As part of our Mellon-funded Public Humanities initiative at Rice, the HRC promotes alt-ac programming and development for advanced graduate students. The HRC competitively funds two sixth-year Ph. D. students annually, (applications due soon!) to work with local institutions as they complete their degree. This helps graduate students make professional connections in the area while developing their scholarship in a publicly-oriented direction.
Our 2016-17 alt-ac fellows are Sophia Hsu, a candidate in the English department, and Kyle G. Sweeney, a candidate in Art History.
Kyle’s work on medieval ceramics from Islamic lands has directly contributed to a special exhibition at the Museum of Fine Arts, Houston, devoted to Persian art that is slated to open in November, 2017. A two-day, international conference will accompany this exhibit, focusing on Persian art and the art of collecting. The MFAH is uniquely situated to lead a discussion on the art of collecting and to celebrate the role of art collectors and their contribution, and the conference will explore how collectors and collections set criteria for acquiring, preserving, sharing, and promoting art and culture. The MFAH aims to make this conference a key part of its public education programming this year, targeting the broader Houston community.
Kyle played a major role in this public humanistic edicuational work by arranging for two specialists in Islamic art to visit Rice and the MFAH this semester. Sponsored by the department of Art History, Dr. Stephennie Mulder (Associate Professor of Islamic Art, University of Texas at Austin) gave a public lecture in the Founders Room that challenged current “universal” archaeological and heritage models by exploring some of the numerous historical ways that local populations in the Islamic world have preserved and revered cultural heritage. A second speaker, Dr. Walter B. Denny (University Distinguished Professor of Islamic Art at UMass Amerherst), introduced students in Dr. Aimée Froom’s Introduction to Islamic Art course to the arts of the loom in the MFAH’s collection of art from the Islamic worlds.
Sophia’s dissertation focuses on biopolitics in the Victorian novel, and this past semester she has worked in the TMC Library’s McGovern Historical Center and the Rice Fondren Library's Woodson Research Center, finding ways to bring her critical framework to bear in publicly-oriented ways on these archives’ extensive public health collections. Sophia folded this work into her first-year writing seminar, “Literature and Public Health,” showing students how to work with archival materials, and helpin gthem to develop multimedia teaching modules that would contextualize archival materials in relation to a contemporary public health issue.
One group of students used the interviews with female nurses, doctors, and scienists from the TMC Women’s History Project as inspiration for their research on the issue of diversity in the medical profession. They proposed and designed a website targeting med school admissions officers, with the goal of communicating the importance of diverse student bodies. Another group, using materials about the 1960’s Rice-Baylor collaboration on the artificial heart, explored the benefits and limits of collaboration in medical research. Concluding that more and better collaboration would accelerate medical research, they built a website targeting graduate-level faculty in order to provide pedagogical methods that could be used to foster collaborative skills in med students.
Later in the spring semester, the HRC alt-ac fellows will present on their year-long research and the ways it has connected scholarship and culture in the broader Houston community. Stay tuned for updates on the HRC calendar!