Postdoctoral Fellows

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Andrew W. Mellon Postdoctoral Fellows 


Ademide Adelusi-Adeluyi, Ph.D. History (2016), NYU
Ademide’s research into the history of West African cities combines a set of interdisciplinary interests in African and urban history, technology, cartography and Digital Humanities. While at Rice, she will develop a cartographic database of Lagos’s history, based in part on colonial maps of the city and region dating from the late eighteenth century. Despite attempts to write over local ways of imagining, manipulating and representing space, these British and French maps remain crucial sites of negotiation over the meanings of power, space and time in the city. At no point does Lagos become more visible than when it is marked for destruction, division, or rehabilitation, thus, she uses these maps to reconstruct indigenous conceptions of the past, in place. She is Assistant Professor of History at the University of California, Riverside.
Research Project: Mapping the Constant City: Lagos in its Precolonial and Colonial Contexts.

Shannon Dugan Iverson, Ph.D. Anthropology, University of Texas at Austin
The Mesoamerican cartographic tradition employed very different mapping conventions from those utilized in the Western tradition. Whereas Western maps tend to represent only one moment in time—or attempt to represent a timeless landscape—Mesoamerican maps of the famous Aztec migration journey were able to incorporate space and time simultaneously. For the first time, new technologies that incorporate film and narrative into GIS maps can approximate the complexity and creativity of early colonial and pre-Columbian maps.
Much Mesoamerican scholarship has focused on finding the “truth” embedded in these documents by searching for overlaps between them, and by carefully constructing Western-style maps and histories around them. This project, in contrast, uses narrative digital mapping to study the migration maps on their own terms: as simultaneously linear and cyclical, as mythical and real, as stories that form their own particular chronotopic tradition (that is, the narrative juncture of space and time). By using digital technologies to study an ingenious non-Western cartographic tradition, this project also expresses optimism that Western mapping can represent space-time more fluidly and creatively.
Shannon is an archaeologist who focuses on colonialism and power in central Mexico. 
Research Project: Digital Footsteps 

Abby Spinak, Ph.D. Urban Studies and Planning, Massachusetts Institute of Technology
Abby studies energy history, with a particular interest in the politics of energy ownership and the role of infrastructure in disseminating economic ideas. In her current project, she explores how ideas of economic democracy have shaped the electricity infrastructure in the United States, from New Dealers’ vast national plan of development-oriented rural electrification to climate change activism in the twenty-first century. During her time at Rice, Abby will be finishing a book on electric cooperatives and teaching classes in the Energy Humanities. She is also affiliated with the Center for Energy and Environmental Research in the Human Sciences.
Research Project: Democracy Electric: Energy and Economic Citizenship in an Urbanizing America  


Ted Geier, Ph.D. Comparative Literature (Designated Emphasis in Critical Theory), UC Davis
Geier works on comparative-historical environmental thought, with special interests in Animal Studies. His dissertation, British and Other Nonhumans of the Long Nineteenth Century: Abject Forms in Literature, Law, and Meat evaluated the poetic and narrative forms through which British and American Romanticism, Penny Dreadfuls, Dickens, and Kafka respond to nonhuman form in daily life, including animal subjection at Smithfield Market in London. His research and teaching interests include film studies, North American environmental traditions, comparative literature, and global ecocriticism. Geier’s current book project considers formal eco-cinematic expression in North American filmmaker Terrence Malick’s work.
Research Project: Nonhuman Forms/Biopolitical Aesthetics: Post-Ethical Cinema and Literature

Alex Tarr, Ph.D. Geography (Designated Emphasis in Global Metropolitan Studies), University of California, Berkeley
Tarr studies the production and representation of urban space/place, emphasizing how subjects claim rights to the city. His dissertation, Have Your City and Eat It Too: Los Angeles and the Urban Food Renaissance examined the historical and contemporary role of food in reimagining futures for Los Angeles. Currently, he is developing a digital platform for the “People’s Guide” project – a distributed collaboration amongst scholars and activists to recover counter historical-geographies of cities. In addition, he is co-authoring, “A People’s Guide to the SF Bay Area,” with Rachel Brahinksy (USF). His research and teaching at Rice addresses the use of web-cartography in the study of urban spaces.
Research Project: The Revolution will be mapped: Visualizing Spatial Justice in the City

Rex Troumbley, Ph.D. Political Science, University of Hawaii at Manoa
Rex’s research examines how institutional treatments of taboo language – cursing, swearing, profanity, obscenity, and racial slurs – are used to determine who counts as a member of the American nation and govern American culture. Examples include Noah Webster’s attempt to create a standard American English with his famous dictionary and psychiatrists theorizing about the brains of patients with Tourette’s syndrome as a type of rewritable media. He is currently developing this research into a book manuscript titled What Gives Taboo Language Its Power? Using Bad Words to Govern American National Culture. Rex's work at Rice focuses on technical methods for steering users away from taboo subjects and towards state-sanctioned discourse, or interventions into the "pre-speech" conditions of possibility for expressions, enabled by digital tools like Google’s SafeSearch filter and predictive keyboards.
Research Project: Digital Political Thought

