I just want to thank you for a wonderful, productive semester at BUCH. It was truly a gift to have a “room of my own,” but within such a vibrant community of scholars. I was able to finish my book, start two new projects, design two new courses, and read some inspiring new (and old) texts… and I still only accomplished about a third of what I had hoped to. But the very best part was meeting and interacting with a fabulous group of fellow Fellows, some of whom have already become steadfast friends and colleagues.

Thank you, in a broader sense, for all of BUCH’s efforts to keep the Humanities on BU’s (and by extension, the world’s) radar, and to create spaces – both physical and virtual – that enable all of us to enrich and showcase our work.

It was an absolutely marvelous semester. I only wish I could have another.

– Joanna Davidson, Junior Faculty Fellow, Fall 2014

Current Junior Faculty Fellows



Birenbaum Quintero.photoMichael Birenbaum Quintero

Assistant Professor, Musicology & Ethnomusicology, Latin American Studies, and African American Studies

Fierce Joy: Sound, Violence, and Community in the Ashes of Politics

For black political activists, cultural entrepreneurs, and state-recognized communities in Colombia, Afro-Colombian traditional music and culture have provided an increasingly expedient resource for making social and political claims and interventions on the state and in the public sphere since the official legislation of territorial and cultural rights for black communities in the 1990s. But the definition of Afro-Colombian culture is increasingly delimited, such that the selfsame legitimation of certain forms of black culture excludes that majority of black Colombians who are unwilling or unable to provide the self-exoticization that Colombia’s neoliberal multiculturalism requires. My earlier work discusses the effects of this tightening frame of black authenticity on traditional Afro-Colombian music. Fierce Joy examines black Colombian cultural production outside that frame—the expressive practices and lived experiences of those whose blackness fails to meet culturally-based criteria of authenticity but who nonetheless confront the intractable structural racism, extreme violence, socio-economic precariousness, and pervasive political disenfranchisement that plague the majority-black Pacific coast. The book inquires into the political valence of such everyday cultural practices as loud sound systems, non-traditional and apolitical music, and other forms of what in Colombia are called “anti-culture,” to ask what kind of black cultural politics can be enacted when the very categories of blackness, culture, and politics have been foreclosed.



nikolaev1Alexander (Sasha) Nikolaev

Assistant Professor of Classical Studies

Grammar of Poetry: Artificial Language in Early Greek Epic

The language of early Ancient Greek epic poetry is often termed an “artificial language” (Kunstsprache). Indeed, we find in Homeric poems a mixture of linguistic forms that belonged to different periods and dialects; on top of this dialectal motley we also find words and forms that are artificial in the sense that they were not used by any single individual in any one place at any one time for any conventional, everyday purpose. However, those students of literature who believe, as I do, in the autonomy of poetic language should expect to find in the Homeric Kunstsprache a system of rules governing the formation and inflection of words just as in natural languages, in other words, a grammar. Given this perspective, it is not unreasonable to speculate that artificial forms in Homeric epic may be viewed as formed in accordance with the grammar of the epic Kunstsprache which may have been different from the grammar of spoken dialects of Greek language. In my study I am going to address questions of the following kind: what models did the Ancient Greek singers use to create nonce forms? Why did the bards create nonce forms: was it the need to accommodate a certain word to hexameter, could it have been some form of archaizing bent, or perhaps the use of dialectal elements was determined by contextual factors? What was the linguistic mechanism that enabled such poetic licenses as lengthening of vowels and doubling of consonants? Are there rules for bending one’s language or the poets are free to do whatever their heart desires? Can we speak about autonomous development and existence of epic poetic language in the same way as we speak about spoken languages and vernaculars?



Alexis Peri

Assistant Professor of History

Fraternizing with the Enemy: Soviet-American Friendships amid Cold War

In January 1947, Sylvia Newbergy of the Bronx, New York penned a heartfelt letter to a woman whom she had never met. “Dear Madame Petrova,” she began, “You do not know me from Adam, except that I am one of the faceless, voiceless American women, whom you and other Russian women must often wonder about.” Newbergy too was deeply curious about the Soviet women she read of in Look and Ladies Home Companion. She longed to get behind the headlines and connect with a Soviet woman personally. And Newbergy was not alone.  As WWII ended and US-Soviet relations began to deteriorate, hundreds of women like Newbergy and Petrova formed pen-pal relationships with “faraway friends from across the ocean.” Keenly aware of the mounting tensions between the US and USSR, this dedicated group made it their mission to advance mutual understanding and world peace. They exchanged nearly 800 letters between 1944 and 1950, trying to diffuse the Cold War one letter at a time, until they were halted by the House Un-American Activities Committee.

The pen-friendships between these “faceless, voiceless” women promise to shed light on two of the biggest stories of the late twentieth century: the Cold War and the rise of second-wave feminism. Often, a letter-writer played the role of unofficial diplomat, representing her nation with a womanly face.  At the same time, a correspondent’s amicability and trust often were tested by her government’s fiery rhetoric and hostile policies. Moreover, American and Soviet women discussed the challenges they faced by living in patriarchal societies. They commiserated about inadequate childcare, domestic chores, and the difficulty of balancing a family and a career. Such obstacles created common ground between them. By studying their letters, I hope to understand how American and Soviet women forged friendships across the Iron Curtain; how they made sense of geopolitics; how they presented their own way of life to their counterparts; and how they understood their roles and rights as women.


Siegel.1Benjamin Siegel

Assistant Professor of History

The Nation in Pain: American Bodies and Indian Pharmaceuticals in an Age of Distress

In 2010, in the shadow of an economic crisis and three decades of deindustrialization, Americans consumed a quarter million pounds of opioids—more than 80 percent of the world’s total supply. Yet even as US cities and towns have been blighted by prescription opioids and cheap heroin, the source of these drugs remains shrouded in mystery. Save for fully synthetic opioids manufactured in laboratories, the overwhelming majority of the gelcaps, tablets, liquids, and lollipops consumed in the United States were produced from poppies grown in India, the lucrative byproduct of a colonial opium industry reanimated in the twentieth century. Through critical archival and ethnographic work, this project interrogates the interlinked rise of the US opioid epidemic and the Indian pharmaceutical industry, showing how American pain and Indian agriculture and industry have been sutured together over the last century.



Arkin.photoKimberly Arkin 

(2016/2018 Fellow, attending the 2017/2018 Fellows’ Seminars)
Assistant Professor, Anthropology

Naturalizing the Social or Socializing the Natural?  Race, Sex, and Catholic Secularism in France.

The French state has long disavowed race as an administrative category or social reality; yet it requires a form of “racial” matching in its state-run assisted reproductive clinics.  Sex changes have been performed in France since the 1970s and have been legally sanctioned since the early 1990s; yet those changes cannot be recognized if they are rooted in personal “choice” or are “reversible.”  Why?  What might these paradoxes tell us about the “essence” or “nature” of things in some very secular contexts in contemporary France?  And how might we make sense of the French state’s investment in essentialized understandings of race and sex at a historical moment often associated with the triumph of volitional identities?  Naturalizing the Social or Socializing the Natural attends to these questions as a way of thinking about what difference Catholicism might make in French secularism.  Tracing out the content and status of “nature” in some highly secular, state-saturated spaces in France will help shed light on the often exclusionary afterlives of French Catholicism in French social life.