year on the collection of racially and politically charged objects in order to explore the everyday encounters with history and historiography found in public and touristic spaces through two separate, though intertwined interventions: one activist-oriented, one research-oriented, both committed to dismantling white supremacy. This year we launch an activist effort called The Monuments Working Group @ UVA which seeks to intervene in the ongoing debates about the statues to Confederate figures found on Richmond’s Monument Avenue through petition and a planned action coinciding with the Monument Avenue 10k race on April 13, 2019. Please see the below call for participants for more information on how to get involved with this project. We also aim to examine the ways that practices surrounding living history – such as open air museums, historical re-enactments, plantation tourism, and revisionary cosplay – collide with other material traces of the past. Though these activities are often criticized for their romanticism, nationalism, or kitsch, we recognize that they are a significant part of the “living humanities,” serving as formative sites of encounter between people and the contested narratives and affective domains of our histories. Programming for this year will include a site visit to a significant Living History museum with a discussion about museum theatre and interpretation to follow (more information forthcoming). Please email Kelli Shermeyer ( for more information on this project.

Primary Investigators:
Justin Greenlee
Kelli Shermeyer