Faculty Research Projects


Robert Southey's Anti-Colonial Christianity
Principal Investigator(s)
Amanda Louise Johnson
Written in 1799, Robert Southey’s poem Madoc features a Welsh prince who sails to the Americas in 1170 A.D. There, he witnesses Aztecs offering the children of conquered tribes to their gods, and the text compares these child-sacrifices with the children in Wales who are sacrificed on the battlefield in wars against the English. Madoc then introduces Christianity to counter these religious practices, and also galvanize the conquered tribes’ revolt against the Aztecs. After composing Madoc, Southey quickly started writing Thalaba the Destroyer (1801), which features a Muslim hero. Modern readers often deride Thalaba as Orientalist, or as a failed literary aesthetic. A close-reading, however, of Southey’s poem reveals a radical syncretism depicts Islam, with its iconoclasm and rejection of the trinity, as compatible with Christianity. What’s more, the hero, an impoverished orphan, provides fierce opposition to a wealthy, imperial class of wizards.  Amanda argues that Southey’s depiction of Christianity as an anti-imperial religion influences his depiction of Islam in Thalaba. Although Southey was historically derided as a political hack, then, his poems Madoc and Thalaba show a more thoughtful, complex understanding of the relations between religion, politics, and empire.

MELT - The Social Life of Ice at the Top of the World
Principal Investigator(s)
Cymene Howe
Ice has become our climatological canary: the substance that renders visible rising temperatures. It can be measured, its retreats photographed, its depths plumbed and itsduration—or  lifespan—calculated. And it is melting: nowhere faster, and faster than expected, in the Arctic region. 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? And, how does a nation identified with ice wrestle with and encounter the fact of its immanent extinction? This research will chart a contemporary sensibility of icy life, human and otherwise, in an exploration of cryohuman interactions and commitments.

Inside/Outside Yiddish
Principal Investigator(s)
Melissa Weininger, Diane Wolfthal
Recent scholarship has focused on the transnational character of Yiddish, but it was also often considered a national language of the Jews.  The symposium Inside/Outside Yiddishwill bring together an international group of scholars of medieval and modern history and culture with Rice faculty and faculty from local universities to explore the ways in which Yiddish both crosses boundaries and creates internal cohesion.  We will consider how Yiddish moved between cultures and geographical locations while at the same time serving as a locus of identity formation.  Topics will include the relationship of Jewish literatures to the vernacular of the dominant culture, authorship as a collaborative enterprise, Jewish treatment of Christological themes, Jewish cosmopolitanism, Yiddish and multilingualism, and Yiddish in translation, and others.

CALAC: The Critical Archive of Latin American Cinema
Principal Investigator(s): Luis Duno-Gottberg
CALAC is a digital humanities initiative with a collaborative approach to the study ofLatin America Cinema. The main objective is to develop students’ analytical skillsthrough direct contribution to a growing knowledge base of detailed researchinformation about film and film analysis. This project offers a unique opportunity tointegrate applied research methods and new, original research information with thetheoretical concerns of the course. At a larger scale, this project will contribute tothe discoverability of less-known films and filmmakers as well as encouragingresearch on Latin American films and topics. It will also provide unique tools whilepromoting learning by doing in the fields of digital archives.

The Recovery of a Heritage in the Making: A Digital Archive for Contemporay Displaced Spanish and Latin American Writers
Principal Investigator(s)
: Gisela Heffes
Because the legacy of contemporary displaced Spanish and Latin American writers has yet to be fully addressed, there is a critical need to identify, study, and collect these literary works in an archive where they can be made available in an electronic format to everyone, from members of the public at large who want to read and analyze these works, to current and future scholars who want to both study and teach them. This work will serve as the scholarly platform for the creation of a cross-cultural literary archive that will enable humanities scholars of American, Latin American, and Spanish studies to explore this new wave of writers, plumbing the depths of their works and assessing its wider significance and relevance on the Americas. 

The Electronic Vesalius
Principal Investigator(s)
: John Mulligan
This project attempts to "reanimate" Andreas Vesalius' 16th-century anatomical atlas, one of the foundational texts in modern medicine. The end product will be an interactive, life-sized exhibit of one of Vesalius' flayed bodies, which will respond to a reader's touch with information about that body part as represented over the last five centuries. In a close collaboration between partners at Fondren Library (Ying Jin), the Texas Medical Center Library's McGovern Historical Center (Philip Montgomery and Sandra Yates), and the OEDK (Matthew Wettergreen, Benjamin Rasich, and Isaac Philips), this project seeks to explore 1) the possibilities of interdisciplinary work in humanities/engineering collaborations, 2) the role of physicality in the digital humanities, and 3) the anatomy of ersatz life forms. See this update for more information.


