Natasha Bowdoin, Assistant Professor of Painting and Drawing
Natasha's project proposes to continueher artistic investigation of howthe literal and the visual might intersect through the exploration of new materials and the initiation of active collaboration across disciplines. She will examine contemporary and historical intersections of image and text, and create working partnerships with living writers and architects to produce a new body of large-scale installation and collage-based work. With this new body of work, Natasha will continue to employ the medium of paper but will also expand to involve new materials, including both industrial and handbmade processes, allowing the work to take on a more ambitious, three-dimensional presence. The culmination of her research will involve solo exhibitions of new work in New York and Dallas.
Peter Caldwell, Professor of History
Plans, Fears, and Dreams of the Welfare State in West Germany
In the best and worst ways, twentieth-century Germany was the laboratory of modernity. One of its lasting and influential achievements has been a model for the modern welfare state. In the 1880s, when innovative systems of compulsory insurance developed under Bismarck, heated arguments emerged that still recur today--in, for example, the debate about compulsory health insurance in the United States. These arguments endure because the relationship between democracy and welfare is at their root. Is the welfare state a symptom of western civilization's decline, or is it the realization of Its ideals? Are its huge institutions and programs, from old age pensions to unemployment insurance, compatible with personal responsibility and political democracy? Is the welfare state a democratic “social state,” an authoritarian “providing state,” or a totalitarian “termite state” made up of busy insects without personality? These questions accompanied the entire history of West Germany, from 1949 to 1989. Peter argues that these debates—these plans, fears, and dreams—reach past technical questions to struggle with basic questions about politics and culture in a liberal democracy.
Betty Joseph, Associate Professor of English
Unbelonging: Borderless Fiction and the Contemporary Globe
What can contemporary novels teach us about the cultural consequences of economic globalization? This project analyzes English novels by transnational writers who pay close attention in their works, to the human and non-human connectivity implied in an abstraction like the “globe.” Betty redirects our attention from the novel’s time-honored function of an accurate portrayal of social reality to the writers’ use of linguistic and communicative techniques that question the very act of representation itself. At a time when machinic thought is actively supplanting human activity and data is conflated with knowledge, the novelistic use of time as sequence, and space as expansion, offers important indices of the limits of human consciousness in the imaginative activity of world-making. The activity of abstraction is, she argues, unavoidable in globalism where the local and specific must give way to a transactional general equivalency. Novels that work primarily through the use of individualized characters, locational detail, linguistic specificity and causal connections must inevitably transform forms of belonging into an abstract borderlessness in order to construct and interpret a world with vanishing outlines. These fictional narratives thus provide crucial lessons and cautions about the role the humanities play in the powerful operating principles that underlie the globalization of capital and data.
Matthias Henze, Professor of Hebrew Bible and Early Judaism
Mind the Gap: Jesus, Early Jewish Literature, and the Jewish Beginnings of Christianity
Matthias will explain how the Jewish writings, that were in circulation at the time of Jesus but never became part of the Bible, can help us better understand the early followers of Jesus and the Jewish beginnings of Christianity.
Cymene Howe, Associate Professor of Anthropology
Melt: The Social Life of Ice
Ice has become our climatological canary: the substance that renders visible rising temperatures.1 It can be measured, its retreats photographed, its depths plumbed and its lifespan calculated. And it is melting: nowhere faster, and faster than expected, in the Arctic region.2 Ice’s physical changes and the geohydrological implications associated with it are now regular media features as news of catastrophic melt continues to mark our times.However, little attention is given to the social and cultural meaning of changing ice in the frozen places where it has dominated landscapes, shaped lives and conditioned accounts of land, weather and subjective experience. This study aims to address that omission. It proposes a multidimensional examination of the social significance of ice, the values associated with it,and the implications of its expiration. As an inquiry into the metamorphosis of ice, it asks: What are the political and social meanings of ice in the Anthropocene? How does a nation identified with ice wrestle with and encounter the fact of its immanent extinction? Thisresearch will chart a contemporary sensibility of icy life, human and otherwise, in an exploration of cryohuman interactions and commitments.
The Backbone of Mexican History: Interdisciplinary Approaches to Comprehending Past and Present Inequality and Standards of Living.
