Past Events

Tuesday, October 2, 11:30-1 pm, Stevenson 417
“Design of Research Tools based on Semiotics and Visual Resources”
Professor Dora Ivonne Alvarez Tamayo, University of Puebla

A general design process model could include key stages as analytical, strategic, productive and evaluative. The design of research instruments from a semiotic perspective allows analyzing the configuration of the semantic fields considering the opportunity to integrate visual resources and research techniques to access the mind of consumers/users/interpreters in a non-invasive way.  The theme will be discussed from the marketing semiotic approach in the search to favor decision-making processes. There is a natural link between marketing and semiotics: the interest in consumer/interpreter knowledge.

Marketing semiotics is based on theories, principles, and techniques, which allow understanding the meaning processes, and getting information on consumers behavior, their contexts, and the influence factors through the analysis of their symbolic and belief system.  The design of research instruments based on semiotics and visual resources starts from on the premise: if the strategist knows the code structure around a concept it is possible to define a discursive strategy highly effective. From this perspective, semiotics has been taken as the primary focus for the development of diagnosis, research and evaluation tools. Despite semiotic-based research tools show information that other instruments cannot offer, it is recommended to combine them with other data collection tools (qualitative or quantitative) to strengthen analysis results.

Friday, October 19, 12:30-2 pm, Stevenson 417
“The Question of Race in Personalized Medicine: An Analysis of the (Mis)Use of Racial Categories in Pharmacogenomic Research”
Eve Polley, PhD student, Department of Comparative Humanities

Personalized medicine is a global, multibillion-dollar industry which operates on the claims that it is possible and beneficial to develop pharmaceuticals tailored to individuals’ genetic profiles. It is thought by many to be the future of medicine. I argue that the claims of—and high hopes for—personalized medicine are problematic in at least three ways. Firstly, pharmacogeneticists, those who work in the field of study and employ the research methodology which results in the development of personalized medicines, both historically and contemporarily, have utilized non-empirically-derived racial categories in order to organize and interpret their data. Secondly, with regards to distribution practices (who these medicines are developed for, and who pragmatically has access to them), the practice of personalized medicine, especially in places where healthcare is based in the private sector such as the United States, has as an inherent component the tendency to result in the development of medicines for those groups which are already among the best-served by the medical profession. Thirdly, the practice of personalized medicine appears to narrow the field of vision of its proponents to the microcosmic level of DNA alone, causing them to underestimate or not even value the profound effects of environmental and social factors on the health of marginalized individuals and groups.

To defend the first portion of this thesis, I look to those who have analyzed the practice of personalized medicine on a laboratory-level, particularly how its researchers handle questions of racial categorization, and how this potentially affects the conclusions of their research (e.g. Duana Fullwiley, 2007, 2008, 2014, 2015, and others). Specifically, I argue that many research methodologies and practices reify a biological or genetic conception and definition of race which is scientifically and philosophically invalid. To defend the second portion of this thesis, I look to those who have analyzed the practice of personalized medicine from an economic perspective, who have written on patterns in the types of drugs that tend to be produced, and to whom they are prescribed (e.g. Ernst R. Berndt and Mark R. Trusheim, 2017, and others).  To defend the third portion of this thesis, which is based on my own research, I analyze the public writings and interviews of a number of high-profile proponents of personalized medicine, and attempt to demonstrate the manner in which their approaches de-emphasize or do not take into account the innumerable macrocosmic (non-genetic) factors that affect health, especially among those who live and work in environments which are far from ideal for fostering human health. This research does not claim to be exhaustive, and it is ongoing. In conclusion I argue that the problems brought out by this analysis call into question the practice of personalized medicine as a whole, both in terms of its scientific validity and social value.

Friday, November 30, 12:30-2 pm, Stevenson 417
“Black Affirmations and Ironies of Progress in Joel Christian Gill’s Strange Fruit
Dr. Karen Chandler, Department of English

In Strange Fruit: Uncelebrated Narratives from Black History, graphic artist Joel Christian Gill seems to avoid the tendency of much historical writing for young readers to align protagonists with what Sara Schwebel calls “the narrative of progress we tell that disguises continued inequalities and ongoing resentment and distrust.” On the one hand, the graphic biographical sketches in Strange Fruitoften provide unsettling visions of the past that discourage complacency and prompt questions about the possibilities of justice for black persons within U.S. society. On the other hand, Gill relies on dominant cultural myths of masculine individualism and exceptionalism that are hallmarks of stories about making progress and fulfilling the American dream. In this paper, I concentrate on these contradictions as they appear in Gill’s chapter on the Henry Box Brown, paying special attention to its use of irony, stereotype, and repetition.

