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Elemental Readings I: Air

May 19, 2023 @ 1:00 pm - May 20, 2023 @ 5:00 pm

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A Luskin Endowment for Thought Leadership Conference, co-sponsored by the Departments of Classics and English, UCLA. May 19th – 20th, 2023.

Please register for this in-person only conference using the form above.

Organizers: Louise Hornby (English) & Alex Purves (Classics)

Keynote Speaker: John Durham Peters, María Rosa Menocal Professor of English and of Film & Media Studies, Yale University.

Confirmed Speakers/Participants

Shane Butler, Johns Hopkins University
Elizabeth DeLoughrey, UCLA
Katharine Earnshaw, University of Exeter
Louise Hornby, UCLA
Hsuan Hsu, UC Davis
Eleanor Kaufman, UCLA
Karla Nielson, Huntington Library
John Durham Peters, Yale University
Justine Pizzo, University of Southampton
Verity Platt, Cornell University
James Porter, UC Berkeley
Alex Purves, UCLA
Mario Telò, UC Berkeley
Ben Tran, Vanderbilt University
Victoria Wohl, University of Toronto
Dora Zhang, UC Berkeley

Recent work across a range of fields in the humanities and arts, as well as in environmental, media, and digital studies, has paid increasing attention to the role of the elements in shaping our experience and understanding of the world. This conference brings together scholars from a variety of disciplines who are seeking to redefine the role of air, atmosphere, and the weather in traditionally non-scientific media (predominantly poetry, writing, music, photography, and film). The topic invites discussion of the mutability of weather as an invisible ontology (and marker of climate change) as well as discussions of atmosphere (whose porous and unfinished nature embraces a broad range of entities, from modes of knowing and feeling, to the stuff we breathe, to outer space). In each of these cases, air’s mediating possibilities across fields, materials, and periods are especially rich for collaboration and the exchange of ideas.

Our conference seeks fruitful points of contact between two colleagues in English and Classics at UCLA, who both work on air and the elements, joining with scholars from media studies, art history, and environmental humanities, for a multifaceted discussion of a common object.

Please send any inquiries to purves@g.ucla.edu

Please note that the conference will be on-site only.


Friday, May 19th

1:20 Opening Remarks

Louise Hornby & Alex Purves, UCLA

1:30-3:30 Panel 1: Sentient Air

Hsuan Hsu, University of California, Davis, “Smellscape as Distributed Memory”

Victoria Wohl, University of Toronto, “Intelligent Air”

Response: Dora Zhang, University of California, Berkeley

3:30 Coffee Break  

4-5:30 Keynote

John Durham Peters, María Rosa Menocal Professor of English and of Film & Media Studies, Yale University

“On Sensing and not Sensing the Air and the Weather”


Saturday, May 20th

8:00 am coffee, tea & light refreshments

8:30-10:45 Panel 2: Meteorologies

Verity Platt, Cornell University, “Air in Unexpected Places: Foam, Breath, and Philostratus’ Truth in Painting”

Louise Hornby, UCLA, “Outside Air: Cloud Forms in the Work of Tacita Dean and Ali Smith”

Justine Pizzo, University of Southampton, “Character Studies and the Changing Climate of Victorian Realist Fiction”

Response: Karla Nielson, the Huntington Library

10:45 Coffee break

11-12.45 Panel 3: Violence in the Air

Ben Tran, Vanderbilt University, “Unburied Sound and the Atmosphere”

Mario Telò, University of California, Berkeley, “Achrony and Aeropolitics in Aulis”

Response: Liz DeLoughrey, UCLA

1-2 Lunch break

2- 4:15 Panel 4: Ambience

Eleanor Kaufman, UCLA, “Mudimbe’s Air in French Philosophy”

Katharine Earnshaw, University of Exeter, “Thought Bubbles and Feeling Blue (or, Micromeditations on affective Chromacities)

Shane Butler, Johns Hopkins University, “First Atmosphere: Ashes”

Response: Jim Porter, University of California, Berkeley

4:30-5 Closing Remarks

Louise Hornby & Alex Purves, UCLA



May 19, 2023 @ 1:00 pm
May 20, 2023 @ 5:00 pm
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Meyer and Renee Luskin Conference Center, UCLA
425 Westwood Plaza
Los Angeles, California 90095
View Venue Website


Department of Classics
View Organizer Website