This project studies the evolution of human welfare and inequality in standards of living in Mexico during the second half of the eighteenth century using evidence from human stature, agricultural crises, epidemic diseases, cycles of economic growth and skeletal remains. It will assess the determinants of human welfare, namely population size, economic performance, environmental conditions, and political organization during certain time periods. It will also delve into how over time the relevance of these determinants changed, and how these changes had repercussions on inequality. Moramay argues that, in the eighteenth century Malthusian checks due to low agricultural productivity were still a strong determinant of human welfare. Even the spectacular wealth generated by Mexico’s silver mining boom did not improve human welfare of the population at large. Still, based on the evolution of stature, we can assert that society was more equal in the eighteenth century than in subsequent period.
Ussama Makdisi, Assistant Professor of History
An Ecumencial Frame: Rethinking Sectarianism and Coexistence in the Modern Arab World
Two narratives have traditionally dominated the story of diversity in the Arab lands. The first idealizes coexistence; the second stresses a continuous history of either latent or actual sectarian strife. Ussama seeks to lay out a more contingent narrative of coexistence without recourse either to romanticism or to primordialist interpretations of sectarianism. Rather than describe the unraveling of the Arab world as an inevitable outcome of its religious diversity, or seek refuge in a nostalgic reconstruction of a bygone age, his project seeks to narrate critically a now obscured yet complex history of coexistence in the modern Arab world. Accordingly, Ussama traces the 19th century construction and 20th century elaboration of what he calls an ecumenical frame. He uses the term “ecumenical” because the Arab Levant has long accommodated religious difference, because it captures the idea of disparate factions of a single body working together to transcend sectarian identities, and because the modern language of coexistence in the Arab world has almost always had a strong religious component to it. The modern ecumenical frame constituted a break with the older imperial model of Ottoman Muslim supremacy, yet its relationship to modern nationalist ideologies was and remains fraught.
Leonora Paula, Assistant Professor of Brazilian Literature and Culture
Spaces of Agency in Contemporary Brazilian Culture
Gisela’s book manuscript, contends that contemporary Brazilian culture is a highly contested territory full of spaces where intense power struggles between over-represented and under-represented groups take place, as outlined by scholars Regina Dalcastagnè and Heloisa Buarque de Hollanda. The increasing occupation of spaces dedicated to art and literature by groups that seize the traditionally exclusionary terrain of contemporary Brazilian culture are clear indications of such disputes. This emergent cultural practice, in line with practices engaging in what James Hoslton calls “insurgent citizenship,” challenges dominant modes of cultural production that have historically excluded marginalized voices and repressed alternative expressions. Among the groups challenging pervasive discriminatory practices in the hegemonic cultural terrain, the Literatura Periférica movement along with contemporary urban art collectives are some of the most active contenders of a model of cultural production that has historically excluded marginalized knowledge production from Brazil’s cultural terrain.
"Exemplary Women" versus "Worthy Ladies": The Two Traditions in Writing Women's History in the Sinosphere
The proposed project studies the evolution and transmission of two genres—“Exemplary Women” and “Worthy Ladies”—in writing women’s history in the Sinosphere (China, Japan, Korea, and Vietnam). Both originated from the Han Confucian Liu Xiang’s (77-6 BCE) Biographies of Exemplary Women. Each, however, formed into a tradition that represented women’s lives and guided their behavior in its own way. “Exemplary Women,” being incorporated into official histories, became increasingly bound by Confucian norms, whereas “Worthy Ladies,” rooted in the free-spirited Wei-Jin (220-420) intellectual aura and written by private scholars, featured strong-minded, talented, and self-sufficient literate women. The two genres also generated numerous works in other countries in the Sinosphere. A close reading of these works will show the existence of different voices on women’s lives, rescuing the previously ignored “Worthy Ladies” from the dominant discourse of docile “Exemplary Women.” This study also explores larger issues related to cultural continuity and change in this important area. It will subvert the longstanding Sinocentrism of East Asian Studies, showing that once cultural products travel into another cultural context, they quickly become embedded in that space and evolve into new species of literary life that bear indigenous qualities and features. These “domesticated” cultural products, when repatriated, could play a significant role in the country of their origin.
