The Boston University Center for the Humanities recently announced the winners of its 2013/14 Faculty Fellowships. Six outstanding junior faculty members chosen as Junior Faculty Fellows will hold their fellowships for a full academic year. Five distinguished senior faculty members will join them in the center’s seminar as holders of Jeffrey Henderson Senior Research Fellowships, which support a semester of research, often held in conjunction with a sabbatical. The awardees for 2013/14, chosen from large and impressive applicant pools by the center’s Executive Committee, are as follows:
Junior Faculty Fellows:
Marié Abe, Assistant Professor of Musicology, CFA, will use her fellowship to complete a project titled “Resonances of Chindon-ya: Sound, Space, and Sociality in Contemporary Japan.” Marié Abe’s ethnographic work explores how auditory culture produces social space. Chindon-ya, which dates back to the 1850s, refers to groups of outlandishly costumed street musicians in Japan who are hired to publicize an employer’s business. The tradition has recently been revived and Professor Abe is asking why.
David Carballo, Assistant Professor of Archaeology, “Religion and Urbanization in Ancient Central Mexico.” Professor Carballo helps us to understand the teeming Aztec cities that served as the centers of ritual spectacles so baffling and fascinating to Cortés and the conquistadors. His work explores the ecological, demographic, and economic challenges and opportunities faced by the region’s inhabitants, and how particular ritual practices and religious concepts facilitated their social integration and hierarchical differentiation. He considers the overlap between these two issues in the emergence of the religious sociopolitical structures characteristic of urban lifeways in central Mexico.
Phillip Haberkern, Assistant Professor of History, “Patron Saint and Prophet: Jan Hus in the Bohemian and German Reformations.” Professor Haberkern analyzes the process of transformation in the cult of Jan Hus, Bohemian preacher and religious reformer, from heretic to saint. The reinterpretation of the past, Harberkern argues, served as a mandate for religious revolution during the European reformations.
William Huntting Howell, Assistant Professor of English, “American Unexpectionalism: Imitation, Emulation, and the Literary Culture in the Early United States.” Howell works against the grain of Emersonian individualism, reevaluating and rethinking what it meant to imitate, to emulate, to be repetitive, pointedly generic, or jealously dependent in the early republic. He makes a case for a founding American ideology that resists strict definitions of “self-reliance”—that values relationships, collaborations, and imitations over universal entrepreneurship.
Magdalena Ostas, Assistant Professor of English, “Romanticism and Interiority: Poetry, Narrative, Philosophy.” Professor Ostas’s interdisciplinary work looks at the Romantic self and “interiority” as a new, historical development that structures aesthetic, cognitive, affective, ethical, and everyday experience. Romantic selves, she argues, take a characteristic form: rather than understanding itself to live in the world, the Romantic self perpetually looks out at a world.
Russell Powell, Assistant Professor of Philosophy, “Genetic Engineering and the Future of Humanity: A Philosophical Exploration of the Biotechnology Revolution.” Russell Powell addresses a central topic of our time: how can philosophy address changes in biotechnology in order to ensure human wellbeing, flourishing, and justice? With training in law and evolutionary biology as well as philosophy, he is especially well positioned to explore issues of human life and meaning arising from the Human Genome project and human genetic engineering. He tracks bioethical positions and policies that are premised on flawed conceptions of the living world and the place of humans within it. In particular, he will argue that the value of humanity cannot be identified with or reduced to the value of the human biological species, its genome, or its nature.
Jeffrey Henderson Senior Faculty Fellows:
Jodi Cranston, Professor of History of Art & Architecture, will be at work on a project titled “The Green Worlds of Renaissance Venice.” Professor Cranston explores how the urban environment of Venice cultivated and facilitated pastoral ideals in poetry, art, and urban design. Her project articulates the pastoral as a medium for exploring primitive origins, utopian identity, the dark, and predatory energies of nature, and the ambiguity between human, animal, and thing. The pastoral mode encompasses ways of inhabiting landscape, of shaping the perception of space and time, and of characterizing the relationship between language and space, self and landscape.
Maurice Lee, Professor of English, “Textual Excess and Information Management in Nineteenth-Century Literature” (in Spain 2013/14; joining the seminar in 2014/15). Professor Lee focuses on the rise of mass print culture in nineteenth-century America and Britain in order to trace the historical roots of the relationship between literature and emerging forms of information management. How does one read, write, and make aesthetic discriminations in a world overfull of books? The nineteenth century had its own information revolution, which presented both a practical and an epistemological challenge. Combining literary criticism, history of the book, and history of science, Professor Lee will show how this revolution conditioned the production, interpretation, and status of the literary.
Zsuzsanna Várhelyi, Associate Professor of Classical Studies, will study “The Others of the Self: Practices and Contexts of Selfhood in Ancient Rome.” Professor Várhelyi explores the Roman “self” as a sociocultural phenomenon. She argues that the emperor, the most visible Roman subject, allowed individuals to share a sense of a stable “Roman rule” and also to develop distinctive, individualistic self-representations. She also examines the realm of friends and spouses, revealing ideas of exchange and mutuality in philosophical letters, rhetorical guides to self-presentation, and rules on dealing with one’s emotions.
William Waters, Professor of Modern Languages & Comparative Literature, will be writing on “Rilke’s New Poems.” Rilke’s work in this selection is commonly associated with his famous “thing poems,” but Waters reminds us that there are far more “people poems” in these volumes. Rilke’s people, like his things, are almost cubistically constituted out of interacting views. Rilke’s radical perspectivism provides the framework for new close readings.
Diana Wylie, Professor of History, will be writing on “Historic Preservation in Urban Morocco” (in Africa 2013/14, joining the seminar in 2014/15). Historic sites are a form of public space. They help to forge collective identities by enhancing people’s sense of continuity and meaning; by showing that life was once lived differently, they can convey a sense that the future is open and full of possibility. For these reasons, historic preservation may be seen as an issue on the front lines of culture wars. Professor Wylie asks what sites are being preserved, and what is their meaning for local people? Historic preservation, she argues, provides a penetrating lens on competing social visions in a time of ferment.
During the 2013/14 academic year, nine of these eleven Fellows will participate in biweekly seminars at the Center for the Humanities; they will be joined by one of this year’s Senior Fellows who used her leave to pursue research abroad. Past and current Fellows have found these seminars very useful as an opportunity to present their own work in progress while learning about work in other fields.