September 2018

Friday, September 14, 12:30-1:30 pm, Stevenson 417
“Automatic Speech Recognition for Endangered Languages”
Dr. Hilaria Cruz, Department of Comparative Humanities

Automatic Speech Recognition (ASR) is a fascinating and burgeoning technology that has near limitless potential. What used to be considered science fiction, the ability to speak in natural language and have a computer recognize and act, is now commonplace. It has entered our homes in the form of Alexa, Siri and OK Google. But this technology has been limited to major, dominant languages such as English, German, and Spanish. Major companies developing tools for automatic speech recognition in major languages are not interested in developing these technologies for languages with a small number of speakers arguing lack of profitability.

The rapid development of ASR technologies, especially the deployment of neural networks, could help expedite transcription, translation, and linguistic annotation in endangered languages. More data in a language can increase its linguistic research, revival, and promotion. Before this can be achieved there are many technological and methodological hurdles that must be overcome in order to fully harness these technologies for lesser-studied languages.

April 2018

Talking Black in America, screening and Q&A with executive producer Dr. Walt Wolfram, NC State. This screening is sponsored by the Henry Heuser Endowed Chair in Urban Partnerships. View clips from the film here.

March 2018

I Dream in Another Language (Sueno en Otro Idoma), screening and post-screening discussion with Dr. Hilaria Cruz

Mark your calendars for an exciting (FREE) film opportunity showing at the Speed Cinema, March 28th, 6-8 pm. directed by Ernesto Contreras:
This film “raises philosophical questions about what is lost when a language – and by extension, our elder’s memory – is allowed to fade away unpreserved.” – Peter Debruge, Variety
There will be an introduction and post-screening discussion led by Dr. Hilaria Cruz, Neukom Postdoctoral Fellow, Dartmouth College and Assistant Professor of Comparative Humanities, University of Louisville. Part of a two-day symposium on Borders, Territoriality, and Citizenship in the Americas. For more information contact Christine Ehrick (History Department) at

March 2018

Dr. Michèle Foster, Henry Heuser Endowed Chair in Urban Education Partnerships

Getting To Know You: Identities, Relationships and Perspectives in Undergraduate Student Journals

In a general education course taught, in which undergraduate students spent part of the course working with pupils in an urban public school, Dr. Foster asked the undergrads to keep a weekly journal in which they answered 3 questions: What did you learn about yourself? What did you learn about your students?  What did you learn about teaching? Dr. Foster wants to understand how urban public-school students are being characterized by the undergraduates. What messages do the students intend to convey about the public-school pupils? Specifically, what identity or identities are the undergraduates enacting and what identities are they attributing to the pupils? What sort of relationships are the undergraduate seeking to enact with the pupils and others they encounter in the public-school setting? And what perspectives are their texts communicating about what is “normal,” “right,” “good,” “correct,” “proper,” “appropriate,” “valuable,” “the ways things are,” “the way things ought to be,” “high status or low status,” “like me or not like me,”? (Gee, 1999).

February 2018

Dr. Mark Sulzer (University of Cincinnati), Secondary Education and Literacy and Language Studies

Introducing Critical Comparative Content Analysis: A Method for Looking Across Texts and Audiences

How are social constructs textually represented differently to different audiences? This (discussion-based) presentation will offer a rationale for why this question is important, introduce some possible methods for addressing it, and offer detailed examples from various projects involving young adult literature, specifically critical comparative content analyses (CCCA) of “youth adaptions.” The presentation is meant to give all participants space to engage in dialogue and try out CCCA methods for themselves.

January 2018

Dr. Deborah Lutz, English Dept
George Eliot’s Paratexts

Lutz will discuss George Eliot’s notebooks that she analyzed last summer. George Eliot kept journals, notebooks, and diaries almost obsessively. Here she copied excerpts from her reading (called “commonplacing”), which she then used in writing her novels. Impressions of her foreign travel, records of what she was reading and eating, and accounts of the important events of her life filled these books. As nineteenth-century material objects with pockets, attached pencils, clasps, pasted-in additions, pages sewn together, inserted flowers, and more, these volumes are interesting in and of themselves.

In this talk, we will look at pictures of these volumes and discuss what sorts of ideas or conclusions can be drawn from them. For instance: what role did research play in the writing of Middlemarch and her other novels? In what way did these notebooks contribute to her writing projects? What arguments can be made about them as objects?