A Sea Change: The Rise and Transformation of North Pacific Ocean Resource Management Regimes, 1900-1975
Sayuri’s study, based on multilingual research, examines ideas, local practices, public policies, and international negotiations regarding the commercial exploitation and conservation of ocean resources (fur seals and salmon and tuna stocks) in the North Pacific in the first three-quarters of the twentieth century, culminating in the United Nations Law of the Sea Conventions (UNCLOS I & II). It focuses on Japan, the United States and Canada but takes a transnational and interdisciplinary approach to the rise of the transpacific world with ocean ecology as its connective tissue. Rather than looking at processes of diplomatic, political, economic, cultural, and environmental change in Japan, the Soviet Far East, the United States, and Canada as disconnected phenomena, it will portray transformations occurring along the North Pacific littoral as a single cluster of historical experiences. Themes to be examined include technology and industrial development, food security and resource management, the intersection of foodways and cultural identity, multilateral policy coordination and the preservation of biodiversity. The resulting book will contribute to the literature in the emerging fields of Pacific Studies and the history of capitalism, as well as to the historical profession’s drive towards transnational historiography.
Gisela Heffes, Associate Professor of Spanish & Portuguese
The Recovery of a Heritage in the Making: Assessing the Legacy of Contemporary Displaced Spanish and Latin American Writers
This project aims to identify, collect, study, and – ultimately – archive and make accessible via digital PDFs on the Rice University Digital Scholarship Archive the heritage of displaced Spanish and Latin American contemporary writers residing in the United States.
Diane Wolfthal, David and Caroline Minter Professor of Art History
Household Help: Images of Servants and Slaves in Europe and its Colonies, 1400-1700
This project examines images of household servants and the objects of their material culture, to understand complex attitudes towards servitude that existed in the past. This study proposes to foreground servants who were repeatedly relegated to the background, in order to better comprehend the ideological and aesthetic functions that they served.
Caleb McDaniel, Assistant Professor of History
Diehard Slaveholders and Refugeed Slaves in the American Civil War Era
McDaniel will work on book chapters related to enslaved people who were forcibly removed to western Louisiana and Texas to prevent their emancipation by Union forces after 1863. The experiences of these tens of thousands of "refugeed slaves," raises questions about the extent to which the Civil War destroyed slavery and calls attention to the resilience of slavery in American history.
Charles Siewert, Professor of Philosophy, Robert & Kathryn Hayes Chair Humanities
Subjectivity and Understanding
Siewert will work on a book in which he argues that critical first-person reflection has a legitimate role in understanding the mind. He will employ it to construct and defend an account of what subjective experience is, of how it renders knowledge of our surroundings and ourselves possible, and of how it underlies empathy and the value we accord persons.
Peter Loewen, Associate Professor of Musicology, Shepherd School of Music
Music in Early Franciscan Practice
Using an interdisciplinary musicological approach, Loewen will examine Franciscan song repertories to reveal their complex engagement with various medieval European cultures in the 13th and early-14th centuries. Viewing their chant and vernacular songs through the lens of theology, sermon studies, drama, and visual art, he will show that the astounding success of these self-proclaimed “Jongleurs of God” may be attributed to a highly nuanced program of music.
Daniel Cohen, Associate Professor of History
The Philosemitic Revolution: Empathy for Jews and Judaism in Postwar Europe
Cohen will explore the emergence of multifaceted Judeophilia in the immediate aftermath of World War Two, to demonstrate that the post-war era elicited no less than a “philosemitic revolution”: the unprecedented normalization of the Jewish condition in Europe and the West. His project will challenge the traditional interpretation of the rise of philosemitic sentiment after World War Two: Holocaust-guilt as the driving force behind expressions of sympathy for Jews.
Sarah Ellenzweig, Associate Professor of English
Fictions of Motion: Materialism and the Novel in Eighteenth-Century England
This project explores the seismic shift in the history of ideas inaugurated by early modern mechanical philosophy and its break from Aristotle, along with the rise of the new species of narrative prose that comes to be called the novel, examining the novel’s development through the lens of materialist philosophy.
