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Fall 2005 Faculty Research Award Program Awards
The following faculty members received funding awards in December 2005 through the College’s Faculty Research Award Program (FRAP), which supports the research activities of all regular full- and part-time, tenured and tenure-track Amherst College faculty members. Since 2000, FRAP has been endowed by the H. Axel Schupf ’57 Fund for Intellectual Life.
Professor Elizabeth Aries
Department of Psychology
Research Project: The Interactive Relationship between Race- and Class-based Identity and the First Year College Experience
Professor Aries will use her award to explore the ways in which race and social class shape the college experience of first-year students at Amherst, and how the college experience, in turn, shapes race- and class-based aspects of students’ identities. The study will compare four groups of first-year students: high financial need white students, high financial need African-American students, affluent white students, and affluent African-American students at Amherst. Each group will include fifteen students for a total of sixty participants. Students will be interviewed and fill out questionnaires during the first three weeks of the first semester and again during the last three weeks of second semester. The study has four goals: (1) to disentangle the effects of race and social class on the college experience, (2) to better understand the challenges faced by lower income students and African-American students, (3) to examine the changes that occur over time to lower income and African-American students as they become immersed in a predominantly white, upper-middle class world (4) to examine students’ perceptions of the educational value of economic and racial diversity in the student body.
Professor Amrita Basu
Departments of Political Science and Women’s and Gender Studies
Research Project: Beyond Exceptionalism: Violence, Religion, and Democracy in India
Scholars have often approached the phenomenon of “extreme violence” through the lens of exceptionalism. Whether discussing ethnic cleansing, pogroms, genocides, or other incidents of concentrated, state-sponsored violence, the dominant tendency in both academic as well as policy circles is to regard such violence as aberrant from the normal and quotidian universe of politics, particularly when the norm is liberal democracy. The implication is that the relationship between extreme violence and “normal” democratic politics is inverse: the absence, failure, or collapse of democracy makes extreme violence possible. Other scholars hold that extreme violence is best understood as exemplary rather than exceptional. In this rendition, incidents of extreme violence are visible expressions of the latent or immanent violence of the modern state. Thus extreme violence attests to the “norm” rather than the “exception” of modernity and democracy. With this support, Professor Basu plans to complete a book on Hindu nationalism that explores the relationship of Hindu nationalism to violence and of violence to democracy. Her hope is to illuminate how, why, and when Hindu nationalism has depended at different moments on employing and rejecting violence. Additionally, she hopes to understand how democratic institutions, values, and processes have enabled violence to occur, and influenced its modes of expression, its intensity and duration.
Professor Ute Brandes
Department of German
Research Project: Anna Seghers Edition, Vol. II, 4
Like Thomas Mann and Bertolt Brecht, Anna Seghers was one of the great figures of German modernism and a leading intellectual voice among emigre and postwar writers. As a leftist writer and German Jew, she went into exile in 1933, first to France, later to Mexico. In 1942 her antifascist novel The Seventh Cross was a bestseller in this country; a Hollywood film version directed by Fred Zinnemann starred Spencer Tracy, Hume Cronin, and Jessica Tandy. After the war she was widely read in German-speaking countries as well as internationally. To date her works have been read i n more than forty languages. Professor Brandes is currently editing two volumes of Seghers's short stories from 1950-1965, part of the twenty-five-volume Werkausgabe, published by Aufbau Verlag in Berlin. This textcritical edition assembles as editors the most important international Seghers scholars. The short stories in volume II,4 were written at the height of the Cold War in East Germany, a period notorious for censorship and self-censorship. Brandes's editing and critical essays focus on restoring the original features of the texts and their variants, on their reception in East and West Germany, and on the aesthetic and political implications of certain narrative strategies which make Seghers's works richly original.
Professor Catherine Ciepiela
Department of Russian
Research Project: Working Group on Contemporary Russian Poetry
The Working Group on Contemporary Russian Poetry first met on the Amherst College campus in the summer of 2000 and since then has met annually at different institutions. The group’s purpose is to assess the work of recent and contemporary poets in the context of new, post-Soviet cultural developments. At that first meeting we studied poems by Joseph Brodsky, who taught on the Five-College faculty from 1981 until his death in 1996; our discussion yielded a collective publication about a controversial poem on the Soviet presence in Afghanistan. In the years since we have studied a wide range of poets. This year we return to Amherst and to Brodsky’s poetry to honor the fortieth anniversary of his death. We will focus on his elegies and on the way he has been elegized by his peers, especially by the poet and scholar Lev Loseff, who will participate in our meeting. The standing members of the group are Susanne Fusso (Wesleyan), Katherine O’Connor (Boston University), Sarah Pratt (USC), Stephanie Sandler (Harvard), G. S. Smith (Oxford), and Michael Wachtel (Princeton).
Professor Steven Rivkin
Department of Economics
Research Project: Environment Effects in Education
Professor Rivkin will use his FRAP award to investigate the following two education policy issues: peer influences on academic achievement (work to be done in collaboration with Professor Geoffrey Woglom) and the effects of air pollution on student health and academic performance. In the study of peer influences, Professors Rivkin and Woglom hope to learn more about social network effects by following a number of cohorts of students as they progress through college. In the study of air pollution effects, Professor Rivkin hopes to identify the causal impacts of specific pollutants on elementary school absenteeism and achievement.
