Ph.D. Student to Attend Humanities Without Walls Consortium

This summer, second-year Writing, Rhetoric, and American Cultures Ph.D. student Kenlea Peebles will attend the Humanities Without Walls Consortium in Chicago, which aims to create pathways for collaboration, research, teaching, and scholarship in the humanities.

The consortium is open to graduate and doctoral students as well as faculty and encourages them to think of themselves as agents of the public humanities and showcases opportunities beyond the walls of the academy.

Peebles’ time at the consortium will help her see where her research lies outside of academia and allow her to network with some of the leading minds in the humanities. She will participate in the pre-doctoral workshop.

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Kenlea Peebles


“I see the workshop as an application of the study of the humanities beyond academia. Since the academy is a construct of the world beyond it, it cannot fully represent all of the world,” Peebles said. “In that same sense, the human experience is also bound by the academy and looking beyond the academic lens broadens our scope of how the humanities can be applied to the world.”

This year, Humanities Without Walls has an environmental humanities focus, with the theme: “The Work of the Humanities in a Changing Climate.” The focus is perfect for Peebles who has an interest in the environment, water, and how humans interact with both.

"I apply cultural rhetorics and linguistic frameworks to research how different American cultures, such as Native American and immigrant communities, and languages intersect with science and legislation around water-based issues,” Peebles said.

I see the workshop as an application of the study of the humanities beyond academia.

Peebles, who is of Cherokee, German, and English descent whose family is from the Mississippi River region and who grew up in and around Detroit among first- and second-generation immigrants. While she has lived most of her life in Michigan, she also has lived in Germany and Japan, which allowed her to experience living in two other cultures, on two other continents, and speaking two other languages. These experiences helped shape who she is as a person, teacher, and researcher.

“My life experiences helped me understand the diversity of American communities, and I want to serve these communities in ways that are productive, safe, and healthy,” Peebles said. “I come from Michigan, where 20% of the world’s and more than 90% of North America’s fresh surface water is held in the Great Lakes basins and where there is often a preconceived notion that water is an infinite, renewable resource. Recently, this understanding of water has been challenged as we try to keep our environment in balance with the need to maintain vital, clean, potable water for ourselves and our communities while sustaining the beauty of the Great Lakes region we call home.”

This is what her study in language and water is based on.

”This understanding of the water around us is difficult to express fully and completely in English (where water is limited as a resource to be negotiated and owned). Many Native, Indigenous, and Asian languages express an understanding of water as a living entity, a force that does things, and has the ability to do things of its own accord,” Pebbles said. “Because of this difference, I am interested in looking at the rhetorical and linguistic expressions of water as we see a shift in perceptions of what water is and how we understand it in Western cultures and languages.”

My life experiences helped me understand the diversity of American communities, and I want to serve these communities in ways that are productive, safe, and healthy.

Peebles’ work focuses on how to better structure, communicate, and convey different understandings of what water is as negotiated between different understandings and perspectives between how communities and their members are affected by legislation, how policies are influenced by organizations [like the Great Lakes Commission and the Sigurd Olsen Environmental Institute], and how communities and agencies influence legislation and policies around water-based issues.

By attending the consortium, Peebles hopes to look more closely at the rhetoric of water in the triangulation of science, legislation, and community, and exploring areas outside of academia for her work to be used.

“I believe water research is an area that is becoming more prevalent, pertinent, and necessary around the globe,” Peebles said, “and being able to bridge between academia and al-ac fields will be useful and needed to have strong outreach.”