Objectification: The Reappropriation of a Concept
Principal Investigator(s)
Neyran Turan; Andrea Ballestero

The focus of this project will be on the use of “object,” as an idea through which to investigate the difference between a subject and other entities. Focused on the still, immobile and fixed properties that objects can exhibit, this project seeks to reappropriate those qualities and explore their potential for critical scholarship. The organizers will engage in a conceptual exploration to lay the theoretical foundations for two parallel and collaborative research projects. The first project is an architectural investigation of geography as an aesthetic object. The second, is an anthropological investigation of the subterranean as a political and scientific object.

Presentation of the imagineRio Project at National and International Conferences
Principal Investigator(s)Alida Metcalf

By their very nature, digital humanities projects are collaborative yet cannot be funded in the usual ways. Humanities scholars are typically funded individually, yet digital humanities projects rely on teams of faculty, students, and staff drawn from different disciplines who have expertise (or who want to acquire it) in technical areas such as Geographic Information Systems (GIS), programming, design, or database management. HRC funding will therefore be used to for endeavors that fall outside of the scope of individual faculty research accounts such as the presentation, at national and international conferences, of technical work, by staff and graduate students who have worked on the project since its inception.

Summer Institute for Women Surfers II
Principal Investigator(s)Krista Comer

Inaugurated last summer, the “Summer Institute for Women Surfers" (SIWS) gathered feminist leaders in many areas for political education and grassroots networking.  This summer the organizers will highlight a program in public oral history collection as well as will develop skills in grassroots Digital Humanities archives.

Statistical Text Mining and Concept Network for Advertisements from the Late 19th Century to the Middle of 20th Century
Principal Investigator(s)
Tani Barlow, Jing Chen

The second development phase of the Chinese Commercial Advertisement Archive (CCAA), will apply statistical methods that characterize commercial activities of foreign companies in the early twentieth century “China market,” and to uncover links among commercial activities, intellectual trends and social dynamics. When completed, this work will produce statistical mechanisms that enable readers to analyze advertisements quickly and easily through the following indices: 1) Bibliographical index; 2) Contextual Information index; 3) Content index; and 4) Keyword index.

Documentary Photography Lecture Series
Principal Investigator(s)
Paul Hester

In conjunction with the course FOTO 388 on the role of photography in contributing to the imaging of China in nonnative minds, several photographers will be invited to talk about their work and offer opportunities for cross-campus collaborations with Asian Studies, Anthropology, Sociology, Architecture, as well as Poverty, Justice and Human Capabilities and the Center for the Study of Women, Gender, and Sexuality. The growing importance of the visual in the mission for the Center for Written, Oral, and Visual Communications also calls for a broader discussion of how visual media connect to scholarly activities. 


Archiving the Future: The Recovery of a Heritage in the Making (Humanities Innovation Fund)
Building off a grant from 2013-14, the second phase of “Archiving the Future” will continue to highlight a new generation of Latin American writers in the United States who possess a distinctive poetic voice anchored in the experience of displacement. The archive will expand this coming year, inviting new writers to submit longer manuscripts that contribute to new understandings of a global phenomenon that is reshaping local communities as well as the notion of a national literary tradition. The archive resides in Fondren Library’s Digital Scholarship Archive.
Organized by: Gisela Heffes, associate professor of Spanish and Portuguese

Expanding the Linguistic Holdings of the Houston Asian American Archive (Humanities Innovation Fund)
The Houston Asian American Archive (HAAA) currently collects oral histories and documents related to Houston’s Asian American immigrant experience. It now seeks to expand its holdings to include Asian-language materials in order to better document the unique cultural legacy of Asian Americans as local residents and as (trans)national and global citizens. The organizers will put together two workshops to brainstorm the development and implementation of the expansion of the archive, including ethics, proposed procedures, sustainability, and funding.
Organized by: Christina Willis Oko, assistant professor of linguistics and Linda Ho Peché, project manager of the Houston Asian American Archive, Chao Center for Asian Studies

Renaissance Life Webs (Humanities Innovation Fund)
Renaissance Life Webs is a long-term, collaborative, and multi-disciplinary digital humanities project devoted to creating an open-source repository of Renaissance natural history texts. The project will yield an editorial collective where scholars will “sign on” to edit and annotate various works of natural history. The project will be an open archive, controlled-crowd-sourced site that will provide access to these Renaissance texts in modern editions, some for the first time. The larger digital projects hopes to tap into the ethos of the hive, a collective of scholars where many labor to produce modern editions for the benefit of the larger community.
Organized by: Joseph Campana, Alan Dugald McKillop Professorship in English Literature