Randal Hall, Associate Professor of History
U.S. Ltd.: How a People of Plenty Discovered the Limits to Growth
Resource scarcity is a key part of American political and economic conversations. The recent “peak oil” scare, battles over water, and limited supplies of phosphorus and rare earth elements regularly make today’s headlines; however, vigorous debate about resource abundance and scarcity has long been a part of American intellectual life. I am asking when and how did Americans abandon the idea of inexhaustibility and come to see resource scarcity as an issue, and what importance has the idea had at various stages in American history? In a series of case studies. I plan to connect nineteenth-century debates about soil fertility, timber resources, coal supplies, and so on with better-known twentieth-century scares about overpopulation and dwindling resources. Taking this long view will underscore the challenge facing today’s environmental movement as it similarly looks toward an uncertain future.
Shirine Hamadeh, Associate Professor of Art History
Streets of Istanbul
Streets of Istanbul started out as reflections on innovative ways of writing about Middle Eastern cities that would allow us to imagine, with historical precision, a city as a lived-in space. It is above all an effort to visualize in the near absence of contemporary maps and images early modern Istanbul as a spatial fabric inseparable from the social fabric that shaped and inhabited it. I focus on Istanbul's floating populations, in whose lives the street occupied a crucial place, and whose paradoxical condition as socially peripheral yet central to most urban matters allows me to consider issues rarely brought together, from zoning to welfare, morality and citizenry.
Shih-shan Susan Huang, Associate Professor of Art History
First Impressions: Chinese Religious Woodcuts, 850-1450
First Impressions: Chinese Religious Woodcuts, 850-1450 is the first book-length study on the “Golden Age” of Chinese religious woodcuts. It explores the visual vocabulary and visual logic underlying the production of religious printed images, examining their style, meaning, and context. Major thematic inquiries include media and mediation, standardization, regional diversity, and material religion. The study traces how religious printed images in China may be linked to earlier conventions across such media as seals, clay tiles, printed textiles, stone steles, rubbings, and paintings. It further identifies recyclable modular designs and argues that Chinese printmakers combined these motifs freely with other motifs to create new compositions addressing different themes and storylines. The study examines religious printing associated with such regimes established by nomadic people active in China, including the Khitan Liao, the Jurchen Jin, and the Tangut Xi Xia. It will also analyze different uses of Buddhist and Daoist printed images, and maps their functions in terms of instruction, divination, healing, worship, visualization, contract, and other ritual purposes.
Maya Soifer-Irish, Assistant Professor of History
The Pogroms of 1391 & the Crisis of Authority in Fourteenth-Century Spain
The pogroms of 1391 are the most dramatic events in medieval Spanish history. The massacres and forced conversions of Jews carried out by Christians in the kingdoms of Castile and Aragon permanently altered the physical and spiritual landscape of Jewish life in Spain, creating a large class of conversos who faced lingering suspicions about the sincerity of their commitment to Christianity. The Spanish Inquisition was created in the late 1470s to investigate these “New Christians” suspected of judaizing. Considered one of the worst outbreaks of anti-Jewish violence in medieval Europe, the massacres took place in the midst of economic and political changes accompanied by social unrest and violence. I plan to argue that the crisis of authority in the Spanish realms during the trouble fourteenth century fostered the growth of an ideology that I call “transformative anti-Judaism.” Building on the traditional themes of doctrinal anti-Judaism, this ideology had an important social dimension: it firmly linked the Jews with the established order and its many failures, and aimed to change society by ridding it of the Jews.
Suzanne Kemmer, Associate Professor of Linguistics
Towards a Dynamic Usage-Based View of Language
I propose to write a monograph that draws together the leading ideas of that I call dynamic usage-based linguistics, to consider the role of these small linguistic acts and how they are at the same time a product of the dynamic operation of the linguistic system, and how, once they are repeated sufficiently in language use, they become a shaping force of the language of the user, and over time, of the language of the community as a whole.
