On Being Human: Watershed Moments from Spring 2020

Needless to say, it has been a strange semester for the Watershed Collective. We’ve gone from a time that made sense, with ready responses and excitement to dive into thoughts and theory throughout this semester. To deny the way that the COVID19 crisis has shaped the Watershed Collective is to deny the very way it changes our world each and every day. We took unscheduled posting breaks in response to UNL’s closures, we cancelled the final of our HoTE speakers, and had to find new places where writing on critical theory and care could work together. History, it seems, to be the place where most Watershed members landed, with many of this semesters’ posts turning a critical eye to the history that shaped us into who we are. At the same time, other Watershed members took theoretical looks at modern media, bringing joy and light to ease the tension.

Whether moving through history or through joy, this semester, the Watershed Collective demonstrated what the humanities do best during times of crisis – think critically and deeply on the impacts this time will have on our world. Dr. Amy Monticello at Suffolk University offers:

“When large-scale events happen—a pandemic, a war, an economic depression—the humanities attempt to track their impact on our behavior, our institutions, our values, and our relationships to one another…We turn to books, historical studies, philosophical frameworks, and artistic expressions to locate our own and others’ experiences and find insights that help us make sense of what’s happening” (Monticello).

In making these moves, we find empathy and care; we find understanding of how history and media shape our lives; we find that work we should do during times of crisis is writing on what it means to be human.

Here are the ways that the Watershed Collective wrote on being human this semester.

Christy Hyman opened the semester with a historical look at the daily, social experiences that are the bread and butter of human life. In particular, Hyman focused of the social histories of African American working-class peoples in the early nineteenth century. These traces, or scrapings, of history demonstrate a fuller picture than casual history would have us know, demonstrating a more nuanced portrayal of human struggle and hope.

Bringing in a little joy, Zoe McDonald examined the queer feminist implications of popular show, Broad City, in Watershed’s next post. McDonald discussed the importance of the final scene, when the two lead characters are alone, validating and affirming the importance of their friendship. It’s a symbolic metaphor, McDonald argued, that symbolically opens up the possibility for other women to share their experiences of fun, goofy, complex female friendships.

Coming back for a second post, Zoe McDonald previewed and reviewed the first of our Humanities on the Edge Speakers for the Spring 2020 semester, Dr. Ariella Azoulay. McDonald discusses the framing of Azoulay’s work as a cross between art and history. This cross-disciplinary focus gives a nuanced portrayal of the harms imperialism has done to marginalized peoples. At the same time, creation of arts and writing is a way of imagining new experiences that undo imperialism.

Linda Pawlenty returned us to history to talk about the importance of storytelling on factory floors. Pawlenty shed light on working-class life, and the ways in which ‘el lectors’ were once a common attractive on factory floors, sharing art, literature, and news with people as they worked. Pawlenty argued that we need to give attention to these spaces, positing that culture isn’t just made at institutions but can be made anywhere, even on factory floors.

Next, Luke Folk previewed out second HoTE lecture for the semester, Dr.Sayak Valencia. Giving an overview of Valencia’s work with the term, ‘gore capitalism,’ Folk discussed that ways Valencia is interested in the way violence on the body (murder/torture) functions to signify power and generate wealth. This preview gave potential audience members an in-depth look at what to expect from the lecture.

Keshia Mcclantoc then gave the review for Dr. Sayak Valencia’s HoTE lecture, “"From Gore Capitalism to Snuff Politics: The Body as Mass Media." Mcclantoc reviewed the ways that Valencia demonstrated the many ways in which violence against the body, especially marginalized bodies, is so widely accepted as normalized reality. Valencia argued that we must resist letting our own bodies become victims to gore capitalism by refusing to reproduce images of violence and snuff politics.

Watershed then turned its eyes back to joy, with Sydney Baty discussing the unsexiness of the tv show, Sex Education. Here, Baty reviewed the way the show normalized sex, rather than romanticizing it, through the use of both teen and adult characters. This ‘unsexy’ approach, she argued, take sex more seriously than shows that try to make sex as sexy as possible, and in turn, makes sexual and reproductive health easier to understand and approach.

In the next post, Anne Nagel turned a critical eye to the crisis was that starting to effect the Watershed Collective and everything around us, discussing what ‘productivity’ can look like during a pandemic. In particular, Nagel focused on the visual and intellectual contexts of building puzzles, as practice that she argued has the ability to reflect our current times. Puzzles, she posited, can be both constructed and deconstructed. This process makes people slow down, it makes us pay attention to all the possibilities.

Finally, Watershed ended with a light post, with the Collective coming together to create a ‘Watershed Recommends’ post, which features blurbs about texts and theories the Collective has been reading up on.

Whether it was a critical arguments about the histories we should pay more attention to or fun examination of the tv shows we love, this semester, the Watershed Collective produced a body of work that demonstrated all the varied and many ways to be human in a time of crisis. In “Learning to Be Human,” Sophie Gilbert offers that “in difficult times, people inevitably turn to the humanities to try to understand adversity” (Gilbert). It’s what the Watershed Collective did this semester in response the crisis unraveling around us and it’s what many of us will have to do as we work our way through this time of unknowns.

Now, more than ever, the Watershed Collective urges you to take care of yourself. These are trying time, but we know that we can get through them.

As always, the Watershed team is grateful to the English Department at UNL and Dr. Marco Abel. I especially want to thank my wonderful partners in Watershed Administrative team, Adam Hubrig and Zoe McDonald. Watershed will return in Fall 2020 with a new collective made of members both new and old.

Works Cited

Gilbert, S. (2016, July 01). “Studying the Humanities Is Vital in the Information Age.” Retrieved April 18, 2020, from https://www.theatlantic.com/entertainment/archive/2016/06/learning-to-be-human/489659/

“The Humanities Respond to the Pandemic.” (2020). Retrieved April 18, 2020, from https://www.suffolk.edu/news-features/news/2020/04/10/14/13/the-humanities-respond-to-the-pandemic


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