Rio de Janeiro Iconography (Humanities Innovation Fund)
Rio de Janeiro Iconography, part of the larger “imagineRio” interdisciplinary digital humanities project, will combine historical imagery, digital mapping and urban plans in order to understand the history of Rio de Janiero. This part of the project will expand the database to expand images created by artists in the 1840s, 1870s and 1900, decades that mark major transformations in the urban landscape of Rio. Revealing spatial change over time is a unique way to approach the history of a city and will focus specifically on Rio’s social and architectural history.
Organized by: Alida Metcalf, Harris Masterson, Jr. Professor of History

Summer Institute for Women Surfers (Humanities Innovation Fund)
The Summer Institute for Women Surfers will gather various women surfers, business owners and activists for an intensive seminar to examine key activist questions relating to feminist storytelling practices, issues of work and livelihood, and to create spaces of peer teaching, learning and mutual aid. The hope is that the meeting will be the first of several over the next few years; one of the goals of this meeting is to explore possibilities of collaboration with other institutions.
Organized by: Krista Comer, associate professor of English

Teaching Humanities in the 21st Century (Humanities Innovation Fund)
While the value of the humanities been the subject of some contention over the years, much of the discourse has been about the value of the disciplines themselves rather than the way the subjects are taught. This project seeks to uncover and discuss the most innovative approaches to teaching the humanities as practiced by current instructors across the country, looking specifically at the cognitive and behavioral sciences in various pedagogical approaches.
Organized by: Joshua Eyler, Director of the Center for Teaching Excellence and adjunct associate professor of the humanities


Advertising Consumer Culture: Transnational Branding in Modern China
“Advertising Consumer Culture” innovates at a theoretical level while utilizing the resources of the Chinese Commercial Advertisement Archive, a database emerging out of the Luce Foundation. This project seeks to explain how foreign-branded commodities, the carrier of heterogeneous consumer culture, came to be celebrated during the period of colonial modernity. Neither the advertising archive nor a theory of how advertising worked in semi-colonial, Chinese, treaty-port cultures has ever been established, thus this project will move beyond the collecting and archiving phase and explore theoretical and philosophical resources. It will also develop an interactive paradigm called the “exhibitionary complex.”

Faculty: Tani Barlow, professor of history and Jing Chen, Ephemera Project Postdoctoral Fellow

Archiving the Future: The Recovery of a Heritage in the Making
There is currently a generation of Latin American writers in the making inside the United States who possess a distinctive poetic voice that is anchored in the experience of displacement, but these writers do not yet have a robust forum for recognition and publication to bring together their work. “Archiving the Future” will enable scholars of American and Latin American literature to plumb this new wave of writers, assessing their wider significance and relevance. Because this type of project has not been done, it will contribute to new understanding of a global phenomenon that is reshaping local communities as well as the notion of a national literary tradition. Once established, it will be maintained in Fondren Library’s Digital Scholarship Archive. 

Faculty: Gisela Heffes, assistant professor of Hispanic studies

Avanzamos: El Taller Chicana/o
Now in its second year, this workshop supports advanced research in the interdisciplinary field of Chicana/o studies, El Taller links scholars across universities through a range of conversations, including discussions on modernism, global labor migrations, indigeneity, environmentalism, mestizaje, and Mexican American women in the military. Graduate students and faculty gather to critique and edit works for publication and discuss personal and professional questions of racism and sexism. The program will be carefully expanded this year, including faculty and graduate students from the University of New Mexico, University of California at Santa Cruz, the University of Texas, and Southern Methodist University. 

​Faculty: José Aranda, associate professor of English

The Creation of an Archive of Photographs Documenting Houston from 1966-2012
Paul Hester has been taking photographs of Rice and Houston for over 40 years. In his prolific career, one of the focus areas of his work is architectural photography of structures in Houston. Hester seeks to insure the safety and longevity of these images, as he believes that photographs are more valuable when words provide context. In the creation of this archive, theories of photographic history and archival systems will necessarily involve a rethinking of the original basis for certain assignments and commissions. 

Faculty: Paul Hester, lecturer in visual and dramatic arts

Emergency Core (ECORE)
When catastrophe strikes, it leaves behind swathes of wreckage in its wake and it takes time for relief to reach the affected communities. This project, designed by students and faculty from the School of Architecture, addresses this need with the development of the Emergency Core (ECORE). ECORE is a small, self-storing sanitary facility capable of being cheaply manufactured and cheaply deployed at disaster sites. Once assembled, it can accommodate two families with a composting toilet, shower, minor power and cooking facilities. In 2012, the initial design phase was completed and presented at the International Disaster Conference in New Orleans. It was very favorably received and now the group seeks to produce a final prototype that can be put into mass production.   