Christopher Sperandio, Assistant Professor of Visual and Dramatic Arts
Cargo Space, the latest Grennan & Sperandio project in the United States, is a mobile residency space custom-built inside the frame of a working diesel transit bus. It’s a living space that will sleep up to six. The Cargo Space has been established as a new social artwork with its primary audience consisting of other artists, writers and scholars. Artists derive value from interacting with others in the creative fields. An exchange of ideas, information and resources are crucial to a robust and healthy field of inquiry. Beginning in July, the Cargo Space will embark on a 2,700 mile journey from Houston to art centers in Minneapolis, Milwaukee, Chicago, Peoria and St. Louis and back again, playing host to more than thirty artists and engaging a diverse array of audiences in the context of exhibitions, lectures and public seminars.
Harvey Yunis, Professor of Classical Studies
Plato’s Symposium: Original and Later Contexts
This project combines two basic ways of studying the dialogue that are usually conducted separately: understanding the dialogue in its original context of fourth-century-BCE Greece; and examining the most interesting and influential interpretations of it that have been put forward, in multifarious contexts, through the ages. The published volume will contain the Greek text and an English translation of the dialogue, a commentary on the dialogue in its original context, and a select history of the interpretation and reception of the dialogue from its origins until today.
|Marcia Brennan, Associate Professor of Art History and Religious Studies
Words Beyond Words: Finding Language at the End of Life
Words Beyond Words focuses on Marcia Brennan’s experiences as an Artist in Residence in the Department of Palliative Care and Rehabilitation Medicine at the University of Texas M.D. Anderson Cancer Center. Combining a theoretical framework with direct, applied clinical experiences, Brennan offers a series of case studies and creative literary expressions that identify meaningful aspects of life as related by individuals at the very end of life, and by their caregivers. As such, this transdisciplinary study explores the intersection of aesthetics and psychosocial oncology in the fragile yet powerful setting of acute palliative care.
|Steven G. Crowell, Joseph and Joanna Nazro Mullen Professor of Philosophy
Heidegger and the Claims of Reason
Crowell's recent book Normativity and Phenomenology in Husserl and Heidegger (Cambridge University Press, 2013) provides the basis for his current prorject. In Normativity, he shows, contrary to prevailing opinion in Heidegger scholarship, that though Heidegger’s phenomenological ontology does substitute the concept of “care” for the traditional definition of human being as “rational animal,” it does not banish reason to the periphery of philosophical concern. He aims to flesh out this thesis in a new book, Heidegger and the Claims of Reason, in which he will provide the first full-scale interpretation of Heidegger’s novel account of logos, noein, ratio, and related notions, from his earliest to his last writings. In doing so, he will relate Heidegger's position systematically to current work in the analytic tradition on practical rationality, the theory of consciousness, science studies, and theories of meaning.
|Julie Fette, Assistant Professor of French Studies
Gender in Contemporary French and American Children’s Literature Comparing contemporary literary texts for children from birth to six years of age, Fette investigates how gender concepts are culturally bounded and projected in subtly diverse ways to American and French children. The text explores questions of reading choice, questions of popularity and quality, and the ways in which adults accommodate the market to their desired socialization for children. This key comparative study offers to realign how we have thus far understood the meaning of gender and childhood as it arises from literary production.
|Reto Geiser, Wortham Assistant Professor of Architecture
Giedion In Between: A Study of Cultural Transfer and Transatlantic Exchange
Geiser reassess the work of Swiss art historian and architecture critic Sigfried Giedion through the lens of cultural transformation and processes of modernization. Offering a critical review of Giedion’s oeuvre within a larger cultural context, this study focuses on his engagement in a dialogue across continents and disciplines, his impact on the postwar generation of architects, architectural historians, and other intellectuals. More than two decades since the last comprehensive appraisal on his work, Giedion In Between is the first investigation to study the full extent of Sigfried Giedion’s papers, as well as those of a significant number of his corresponding peers.
|Manuel Gutierrez, Assistant Professor of Hispanic Studies
The Interrogating Eye: Poetic Art Criticism in Post-Revolutionary Mexico (1919-1969)
This study examines the varied ways poet-critics experienced the birth of modern art and created discourse about Mexican art that remains largely ignored by art historians. He explores the important role these figures played in interrogating the rise and decline of muralism, modernism, and other contemporary artistic movements in Post-Revolutionary Mexico. In particular, he studies how poet-critics such as Jorge Cuesta and Xavier Villaurrutia countervailed the ideological and aesthetic moorings of Mexican painters and posited a more lyrical practice and interpretation of their art.
