Dean of the Faculty

Spring 2007 FRAP Awards

Submitted by Christine Oberly

he following faculty members received funding awards in spring 2007 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.

Small grants are for $6,000 or less.

Professor L. Alan Babb
Departments of Anthropology and Sociology and Asian Languages and Civilizations

Jaipur’s Gemstone Traders: Case Studies of Family Firms

Professor Babb will use his FRAP grant to support a month of field research in Jaipur this coming summer. The research is part of a longer-term project, begun in autumn 2005, on the business culture of the gemstone traders of Jaipur. Because the family is the basic organizational unit of this business, the focus of his research has been on oral histories of family firms. In order to fill out the picture of post-war changes in the business, he will supplement the materials he already has with additional information on families who entered the business in the 1960s and 1970s from castes and communities not traditionally prominent in the gemstone trade—that is, families not belonging to the Jain community, who dominated the business until the latter part of the twentieth century. This will help Professor Babb trace important changes in the business in the post–World War II period.

Professor Rhonda Cobham-Sander
Departments of English and Black Studies

Film in Africa/Africa in Film

In collaboration with Samba Gadjigo of Mount Holyoke and Patrick Mensah of UMass, Professor Cobham-Sander will edit a special issue of the African Studies Review (ASR) dedicated to the proceedings of the Film in Africa/Africa in Film colloquium held at Amherst in March 2006. The event included a series of film viewings and roundtable discussions, as well as eight papers by invited scholars, which were commissioned for the conference. Professor Cobham-Sander and her colleagues already have some of those papers in hand, as well as a commitment from the ASR to publish the proceedings, once the papers have been refereed and revised. The FRAP grant will enable Professor Cobham-Sander’s group to transcribe and edit the roundtable discussions (which were held in French, English, and Portuguese), as well as the hour-long Q & A with the directors that followed the screening of each film. In recent years, advances in information technology, as well as ongoing cultural collaboration between Europe and its former African colonies, have combined to give African filmmakers greater access to markets and resources within and beyond Africa. The resulting explosion in the number of films, videos, and multi-media installations being produced by Africans for international and domestic consumption has made the film industry one of the fastest growing forms of cultural production on the continent. In feature films, documentaries, high-end artistic “shorts” for elite consumption, and low-budget video productions for mass audiences, African filmmakers challenge and expand upon earlier images of Africa. They bring to their productions a rich visual vocabulary that draws on the conventions utilized in earlier movies about Africa, as well as on Africa’s rich performance culture. Even as they remain ironically aware of the ways in which films about Africa have reified them as exotic subjects, they continuously recalibrate the cinema’s techniques and signifiers to serve their own ends. Though festivals of African film have become popular events on American college campuses over the last ten years, films by African directors still are regarded as sources of exotic “information,” lacking self-conscious aesthetic goals or formal intention. In publishing the proceedings of the colloquium, especially the exchanges between and among the critics and filmmakers, Professor Cobham-Sander and her colleagues hope to intervene in that process. The volume will give readers access both to the formal scholarship presented by critics at the colloquium and to the aesthetic questions the directors addressed to them and to each other as they grappled in their public exchanges with the economics of production, the constraints of genre and the problems of audience.

Professor Christopher Dole
Department of Anthropology and Sociology

Disaster Psychiatry in Turkey

Centered around a series of devastating earthquakes that struck western Turkey in 1999 (in which nearly 20,000 people died), Professor Dole’s study will examine the complex ways in which the experience of suffering and recovery coincident with disaster takes shape within emergent arrangements of political, legal, and medical authority in Istanbul, Turkey. The specific objectives of the larger project encompass: the long-term social and psychological impact of disaster; the role of state and non-state actors in the management of disaster, with particular attention to the role of transnational forms of expertise; the globalization of psychiatric categories (that coincided with the flood of “trauma researchers” following the 1999 earthquakes); and the cultural elaboration of disaster scenarios and preparedness. Interviews will be conducted with survivors of the 1999 earthquake; mental health care professionals treating earthquake survivors and involved in coordinating medical relief for future disaster; governmental agencies dedicated to disaster recovery and preparedness; and neighborhood organizations involved in managing disaster relief.

