About the Humanities Lab

Our Mission

The Humanities Lab was founded in 2014, on the understanding that the humanities offer modes of investigation that facilitate an active critical engagement with the world, an engagement with texts, contexts and ideas that is lively, ongoing, experimental, and open-ended. By engaging with a diverse range of worldviews and with the active questions of both past and present, the humanities function as a cultural laboratory, as a site of interrogation and discovery.

We envision the Humanities Lab as a research hub that will organize and inspire new research activity on campus. Functioning as the coordinating entity for a diverse research agenda, the Humanities Lab will support new projects such as the Humanities Truck, function as an incubator for new ideas, enable new modes of community outreach, and create a dynamic web presence for the Humanities at American University and the Washington, DC, community.

Director: Despina Kakoudaki

Despina Kakoudaki is an associate professor in the department of Literature at American University in Washington, DC. She teaches interdisciplinary courses in literature and film, visual culture, and the history of technology and new media. Her interests include cultural studies, science fiction, apocalyptic narratives, and the representation of race and gender in literature and film.

She completed her doctorate in Comparative Literature at the University of California at Berkeley, and taught at Berkeley and at Harvard University before joining American University. She has published articles on robots and cyborgs, race and melodrama in action and disaster films, body transformation and technology in early film, the political role of the pin-up in World War II, and the representation of the archive in postmodern fiction.

As part of her ongoing research on narrative and melodrama, she co-edited All About Almodovar: A Passion for Cinema, a collection of essays on the work of Pedro Almodovar with Brad Epps (University of Minnesota Press, 2009). The volume includes a co-authored Introduction, and her own essay on melodrama and coincidence in Almodovar’s film Talk to Her (2002).

Professor Kakoudaki’s new book, titled Anatomy of a Robot: Literature, Cinema, and the Cultural Work of Artificial People, was published by Rutgers University Press in 2014. She received a fellowship from the National Endowment for this project, which traces the history and cultural function of constructed people and animated objects in literature and film.

Program Assistant: Hannah DeVito

Hannah DeVito is studying for her Master’s Degree in Literature, Culture, and Technology at American University in Washington DC. Her favorite books are Severance by Ling Ma and Fun Home: A Family Tragicomic by Alison Bechdel. Her academic research interests include global literature, cultural studies, and feminist theory. Hannah loves writing about representations of gender, sexuality, and identity in an interconnected technological world. She is also interested in disparities in tech and literary access as we transition to increasingly online formats.

Advisory Board

Naomi Baron

A former Guggenheim Fellow, Fulbright Fellow, and Visiting Scholar at the Stanford Center for Advanced Study in the Behavioral Sciences, Naomi Baron has published eight books. Always On: Language in an Online and Mobile World won the English-Speaking Union’s Duke of Edinburgh English Language Book Award for 2008. Her newest book, Words Onscreen: The Fate of Reading in a Digital World, appeared in 2015. Baron taught at Brown University, Emory University, and Southwestern University before coming to AU, where she has served in the College of Arts and Sciences as associate dean for undergraduate affairs, associate dean for curriculum and faculty development, chair of the Department of Language and Foreign Studies, and director of the TESOL Program. She was named University Honors Program Professor of the Year and received an AU Presidential Research Fellowship. Since 2011, she has been executive director of the Center for Teaching, Research, and Learning.

Kathleen Franz

Kathleen Franz’s research focuses on the cultural history of business and technology in the United States from the 1870s to the 1950s. Before joining the Smithsonian museum, she spent sixteen years as a history professor and director of public history programs, and is interested in the ways museums can inform our national conversations about contemporary issues. At the moment, she is collecting stories of Hispanic advertising and Spanish-language broadcasting in the U.S. from the 1960s to the 1990s. She is also laying the groundwork for a cultural biography of women in the ad industry before 1950.

Dan Kerr

Dan Kerr, the director of American University’s public history program, specializes in the fields of community history, oral history, and public history. The projects he has initiated, including the Cleveland Homeless Oral History Project, the Shenandoah Valley Oral History Project, and the Homeless Voices Amplification Cooperative in Washington, DC, have gained inspiration from the traditions of popular education, participatory action research, and people’s history. With each project, Kerr seeks to honor the “shared authority” inherent in the oral histories and documents generated throughout the research process. Kerr is currently working on a manuscript addressing the research he has conducted with the Cleveland Homeless Oral History Project and the Homeless Voices Amplification Cooperative. He has interviewed over 200 people experiencing homelessness and has facilitated dozens of workshops and meetings in the shelters, drop-in centers and parks of Cleveland, Ohio and Washington, DC. He addresses aspects of this work in his article, “We Know What the Problem Is,” in Oral History Review, Winter/Spring 2003.

Richard Sha

Professor Sha teaches courses in Nineteenth-Century Literature, especially British Romanticism, and in Asian American Literature. His new book, Imagination and Science in Romanticism, 1750-1850, is forthcoming from the Johns Hopkins University Press in 2018. His next book project is tentatively titled, Modelling Emotion in Romanticism, and will treat Voltaire, Goethe, Hume, Wordsworth, Mary Robinson, and Leopardi. The book examines the multiple models Romantic writers had for thinking about the emotions and their vexed relations to subjectivity. Professor Sha is also the author of Perverse Romanticism: Aesthetics and Sexuality in Britain, 1750-1832 (Johns Hopkins UP, 2009) and The Visual and Verbal Sketch in British Romanticism (Penn Press, 1998). He has won the University faculty Award for Excellence in Teaching in General Education (2002) and the award for Teaching Excellence (2004) bestowed by the University Undergraduate Student Confederation. In 2012, he was named AU’s “Scholar Teacher of the Year.”

Peter Starr

Peter Starr joined American University as Dean of the College of Arts and Sciences in July 2009. In this role, he is responsible for 324 full-time faculty in 17 departments, 1820 undergraduate majors, 979 graduate students and over 40% of all enrollments at AU. His primary goals for the College include recruiting and supporting a more research-active and diverse faculty, growing the College’s endowment, developing outstanding new curricula in a variety of fields, and building bridges to partner organizations in the District and around the globe. Before coming to AU, Dean Starr was a professor of French and Comparative Literature at the University of Southern California, where—except for a fellowship year at Harvard University—he had taught since 1985. In 2006-2007, he served as interim Dean of USC’s College of Letters, Arts, and Science, completing the College’s four year senior hiring initiative and raising a then-record amount toward the College’s $400M campaign goal.