|Fabiola López-Durán, Assistant Professor of Art History
Eugenics in the Garden: Architecture, Medicine and Landscape from France to Latin America in the Early Twentieth Century
Eugenics in the Garden calls for a reconsideration of our understanding of eugenics by exploring the international proliferation of a particular strain of eugenics. More pointedly, this study examines how eugenics, fueled by fear of social degeneration in France during the Third Republic, moved from the realms of medicine and law to architecture and urban planning. As López-Durán argues, this shift repositioned eugenics as a critical instrument in the crafting of modernity in the new Latin American nation-states.
|Alida Metcalf, Harris Masterson, Jr. Professor of History
Artists and Cartographers as Go-Betweens: Creating the First Images of Brazil
This study highlights the role of artists and cartographers as figures central to sixteenth-century European engagements with Brazil. As Metcalf shows, the persistence of certain metaphors, caricatures, and images became significant in defining Brazil and newly discovered places at large. Studying the cartographer and artist as a go-between, she focuses on the story behind the creation of such imagery and explores maps as ephemera. In so doing, she demonstrates how representations of Brazil on maps became part of the dramatic changes brought about by the radical expansion of print in the sixteenth century and how cartographers played an imperative role in this transformation.
|Gwen Bradford, Assistant Professor of Philosophy
The Nature and Value of Achievement
Achievement and failure are significant valuation points in human life. Bradford’s research investigates the common elements of achievements, and why achievements can make life worth living and be worthy of sacrifice. Through her novel development of a school of thought called “perfectionism,” a theory of value that holds that the development and exercise of fundamental human capacities is intrinsically valuable, Bradford will analyze difficulty and its centrality to characterizing achievement. This investigation into achievement also engages with philosophical studies into epistemology, positive psychology, and well-being
|April DeConick, Isla Carroll & Percy E. Turner Professor of Biblical Studies
The Ancient New Age: Gnostic Spirituality and the Birth of Christianity
In antiquity, Gnostic spirituality was a metaphysical or ‘New Age’ movement that was not a late “alternative” to Christianity but an innate radical impulse embedded within the Christian tradition from its earliest formations. DeConick tells the story of Christianity’s radical native beginnings and shrewd tamings as the religion was domesticated and secularized by the leaders of the Apostolic churches into an orthodoxy that would sustain mass conversation across the Mediterranean world. While the word "gnostic" has become polemical and almost taboo in scholarly circles, DeConick argues for an obligation to explain the development of Gnosticism and Gnostic religious movements in the third century as a surviving religious tradition that bridges early Christianity and appears in the modern New Age.
|Kathryn de Luna, Assistant Professor of History
Collecting Food, Cultivating People: Wild Resource Use in Central African Farming Communities, 1000 B.C.E. – 1900 C.E.
The familiar Neolithic Revolution narrative suggests that sedentism and food surplus supported the rise of centralized political organization, but elides the contribution of wild resource use to political change in farming communities. De Luna traces the 3000 year history of hunting, fishing, and foraging by central African farmers, highlighting the contingent process by which these farmers distinguished food collection from farming centuries after the adoption of agriculture in order to support a novel, decentralized politics.. The bulk of the historical data comprising de Luna’s research stems from reconstructed word histories and comparative historical linguistics.
|Uwe Steiner, Professor of German Studies
Walter Benjamin’s Concept of the Political in its Philosophical Context
The Selected Writings, the near to complete translation of his works into English, attest to the outstanding intellectual significance that Walter Benjamin enjoys in academe. Available in today’s academic lingua franca, his writings will attract an even growing number of scholars worldwide. But, as Steiner observes, they also become more and more detached from the historical, cultural and intellectual context of their origin. To be sure, in allocating Benjamin’s political philosophy in the philosophical discourse of his days, he takes a diametrically opposed approach. As a Benjamin scholar, however, he knows that translation and criticism form part of what Benjamin called the “afterlife” of the original in which it unfolds and thus discloses hitherto unperceived features of its nature. Therefore, Steiner concludes, the HRC‘s fellowship program provides a close to perfect intellectual environment for studying Benjamin – which he does preferably in the German original.
Visit the HRC office to examine or borrow selected publications by these scholars.