November 2017

Jenny Snyder, Comparative Humanities (Linguistics)
(Re)Constructing Asian American Identity Through Stand-Up Comedy 

The data Snyder analyzed includes a short video excerpt of a 2012 performance by stand-up comedian Ali Wong, as well as comments that viewers left in response to this video on YouTube (video link here: Snyder transcribed over five minutes of the six minute clip, which showed Wong using a variety of linguistic choices. In this workshop, we will go over the linguistic choices and discuss the Asian stereotypes that Wong uses in her performance, and whether such use of stereotypes authenticate or deauthenticate Wong’s Asian American identity. Additionally, looking at the YouTube comments will reveal a pattern that shows the intersection of race and gender.

October 2017

Sabrina D’Souza, Speech Language Pathology, School of Medicine
“Motherese” in English, Spanish, and English as a Second Language (ESL)

In this data analysis workshop, D’Souza will share some of their data collection and analysis on “Motherese” in Spanish and ESL speakers and whether “Motherese” has an effect on child language learning. Since the 1960s, researchers have studied how mothers talk to their babies and children. The high pitch, short repetitive phrases characterize what is known as “Motherese”. Little research has looked at “Motherese” in Spanish, let alone English as a Second Language. Therefore, in this experiment, we study audio-visual recordings of Latin-American immigrant mothers, as they talk and play with their children, while speaking in Spanish and ESL. We then compare the data with that of USA-born, native English speaking mothers.

September 2017

Steven Skaggs, Hite Art Institute, Fine Arts
Semiotics and Visual Communication

In this workshop, Skaggs will present an overview of how semiotics can aid in critique of art and design. Along with discussion on their recently published book FireSigns: A Semiotic Theory for Graphic Design (MIT Press).

April 2017

Lisa Björkman, Urban and Public Affairs

Discussion on anthropologist Webb Keane’s new book “Ethical Life: Its Natural and Social Histories”

We will be focusing on chapters 2 and 5. Chapter two discusses the ethical dimensions of establishing a shared sense of reality through interaction. Chapter five provides a case study of how such processes resulted in lasting moral systems through examining the history of feminist consciousness-raising. 

March 2017

Lisa Wagner, Spanish

Mapping Louisville’s Linguistic Landscape: A Pedagogical Tool for L2 Teaching and Learning”

This workshop focuses on second-language (L2) pedagogical applications of linguistic landscape theory using bilingual English Spanish commercial signage. Specifically, we will apply Sebba’s (2012) multi-modal analysis of code-mixing, along with key concepts from visual linguists Gorter (2006), Backhaus (2007) and Shohamy, Ben-Raphael, and Barni (2010) to the analysis of commercial signage from Albuquerque, NM. The purpose of this hands-on session is to pedagogically gauge the amount and type of theoretical background and guided practice students enrolled in the Spanish 490 Capstone course will need to successfully engage in the collection and analysis of an original English Spanish linguistic landscape data set from their local community of Louisville, KY.

February 2017

Karl Swinehart, Comparative Humanities (Linguistics)

“Andino Futurism, Tupak Katari in Space, and Decolonial Time in Bolivia’s Pacha Kuti”

Debates about cultural practices in Bolivia have increasingly unfolded around questions of which practices are deemed essentially indigenous or essentially Western, with many corners of Indigenous Bolivia calling for decolonization and the reestablishment of indigenous cultural hegemony. This paper examines cases in which the construal of time (through calendars, clocks, and notions of the past and future) is depicted as essentially Indigenous to the Andes or a colonial import from the West and, thus, a target for reform. Advancing competing construals of time has become one feature of contemporary state led political interventions, from reorienting clock faces on public buildings to run from right to left, to reconciling the Gregorian calendar with the solar, agricultural, Aymara one, to replacing Spanish-loan words for the days of the week with neologisms, to framing the launching of a telecommunications satellite as the reconstitution of prehispanic astronomical science. Across these cases we encounter a semiotic ideology of andinofuturism that identifies the prehispanic Andean past as a source for technological and social advance. This ideology draws on salient differences between the timespace semantics Indo-European and Andean languages: 1) the linking of front space with past time and anterior space with the futurity and 2) a unified concept of ‘spacetime’ or ‘pacha,’ a term that has become popularized through the widespread use of ‘Pacha Kuti,’ or ‘the turning over of spacetime,’ to refer to what in other contexts might be called “revolution.”

January 2017

Dr. Kathryn Whitmore and Dr. James Chisholm, Education & Human Development 

Research Methods to Understand Middle Grades Readers’ Semiotic Awareness

In this interactive workshop, we will invite participants to engage with research methods we created to understand how middle grades readers learned about the Holocaust and Anne Frank’s diary through the arts. In our multi-year study, we employed digital photographic and videographic techniques to freeze multimodal co-constructions of texts. We will invite participants to build on our arts-based research methods that seek to disrupt standardized and verbal evaluation instruments that dominate and limit what teachers can know about what and how students can learn. 