Professor Jeffrey Ferguson
Departments of Black Studies and American Studies
Race and the Rhetoric of Resistance

Race and the Rhetoric of Resistance
examines critically the rhetoric of resistance in the American race discourse. Most centrally, it investigates how this rhetoric has served as an overarching framework for the construction of race since the 1960s. In these recent years, the idea of resistance has had a deep impact on how black Americans have conceived of themselves both collectively and individually. It has also served as a “master narrative” for scholars across several disciplines. Yet, the resistance theme brings with it several obvious limitations, not the least of which involves its tendency to overemphasize the heroic and the sacrificial elements of African-American life and to subsume the complexity of racial experience to a melodrama of good and evil. Also, its inherent dependence on ideas of reaction seems to cut back against other important values like agency and freedom in ways that merit investigation. Race and the Rhetoric of Resistance explores such limitations along with many other aspects of this important topic in order to ascertain what the resistance lens has allowed us to see about the history of race in the United States and what it has precluded.

Professor Karena McKinney
Department of Chemistry

Characterization of the Emissions and Oxidation Products of Terpenes at a New England Forest

Terpenes are an important class of volatile organic compounds emitted by trees and plants. These compounds can affect the oxidizing capacity of the troposphere and lead to the formation of ozone and aerosols. Professor Mckinney’s study will quantify the emissions of terpenes, assess the relative importance of their chemical and physical loss processes, and identify and quantify the significant oxidation products and their contribution to oxidant and organic aerosol production by conducting field measurements of these compounds in and above a forest canopy. She and her students will use Proton Transfer Reaction Mass Spectrometry (PTR-MS) to make fast measurements of gas phase concentrations and fluxes of monoterpenes and their oxidation products, and denuder and filter sampling to obtain more specific structural information on semi-volatile oxygenated organic compounds in the gas phase and in aerosols. Observations of the relationship between gas-phase concentrations and factors such as season, temperature, radiation levels, and meteorological conditions will be used to elucidate the mechanisms of compound formation, chemical loss, aerosol uptake, and deposition. Analysis of aerosol samples obtained in parallel will help characterize the volatilities of the oxidation products and their role in aerosol growth. These experiments will illuminate the role of terpenes in the tropospheric oxidation cycle. In a broader sense, the results will help improve understanding of the effects of biogenic emissions on tropospheric composition and chemistry on local to global scales in order to anticipate future atmospheric change and guide the development of effective mitigation strategies.

Professor Uday Mehta
Department of Political Science
The Language of Peace and Practice of Non-Violence

During his sabbatical, Professor Mehta will complete a book length project that explores the relationship between peace and non-violence. It pursues the thought that the connection between three crucial ideas, peace, war, and politics is conceptually indifferent to the issue of violence. By that Professor Mehta means that the three terms are neither disposed to violence; but, and more importantly, nor are they opposed to violence. He takes it to be an implication of this idea that there is no theoretically strong commitment to non-violence or the abjuring from the use of force in the modern conception of peace.  As a matter of fact he thinks that this is not simply a theoretical or conceptual claim, but rather one that is sadly vindicated in everyday life in which peace does not signify an absence of violence, and the aspiration for peace does not foreclose the possibility of war. It is, Professor Mehta believes, crucial in developing this argument, to recognize that the contemporary understanding of peace and war have a shared conceptual provenance in modern notions of politics. This book is limited to exploring certain broadly theoretical ideas about peace, politics, and violence and then offering an alternative account that deals with non-violence.

Professor Jill Miller
Department of Biology

A Tale of Two Continents: Long-distance Dispersal of Lycium—An Empirical Test of Baker’s Law

More than fifty years ago, Baker (1955 Evolution 9:347) pointed out that species capable of self-fertilization are more likely to be successful long-distance colonizers compared to obligate outcrossers that rely on pollen transfer between individuals (i.e., self-incompatible species). In support of “Baker’s Law” (as coined by Stebbins, 1957 Am. Nat. 91:337), many authors have documented high frequencies of self-compatibility on islands and recent work has solidified the generality of Baker’s ideas. The plant genus Lycium (Solanaceae) has ca. eighty species distributed worldwide and previous work in Professor Miller’s lab indicates that the genus originated in South America and dispersed to the Old World a single time, probably quite recently. Further, her group’s analyses of the S-RNase gene, which controls the female component of self-incompatibility, have demonstrated that self-incompatibility is ancestral within Lycium, making it a good model for investigating Baker’s ideas concerning reproductive assurance following long-distance dispersal. Despite Baker’s assertions, however, recent pollination studies of African Lycium have revealed strong self-incompatibility in several taxa. Thus, Professor Miller’s data suggest that self-incompatibility was maintained following oceanic dispersal and provide a rare opportunity to study the evolutionary dynamics of a mating system. In this study, Professor Miller and her group plan to survey allelic diversity at the S-RNase locus for Old World taxa to determine the extent (if any) of genetic bottlenecks at this mating system gene. More broadly, the proposed research will contribute to testing specific evolutionary hypotheses for the evolution of gender dimorphism in Lycium and document historical population processes that give rise to allelic diversity in modern day plant populations.