Ryan White, Ph.D. English, Rice University
Ryan White’s first book, The Hidden God: Pragmatism and Posthumanism in American Thought, will be published in Fall 2015 by Columbia University Press. The Hidden God reads the lineage of American pragmatism alongside recent interventions in posthumanist theory.  Placing the emergence of pragmatism within the context of systems’ theoretical and biopolitical conceptualizations of modernity, the book argues that pragmatism, in particular the complex semiotics of Charles S. Peirce, remains a vital critical resource for our contemporary posthumanist and biopolitical moment. While at Rice, White will study biopolitics as a theory of modernity, in particular how evolving ideas about the nature of “life” adjust to the functional differentiation that is one of modernity's defining characteristics. 
Research Project: Biopolitics, Bare Life, and 'the Threshold of Modernity


Jessie Reeder, Ph.D. English, University of Wisconsin-Madison
Reeder works new forms of unofficial financial imperialism that erupted when Latin America broke free from Spain in the early nineteenth century only to be re-subjugated to the power and influence of the British economy. Reeder read canonical British authors alongside Latin American writers (in their native Spanish) in order to understand how 19th-century British-Latin American contact and the newly emergent practices of "informal empire" troubled preexisting master narratives of international and transatlantic contact. In particular, Reeder claims, Atlantic informal empire runs forcefully afoul of the notion of progress that scholars have thought to underpin so much Enlightenment and 19th-century thought.
Research Project: The Forms of Informal Empire: British-Latin American Network Narratives, 1810-1900


Mariola Alvarez, Ph.D. History, Theory, and Criticism of Art (2012), University of California-San Diego
In her dissertation, Alvarez presents a survey of the Rio de Janeiro-based geometric abstract art and poetry movement known as Neoconcretism.  She examines it within its national and historical contexts to argue that modern visual culture was used politically and ideologically in the production of the Brazilian nation. Alvarez will deepen her research into Neoconcretism as an interdisciplinary  movement, and she will focus on the visual culture and intellectual history of Brazil to examine and question  how culture and nation building converge to support political ideologies. While at Rice, Alvarez will teach an undergraduate course, entitled, “Beyond Frida Kahlo: Women Artists from Latin America, 1945-1985.”
Research Project: Neoconcretism and the Making of Brazilian National Culture, 1954-1961

Elizabeth Farfán-Santos, Ph.D Medical Anthropology (2011), University of California-Berkeley
Farfán-Santos’ dissertation examines the creation of special public policies for the descendants of quilombos (fugitive slave communities). At Rice, Farfán-Santos will expand this research into a book focused on the ways in which special rights for the descendants ofquilombos have changed the ideological positioning of land struggles and social movements in Brazil. She is also working on articles on the history of anthropology and race in Brazil and on Brazil’s increasing influence on multicultural polices in Latin America. Farfán-Santos will teach “History of Race and Racism in Brazil,” “Writing the Body” and other courses on Brazilian history and social life. These will be cross-listed between the history and anthropology departments.
Research Project: (Re)membering the Quilombo: Race, Ethnicity and the Politics of Recognition in Brazil

Sara Stevens, Ph.D. Architecture (2012), Princeton University 
Stevens is working on a book project that connects the architectural and economic history of twentieth-century American landscapes, with a focus on the practitioners who enacted suburbanization and urban renewal. By inserting real estate developers into architectural history, Stevens’ project will expand ideas of the design team to include more than just architects, address the divide between suburban and urban landscapes, and provide one approach to understanding the homogenization of the urban landscape. Stevens will teach an upper level undergraduate course cross-listed between the history and architecture departments entitled, “Capitalism in the Modern City: The Cultural Economy of American Urbanism,” and a Freshman Writing Seminar on “The Visual Culture of Suburbia: The Social and Economic orders of Low-Density Urban Space in the U.S.”  
Research Project: Developing Expertise: Balancing Risk and Selling Security in Architecture and Real Estate in the U.S., 1908-1965


Olivia Banner, Ph.D. in English Literature (2010), University of California, Los Angeles
Banner's dissertation, "The Genetic Imaginary: Cultural and Scientific Narratives of Human Variation in the Postgenomic Era," examines race, disability, sex, and sexuality in light of scientific knowledges and technologies that have emerged with and since the Genome Projects. At Rice, she will expand this into a book on the construction of the postgenomic subject through the convergence of old and new media. 

Michael Gavin, Ph.D. in English (2010), Rutgers University
Gavin's dissertation, "Print and the Cultures of Criticism: Literary Factionalism in England, 1660-1730," examines how poetic controversies gave shape to various conceptions of literary community and print culture in England during this period. During his time at Rice, Gavin will explore the relationships between criticism and other forms of writing, including satire and the early novel, while focusing on the careers of writers and publishers whose work spans generic, social, and national boundaries.