The following paper provides additional background on the arts-based methods that they will explore during the workshop: Chisholm, J. S., & Whitmore, K. F. (2016). Bodies in space/bodies in motion/bodies in character: Adolescents bear witness to Anne Frank. International Journal of Education & the Arts, 17(5). Available at

December 2016

Margath Walker, Geography
Towards a Marcusean Conceptualization of Fortification

This paper proposes that bordering mechanisms do their work through geographic displacement, the production of one-dimensionality and techno-rationalism.  These latter two terms are drawn from Herbert Marcuse’s writings which sought to understand the dissolution of critical rationality and the stifling of revolutionary subjectivity in advanced industrial capitalism. To illustrate, I focus on contemporary efforts of fortification along Mexico’s borders in various stages of implementation. Bolstered by quantification,  and the use of statistics and categorization,  policies and practices of securitization articulated through US security agendas (both domestic and exported) represent a mode of organizing and perpetuating spatial relationships promulgating boundaries of thought and action devoid of few real challenges.

November 2016

Briel Kobak, Anthropology (University of Chicago)
Straight Whisky, and the Producer/Consumer it Protects

Straight, rectified, or blended: such were the options for labeling whiskey sold in the U.S. after the passage of three legislative acts between 1897 and 1911. These statutes served to regulate the production, distribution, and sale of various comestibles, drugs, and medicine on a federal level. By considering the role of one particular distiller, this analysis attempts to consider the intricacies and overlaps of business and regulatory bodies in the realm of comestibles as a both a foil and mirror to distilling practices today.

October 2016

Rachel Gramer, English, Rhetoric and Composition
The Stories We Learn to Tell: New Teachers’ Narratives of Identity

How do new writing teachers write and tell stories that reveal and shape their identities?This workshop presents a dissertation chapter work-in-progress in two parts: (1) a brief talk on narrative as a methodology for studying newcomer identities, and (2) an interactive discussion of artifacts and stories collected during a year-long interview study with new writing teachers at UofL.

March 2016

Discourse & Semiotics Meet & Greet
Friday, March 25, 1-2 pm, Humanities 300
Come join the Discourse and Semiotics workshop for a meet-and-greet and discussion of directions for 2016-2017. Find out what others are working on in discourse and semiotics, discuss goals for the group in 2016-2017, and identity possible presenters (including people you’d like to bring in from other universities).

February 2016

“Eternal Praise to the Brave Warriors: Indeterminacies of Nationhood in Jesús De Machaca, Bolivia”

Presented by Dr. Karl Swinehart, Assistant Professor in Department of Comparative Humanities on February 26, 2016.

With the passage of its 2009 constitution, Bolivia declared itself a Plurinational State, recognizing 36 Indigenous nations within Bolivian territory and established Aymara, Quechua, and 34 other indigenous languages as co-official with Spanish. This paper considers Bolivian plurinationality through an examination of a civic ritual conducted only a year after the passage of the 2009 constitution – a public commemoration of the 1921 uprising and massacre of Aymara peasants in Jesús de Machaca, La Paz – focusing on the singing of the Bolivian national anthem in the Aymara language. Translated into indigenous languages now co-official with Spanish, the song’s lyrics challenge the principle of commensurability that translation presupposes. The anthem’s performance introduces new resonances to lyrics like “the clamor of war” and “brave warriors” and raises questions about how an Aymara nation is situated within the now plurinational republic: Is this a performance of “nested sovereignty,” an Aymara civic act within a now Plurinational Bolivian Republic? Or is it a case of “assimilation by analogy,” where previously oppositional emblems of Aymara alterity are incorporated within a performance of civic minded Bolivian nationalism?

January 2016

“She’s the artist one”: How learner identities mediate multimodal literacy activities

Presented by Dr. James Chisholm (Assistant Professor, Middle & Secondary Education) and Dr. Andrea Olinger (Assistant Professor, English) on January 29, 2016.

For the first meeting of UofL’s new discourse and semiotics workshop, James Chisholm and Andrea Olinger present their work-in-progress, a discourse analytic study that examines the construction of three high school students’ identities as particular types of learners (e.g., “visual artist”) and the ways these identities shape the multimodal texts they are producing together.

Recommended reading that informs their theoretical and methodological approach: Stanton Wortham’s “Socialization Beyond the Speech Event” (2005), Journal of Linguistic Anthropology 15(1), 95-112. Available for download at