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Michael Zank understands that the title of his forthcoming book—Jerusalem: A Brief History—may inspire a few chuckles. Still, says the College of Arts & Sciences professor of religion and director of the Elie Wiesel Center for Jewish Studies, you have to do the research for a long book to write a short one. “In the end,” he says, “you have to find a way of conveying things briefly and clearly and succinctly.”
Zank first spent significant time in Jerusalem in 1982, and the city has been a major part of his scholarly life ever since. He has taught a course about Jerusalem, currently called Holy City: Jerusalem in Time, Space, and the Imagination, since 1999, and he maintains Jerusalem-blog as a place for “moderate and reasonable opinions” about its problems.
Now, it appears, Zank will have more time for his writing, as one of nine faculty members chosen for the 2016–2017 BU Center for the Humanities (BUCH) Fellows’ Seminar as either a Jeffrey Henderson Senior Research Fellow or a Junior Faculty Fellow. The fellows get a semester’s leave to work on scholarly projects, many that have been in progress for years, along with office space at the center.
The fellows’ interests range across literature and history, religion and philosophy, a cross-pollination that makes the monthly fellows’ meetings—and daily conversations around the coffee pot—rewarding, says James Winn, BUCH director since 2008.
“I know it’s working when fellows stop saying, ‘This isn’t my field, but…’ and just say what they think,” says Winn, a William Fairfield Warren Distinguished Professor and a CAS professor of English. “It usually takes several months, but it’s a transformation worth promoting.”
For each faculty member chosen, the center provides course-replacement funds to their department. Senior fellows generally combine their fellowship semester with an earned sabbatical to get a full academic year for their project.
Also a 2016–17 senior research fellow, Sanjay Krishnan, a CAS associate professor of English, tackles a controversial, complex, and contradictory subject in Unsentimental Education: V. S. Naipaul’s Twentieth Century. The 83-year-old Naipaul’s books, including A House for Mr. Biswas, Guerillas, and a Bend in the River, raise many questions about modern history, politics, and culture.
“We are constantly bombarded with information and very quick, problem-solving type perspectives,” Krishnan says. “‘What should we do to counter the threat of X or Y?’ I think that one of the things that Naipaul’s work has allowed me to see more clearly is the importance of getting to see the broader contextual and cultural frameworks out of which problems arise, so we have a more sophisticated language to think about these things.”
Krishnan has a draft of Unsentimental Education, and he hopes to use his fellowship to polish it. While working on a book, “thoughts have a way of developing from one day to the next,” he says. “And when you’re teaching and you have meetings to go to, it’s really hard to create that block of time when you can work in a concentrated fashion. So it makes a huge difference.”
Another senior research fellow, Dorothy Kelly, a CAS professor of French and associate chair of romance studies, will spend her fellowship time working on The Living Death of the Past: Balzac, Baudelaire, Zola. “People think of the 19th century as revolutions and change, but I’ve noticed this counter-tendency to represent the past as returning,” Kelly says.
A confluence of factors, from increasing urbanization and political reform to scientific discoveries about fossils and evolution, she says, influenced each of the authors in different ways. She points out that Zola’s Jacques Lantier, in the 1890 La Bête Humaine, is a train engineer on the line between Paris and Le Havre, and thus the embodiment of modernity, yet he has also inherited the madness of an ancestor—in short, he has been taken over by the past. Kelly says she is trying to explain why the three French authors all present modernity as being invaded by a dead past.
Winn is well known as a tireless promoter of the humanities in an era when hard science gets the lion’s share of research funding and attention. On July 1, after two four-year terms as BUCH director, he will pass the leadership post to Susan Mizruchi, a CAS professor of English literature and a current Jeffrey Henderson Senior Research Fellow.
That should offer Winn, who also holds an appointment in the College of Fine Arts musicology department, a book break of his own. On sabbatical in the fall, he’ll start a short book for general readers, tentatively titled Listening to Songs, examining works by composers from unknown Elizabethan troubadours to Gershwin to Joni Mitchell.
The other 2016–2017 Jeffrey Henderson Senior Research Fellows:
David Frankfurter, a CAS professor of religion, will be making final revisions to his book Christianizing Egypt: Syncretism and Local Worlds, which looks at how a culture with such ancient traditions and spectacular monuments as Egypt becomes Christian.
Aaron Garrett, a CAS associate professor of philosophy, will be writing The Making of Modern Moral Philosophy, about British moral philosophers in 18th-century England, Scotland, and Ireland, and how their work echoes today.
Christopher Martin, a CAS professor of English, takes on attitudes toward the natural progression of aging in Outliving the Fashion: Arts of Aging in Seventeenth-Century Literature, which looks at works from Don Quixote to The Old, Old, Very Old Man.
James Schmidt, a CAS professor of history, philosophy, and political science, will tackle the ongoing argument about what constitutes true enlightenment in Persistent Enlightenment: Arguments about Reason, Power, and Progress, 1784–1789.
The Junior Faculty Fellows:
Kimberly Arkin, a CAS assistant professor of anthropology, examines the role of French Catholicism in what seem to be secular areas such as assisted reproduction clinics and sex-change procedures in Naturalizing the Social or Socializing the Natural? Race, Sex, and Catholic Secularism in France.
Daniel Erker, a CAS assistant professor of Spanish and linguistics, studies the social and linguistic factors that shape the use of the Spanish language at the local level in Salvadoran Bostonians and the Linguistic Construction of Identity, with the hope of better understanding our emerging linguistic identity.