Sarah Levin-Richardson, Ph.D. in Classical Archaeology (2009), Stanford University
Building from her doctoral dissertation, Levin-Richardson’s monograph Beyond Desire: Romans and their Erotic Art explores the intersection of eroticism, desire, and viewing in the Roman period. This project re-examines the erotic art of three (in)famous buildings—Pompeii’s  brothel, the Suburban Baths at Pompeii, and an elite villa in Rome (the Villa della Farnesina)—arguing that social status was key to the ways in which Roman erotic art provoked desire and other emotions. In addition to working on this manuscript while at Rice, she is preparing a series of articles on male and female uses of obscenity in ancient graffiti and a co-authored article revising the traditional active-male/passive-female model of ancient sexuality


Diana Bullen Presciutti, PhD in Art History (2008), University of Michigan, Ann Arbor

Presciutti’s dissertation “The Visual Culture of the Foundling Hospital in Central Italy, 1400-1600” examines how visual culture shaped perceptions of charity toward abandoned children and the institutions that cared for them. While at Rice, she will revise her dissertation for publication as a book. She will also begin work on a second book project, focusing on the visual culture of institutions of confinement, rehabilitation, and reintegration of “problematic” women and converted Jews and Muslims in sixteenth- and early seventeenth-century Italy. Presciutti is now at the College of Wooster in Ohio.

Matthew Wilkens, PhD in Literature (2006), Duke University

In a book manuscript based on his dissertation “Points and Lines: Allegory, Event, and the End of American Modernism,” Wilkens developed a theory of the relationship between allegory and event in contemporary American fiction. He is now working to extend this framework to new areas in digital humanities and science studies. In one current project, he is using computer models to study historical variations in literary genres. His aim is to discover how literature responds to rapid cultural change, and to use this knowledge to refine our current understanding of contemporary literature, as well as to develop new tools and techniques for digital scholarship in the humanities. Matthew Wilkins is now at Notre Dame.


Adrian Weimer, PhD in the Study of Religion (2008), Harvard University

Weimer's dissertation “Protestant Sainthood: Martyrdom and the Meaning of Sanctity in Early New England” examines the rhetoric of martyrdom in seventeenth-century Protestant culture, exploring how Puritans, Baptists, and Quakers imagined themselves within biblical and historical narratives of persecution both to strengthen their authority in matters of religion and to reinforce their models of the true spiritual life. During the term of her fellowship, she will expand the project to include Quaker and Baptist devotional life and will trace the language of martyrdom and persecution into the first decades of the eighteenth century. Weimer is now at the University of Mississippi.


Pei Koay, PhD in Science and Technology Studies (2003) Virginia Polytechnic Institute and State University.

Koay's dissertation, "(Re)presenting Human Population Database Projects: Virtually Designing and Siting Biomedical Ventures," examines the impacts of web-based genetic and genomic representations of health, especially regarding identity-making. Her current research interests include globalization of science, representations of science and technology, race and science, and feminist and postcolonial approaches to studying science and society. She has taught courses on global science, science and gender, and the philosophy of technology for the Department of Philosophy. Koay is now at the Chemical Heritage Foundation's Center for Contemporary History and Philosophy.  

José Pastrano, PhD in U.S. History (2006) University of California, Santa Barbara.

Pastrano's dissertation, "Industrial Agriculture in the Peripheral South: State, Race, and the Making of a Migrant Working Class in Texas, 1887-1930" focuses on the importance of Mexican immigrant labor in the development of a commercial farming economy in Texas. Pastrano's current research examines the politics of a seasonal workforce. He has taught courses on Mexican-American history, migrant labor in America, and 20th-century labor history in the Department of History. Pastrano is now at the University of Texas-Pan American.

Laura Isabel Serna, PhD in History of American Civilization (2006) Harvard University.

In her dissertation "We're Going Yankee: American Movies, Mexican Nationalism, Transnational Cinema, 1917-1935," Serna considers the social function ascribed to the consumption of American films in Mexico in the 1920s and the way that American mass culture was integrated into Mexico's postrevolutionary nation-building project. Her research examines the intersection of discourses on mass culture with debates about immigration, gender, and nationalism. Serna taught courses in the Departments of English and History on histories of silent cinema, consumer culture in the Americas, and culture and nation in Mexico. Serna is now at Florida State University.


Thomas H. Chivens, PhD in Anthropology (2004) North Carolina University at Chapel Hill
Zoe Knox, PhD (2002) Monash University


Michael Decker, PhD in Modern History (2001) Oxford University
Nancy Deffebach, PhD in Art History (2000) University of Texas-Austin

Woodrow Wilson Postdoctoral Fellows


David Gray, PhD in History of Religion (2000) Columbia University


Thomas Jenkins, PhD in Classical Philology (1999) Harvard University