Professor Patrick Williamson
Department of Biology
Research Project: Software for Correlated Mutation Analysis
This award will fund the purchase of specialized software to analyze protein sequences in order to better understand protein function. In this analysis, the sequence of amino acids in hundreds of different members of a particular protein family are compared to each other. A method pioneered by Dr. R. Ranganathan of the University of Texas Southwest Medical Center compares the amino acids that differ between the various members of the family, and identifies instances where changes in the amino acid at one particular place in the sequence are correlated with changes in a different amino acid at some other place in the sequence. Such correlations are the result of natural selection during evolution for efficient protein function. When they occur, they identify pairs of amino acids whose interaction with each other is important for how the protein works. Professor Williamson will apply this analysis to a complex membrane protein family, the P-type ATPases, that are important for cell function, including in particular nerve, muscle, liver, and brain function.
Professor Nicola Courtright
Department of Fine Arts
Research Project: Art and the Invention of Queenly Authority in France
Professor Courtright will use her award to support research for her book project, “Art and the Invention of Queenly Authority in France.” From the mid-sixteenth through the seventeenth centuries, French queens’ domiciles – including queens’ wings in royal residences – and the art in them reveal heretofore overlooked political strategies to lend the appearance of authority to royal consorts and regents. In a communal effort sanctioned by kings and their advisers, queens including Catherine de Medici, Marie de Medici, Anne of Austria, and Marie-Therese, who were spouses of Henri II, Henri III, Louis XIII, and Louis XIV and almost all mothers of underage kings, were portrayed ever more frequently and occupied ever more important spaces in royal residences. This trend – a kind of visible dignity and, above all, visible complementarity for queens – found physical form in architectural and decorative programs which began to weight equally the imagery of kings and queens. Incorporating various forms of historical evidence that illuminates the art and architecture adorning palaces and gardens as well as political practices in French courts, this book will chronicle what Professor Courtright sees as an emerging, if temporary, ideology of the queen’s prerogative to rule in early modern France, which intended to lend a vital appearance of stability and continuity to a fragile state.
Professor Helen Leung and Professor Mark Marshall
Department of Chemistry
Research Project: A Broadband Fourier Transform Microwave Spectrometer
Support from FRAP will allow the acquisition of two key components for a broadband Fourier transform microwave spectrometer. Made possible by recent advances in technology, this broadband instrument will greatly shorten the data acquisition time compared to a more traditional Fourier transform microwave spectrometer. The new instrument will be uniquely suited for the study of the nature of forces between molecules, and will be particularly useful for expensive and hard-to-prepare samples. In addition, it will provide a more balanced research experience for students, who would be able to spend less time obtaining data and more time analyzing and interpreting their results.
Professor David Ratner
Department of Biology
Research Project: Proteolysis and the Regulation of Cyclic AMP in Dictyostelium Development
Cells in a multicellular organism must coordinate their development. In part, that coordination involves the phenomenon of “signal transduction,” whereby an extracellular molecule (the signal) activates a succession of intracellular events. In this research, Professor Ratner will use the amoeba Dictyostelium discoideum, in which his research group has shown that three paths of signal transduction, each known to play prominent roles in a range of organisms, converge: cyclic AMP-mediated activation of protein kinase A, activation of a “two component” histidine kinase pathway, and ubiquitin-mediated proteolysis. Cyclic AMP (cAMP) plays a key role in Dictyostelium development. Recent genetic and biochemical observations argue for an interaction of the enzyme named RegA, a phosphodiesterase believed to regulate developmental cAMP levels, with the histidine kinase DhkA and with FbxA, a component of a ubiquitinating complex known as SCF. However, the outcome of these interactions, both in terms of the activity of RegA and the resulting level of cAMP, is not established. The award will enable Professor Ratner to assay RegA and cAMP in several genetic backgrounds in order to better understand the interplay of these regulatory circuits.
Professor Eric Sawyer
Department of Music
Research Project: Concert Performance of Our American Cousin
Professor Sawyer will use this FRAP award to support a concert performance of his opera, Our American Cousin. This work, which is in three acts, tells the story of the assassination of President Lincoln from the standpoint of the actors presenting the comedy of the same name at Ford’s Theater. The opera will be a performed in a concert version in Buckley Recital Hall during March 2007 with the Boston Modern Orchestra Project, under the direction of Gil Rose. The opera’s narrative, with text by poet John Shoptaw, is freely imagined within the framework of the documented historical event and adapted plot of the original Broadway play. It offers an American myth told in an unfamiliar way, with both poetic and musical language drawing from the past but refracted through the present.
Professor Robert Sweeney
Department of Fine Arts
Research Project: Interconnected Pictorial and Metaphorical Elements in Still Life and City Scape Motifs
Professor Sweeney’s award will support his work on a series of paintings that will explore formal and metaphorical relationships between particular still-life and urban landscape motifs.
Professor William Taubman
Department of Political Science
Research Project: Gorbachev: A Biography
Professor Taubman will use this FRAP award to support the research he is undertaking for a biography of Mikhail S. Gorbachev, which will be the first, full scholarly biography utilizing the wealth of new information that has become available since 1991. How did Gorbachev become the man who dismantled the Soviet system that raised him to its heights? Why did that system submit to dismantling almost without resistance? Professor Taubman will try to show how Gorbachev’s character took shape, and how it both reflected and altered his era.