Graduate Student Colloquium

poetics & politics of desert spaces

A graduate student colloquium
29 April, 2022, 9am–3pm


Doyle Calhoun and Walid Bouchakour (PhD Candidates in French)
Jill Jarvis (Faculty Advisor)


This interdisciplinary graduate-student colloquium will be the first event in the Desert Futures: Sahara conference— a three-day, international scholarly workshop and public symposium  at Yale University, 29 April  – 1 May, 2022. Presentations will explore the poetics and politics desert spaces across various disciplines, discourses (literary, historical, cartographic, (geo)political, social-scientific), and media (literature, orality, film, photography). How can we move beyond dominant frames of reference which continue to produce desert spaces—such as the Sahara, Sonoran, Shoshone, and Mojave deserts—as epistemological and cartographic blind-spots in ways that remain harnessed to colonial-era logics?

This colloquium was generously supported by the Dean’s Fund for Colloquia and Symposia


Nicola Angeli is a third-year graduate student in the Department of French who specializes in conceptions and configurations of urban and textual spaces in fin-de-siècle and early 20th-century French literature.

Katherine Ball is a habitat for fungi and bacteria located on planet Earth.Together, they practice the arts of living on a damaged planet. This has included: living in an off-grid floating island building mushroom filters to “clean” a polluted lake, bicycling across the USA looking for small-scale “solutions” to the climate crisis, and researching the sociopolitical climate of the Mojave Desert. Katherine has an MFA in Art and Social Practice from Portland State University. She is currently in the MEM program at the Yale School of the Environment.

Walid Bouchakour is a fourth-year  Ph.D. candidatein the Department of French at Yale. He is interested in contemporary North African literature and journalism. His dissertation, Beyond Emergency: The Aesthetics and Politics of Algerian Fiction since the 1990s, tracks the formal and generic evolutions of literature in relation to social and political upheavals.

Doyle Calhoun is a fifth-year Ph.D. candidate in the Department of French whose work focuses on French-language literature of West and North Africa and the Caribbean as well as Senegalese literature and film in French and Wolof. In Fall 2022, he will be starting as Assistant Professor of Postcolonial Francophone Studies at Trinity College.

Allegra Ayida is a first-year Ph.D. student in the Department of History, where she studies African history. As a Graduate Fellow in the Environmental Humanities at the Whitney Humanities Center, her current research focuses on different ‘modes’ of environment (air, water, earth, oil, etc.) in West Africa.

Madison Mainwaring is a fifth-year Ph.D. candidate in the Department of French. She is at work on her dissertation, provisionally titled Reclaiming the Silences of Dance: Women and Ballet in Nineteenth-Century France.

Taylor Rose is a fifth-year Ph.D. candidate in the Department of History. He studies US history and Native American history from the 1840s to the present with a particular focus on technology, law and political economy, the environment, and the West during the Cold War.

Colin Young is a Ph.D. candidate in the History of Art Department at Yale. He works on nineteenth- and twentieth-century American art and visual culture, with a particular focus on landscape painting in the Americas. His research interests include hemispheric studies, race and archive formation, and intermedia translation. His dissertation, Desert Places: The Visual Culture of the Prairies and Pampas across the Nineteenth Century, argues for the necessity of approaching the prairies and pampas as a shared cultural, political, and visual landscape in the nineteenth-century Americas. 


9:00am | Welcome and opening remarks
Doyle Calhoun & Walid Bouchakour

9:15am | Panel 1: Mojave // Shoshone
(Moderator: Francisco Robles)

  • Katherine Ball, (School of the Environment) // “Not Broken Yet: Oral Histories of Life in the Mojave Desert”
  • Taylor Rose (History) // “Holding Pattern: Strategic Minerals, Military Aviation, and Clouded Titles in the Settling of Southern Nevada, 1930s–1980s”

10:30 | Coffee break

10:45 | Panel 2: Prairies, Pampas, Lagoons
(Moderator: Francisco Robles)

  • Allegra Ayida (History) // “Lagoon Landscapes: Ephemeral Environments in Lagos, Nigeria”
  • Colin Young (History of Art) // “Capturing Absence: Indigenous Disappearance and Desert Emptiness in the First Photographic Albums of the Prairies and Pampas”

12:00 | Lunch for participants 

12:45 | Panel 3: Sahara I
(Moderator: Brahim El Guabli)

  • Walid Bouchakour (French) // “The Sahara as a Space of Disorientation in Al Koni’s The Bleeding of the Stone
  • Doyle Calhoun (French) // “Suicidal Scorpions, Catatonic Camels & Neurasthenic Nomads: Self-Destruction and the Sahara in the Colonial-Imperial Imaginary”

1:50 | Coffee break

2:00 | Panel 4: Sahara II (Moderator: Brahim El Guabli)

  • Madison Mainwaring (French) // “Breaking the Fourth Wall of Colonization: The Algerian “Figurant” in 1845” [via Zoom]
  • Nicola Angeli (French) // “Vis-à-vis the Sahara: Travels and Postures”