Faculty: Gordon Wittenberg, professor of architecture

Eternity, Epoch, and Soul: Jewish Mystical Notions of Time
This symposium will examine the role that the notion of time plays in Jewish mystical conceptions such as redemption, revelation, creation and eternity. Early in Rabbinic literature it is stated: “Anyone who gazes at four things, it would be merciful to him if he had not come into the world: what is above, what is below, what is before and what is after.” Subsequent generations of mystics took this not as an admonishment, but as a challenge. “What is before and what is after” directly relates to time, and for the mystics, rumination on these matters is a way of understanding the cosmos and of understanding the divine. This symposium will address such understandings, resulting in the publication of an edited volume of the papers presented.

Faculty: Brian Ogren, assistant professor of religious studies


Cargo Space
The art world is defined by real estate. By remodeling a shipping container into an exhibition space, this project challenges the located-ness of the average art gallery. Traveling to parts of the city under-served by artistic institutions and programs, the mobile arts space offers to expose a wide-ranging audience to contemporary art and artistic methods. The nature of these artworks will be dictated by the specific locations and through dialogue with each location’s residents. 

Faculty: Christopher Sperandio, assistant professor of art, department of visual and dramatic arts

El Taller
As a workshop that supports advanced research in the interdisciplinary field of Chicana/o studies, El Taller links scholars across universities through a range of conversations, including discussions on modernism, global labor migrations, indigeneity, environmentalism, mestizaje, and Mexican American women in the military. Graduate students and faculty gather to critique and edit works for publication and discuss personal and professional questions of racism and sexism.  

Faculty: José Aranda, associate professor of English

Hermeneutics of Alterity and the Study Abroad Experience
In collaboration with the Center for the Study of Languages, the HRC will be funding summer courses in intensive language and technology training for students studying abroad in the summer of 2012. These courses will nurture intercultural competence and the skills of global citizenry. Students will be required to participate in a technology project under the supervision of a virtual Rice faculty member. Using social media, students will discuss readings and reflect upon the practical and theoretical aspects of their study abroad experience.  

Faculty: Wendy Freeman, director for the Center of the Study of Languages

Medical Futures Lab Symposium
Friday, April 26, 2013
Millennial Medicine is a one-day symposium that focuses on solutions to the grand challenges facing medical
education. Our goal is to launch a new conversation on the future of medicine and how we should get there.
The Symposium will feature inspiring, creative, and unorthodox thinkers sharing their ideas and strategies. More information, including videos of each talk, can be found at: http://www.medicalfutureslab.org/symposium/

Faculty: Kirsten Ostherr, associate professor of English 

Materialism and New Materialism Across the Disciplines
Defined around the primacy of matter and its properties and actions, the New Materialism challenges long-held assumptions about the nature of the stuff of the universe. The New Materialism calls for interdisciplinary methods that approach not only philosophical questions as well as issues that dominate the natural sciences and contemporary political and cultural controversies. In 2012-13, the Humanities Research Innovation Fund will support a series of speakers that will lead toward further development of the project.

Faculty: Sarah Ellenzweig, associate professor of English; John Zammito, John Antony Weir Professor of History

Houston Urban English Survey
This project involves the collection, archiving, and analysis of predominantly conversational data from various communities in Houston. In collaboration with students from the University of Houston, Rice fieldworkers will collect and archive conversational data on digital recording media. Faculty and students will use this database to analyze language variation in Houston from a qualitative and quantitative perspective to provide crucial information about how language influences identity within and among different social groups.

Faculty: Nancy Niedzielski, associate professor of linguistics

Digitization in the Humanities 
April 5-7, 2013
Collaborating with scholars at Oxford University, Rice will hold an interdisciplinary workshop to provide baseline instruction for scholars at various stages of familiarity with digitalization. The purpose of the workshop will be to develop research skills with innovative software tools and nurture better understanding of the field overall. This workshop offers an opportunity for further instruction in digital methodologies and provides opportunities to build inventive collaborations between digitalization and humanistic research.

Faculty: Anne Chao, Rice University; Hilde De Weerdt, University of Oxford; Judith Pfeiffer, University of Oxford  

Building Creative Minds
Focused on inspiring creativity and innovation, this project seeks to develop a “Rice Creativity Curriculum” that takes a radically new approach in which students wills study a unified model of creativity and apply it broadly to multiple art forms. This project will focus on developing creativity within young children in the hopes of shifting the educational models focused on standardized testing rather than the development of creativity, inventiveness, and flexibility, and self-expression. The curriculum will build on emerging theories of creativity to infuse other academic subjects with the same imaginative impulse.

Faculty: Anthony Brandt, associate professor of composition and theory; Karen Capo, director, School Literacy and Culture Project; Linda McNeil, professor of education


Cultures of Energy 
Building upon recommendations made by the Energy and the Environment taskforce’s white paper last semester, this project will generate form and momentum for the Cultures of Energy Initiative within the broader rubric of the Rice Center for Innovation and Transitions in Energy and the Environment (CITE2). Through its speakers series and spring symposium the working group hopes to shape a vibrant campus conversation in energy humanities next year. This project promotes a multi-tiered format, bringing external speakers, faculty, graduate students, and undergraduate students into creating a curriculum for the upcoming Sawyer Seminar in 2012-13. The longer-term goal for this project is to help establish Rice as a leader in humanistic research on uses, environments, and transitions of energy across the world.

Dominic Boyer, associate professor of anthropology
Melinda Fagan, assistant professor of philosophy
Cymene Howe, assistant professor of anthropology
Jeff Kripal, the J. Newton Rayzor Professor of Religious Studies and department chair
Caroline Levander, Vice Provost for Interdisciplinary Initiatives, Carlson Professor in the Humanities, and professor of English
Cyrus Mody, associate professor of history
Casey O’Callaghan, associate professor of philosophy
Jack Zammito, the John Antony Weir Professor of History

Global Modernities 1750-1920
This interdisciplinary project within the humanities began with the recognition of faculty strengths in eighteenth- and nineteenth- century studies across departments and geographic specializations. It also responds to the increasing globalization of these historical fields, which have been enriched by attention to relations among nation states and national cultures.

Helena Michie, the Agnes Cullen Arnold Professor in the Humanities
Leo Costello, assistant professor of art history
Deborah Harter, associate professor of French studies
Betty Joseph, associate professor of English
Ussama Makdisi, Arab-American Educational Foundation Chair of Arab Studies and professor of history
Alexander Regier, associate professor of English

Renaissance Posthumanism
Renaissance Posthumanism explores the connections between the cultures of early modern Europe and current work in the posthumanities. The project will culminate in a symposium followed by an edited collection that will bring together scholars of national and international renown to address the intersection of early modern literary, cultural, and historical studies and notions of the human as viewed through the lens of recent work referred to under the rubric of "the posthuman." Did Renaissance humanism in fact produces the vision of the human against which much posthumanism militates. How might emerging theories of “the posthumanities,” which tend to emphasize highly contemporary forms of media and technology with little reference to their longer histories, benefit from incorporating the tangle of humans, animals, environment, and machines that comprises Renaissance humanism?

Faculty: Joseph Campana, assistant professor of English


Exploring the Mind through Music Institute
Anthony Brandt will help fund the Summer Institute, which will be held  in June 13-17, 2011. During the Institute, scientific fellows will gain an understanding of musical structure, history and analytic methods. Musician fellows will learn about brain morphology, human cognition and experimental design. All fellows will also attend lectures by pre-eminent scientists and musicians who will be invited to give public presentations at the institute.

Faculty: Anthony Brandt, associate professor of composition and theory, Shepherd School of Music

Linking Philosophy of Science and Stem Cell Research
Fagan's project aims to bring together her research in philosophy of science and her background in stem cell research, two fields that have traditionally existed in separate spheres. Philosophy of science, Fagan proposes, can help bridge the gap that exists between scientists and non-scientists in this developing field and provide frameworks for understanding the prospects for stem cell research. Fagan posits that philosophical understanding of stem cell research should develop in continuous discussion with practicing scientists, building on and synthesizing their views.

Faculty: Melinda Fagan, assistant professor of philosophy

New Methods for Health Media”
Kirsten Ostherr plans to establish new collaborative research paradigms in medical media studies by blending humanistic and scientific methodologies for analyzing functional magnetic resonance imaging research in medical films, television and digital media.

Faculty: Kirsten Ostherr, associate professor of English

Sources, Authors, and Concepts of Hellenistic Rhetoric Fourth to First Centuries BCE
Harvey Yunis aims to assemble, translate and annotate for the first time the sources now available on rhetoric and rhetorical theory of the Greek Hellenistic period (323-31 BCE) as a joint project with Frédérique Woerther at Centre Nationale de la Recherche Scientifique in Paris.

Faculty: Harvey Yunis, professor of classical studies