Professor Hilary Moss
Departments of History and Black Studies

Race, Citizenship, and Educational Inequality in Antebellum America

Professor Moss will use her FRAP grant to complete her book manuscript, which is under contract with the University of Chicago Press. This book project seeks to explain the widespread white hostility towards black education that erupted in northern and southern states during the early 1830s, a period that coincides with the birth of public education (the so-called rise of the common school) in America. During this era, through the emergence of institutional segregation and a wave of violent uprisings against black institutions, African Americans were excluded from the educational system just as many others, including white women and immigrants, were ushered inside. Using newspapers, census data, personal correspondence, municipal records, and similar sources to explore three distinct antebellum communities–New Haven, Baltimore, and Boston –Professor Moss’s research strives to resolve this apparent paradox.

Professor Stanley Rabinowitz
Department of Russian

The Petersbury Journal Northern Herald (1891-1898): A History in Documents

Professor Rabinowitz’s research will provide a history in documents of the final years (1891-1898) of the St. Petersburg monthly magazine Northern Herald, which in its time was the leading modernist literary and cultural publication in Russia. Together with his Russian colleague, Dr. Margarita Pavlova, Professor Rabinowitz will locate, assemble, edit, and provide extensive commentary on previously unpublished archival materials located in St. Petersburg and Moscow. Their book will shed light on the inner workings of this significant publication and show how, with its often iconoclastic philosophical viewpoints and aesethtic views, Northern Herald facilitated the ongoing revolution in aesthetic expression, serving as a major forerunner of the avant-garde in Russia.

Professor Sean Redding
Department of History

Deaths in the Family: The Political Implications of Violence within African Families in Rural South Africa, 1902-1987

Professor Redding is working on an ongoing project titled, “Deaths in the Family: The Political Implications of Violence within African Families in Rural South Africa, 1902-1994.” This project will ultimately result in a book manuscript, two chapters of which are currently written, with a third chapter substantially completed. The book will open with a discussion of political violence, particularly in the 1950s and early 1960s and again in the 1980s, in the rural areas. Africans working against the apartheid state targeted African “collaborators” (often very loosely defined) and white state officials. These political activists typically justified their actions both on political grounds and on moral grounds by alleging that their targets (particularly African collaborators) were using witchcraft to enrich themselves and were undermining the moral order of society. At the same time--at least in the 1948-1964 period—there was an upsurge of violence (with accompanying witchcraft allegations) within families. This violence is the focus of one of the chapters that Professor Redding has already written, and she will do additional research on the later period to see if this holds true for the 1980-94 period as well. Professor Redding became interested in violence within families as part of an earlier project, the book that she just published with Ohio University Press—Sorcery and Sovereignty: Taxation, Power and Rebellion in Rural South Africa. While she discussed some issues concerning violence within families in one chapter of that book, there are a number of questions she did not answer. She would also like to bring the analysis into the more recent time period. Moreover, she wishes to see if the broader connections between the political and the non-political violence hold true across several regions of South Africa. Professor Redding’s research to date has suggested that political violence and violence within families are connected broadly through a sense of entitlement to use violence to re-establish or reinforce the moral social order in the rural areas and more narrowly through the vocabulary and methods used to describe and attack the targets of violence. Thus, political activists blamed the state and collaborators for upsetting the moral order and causing a great deal of social and economic destruction. At the same time, family members and neighbors sometimes found themselves blamed by others of their social groups for undermining the moral social order, and thus also became victims of violence or the threat of violence. Framing political and social problems with the language of morality and witchcraft tended to exacerbate what had always been a latent tension between the generations—parents’ claims to control the lives of their children, particularly with regard to major social transitions via circumcision or marriage, and children’s attempts to assert their own control or claim a more senior status for themselves than their parents might be willing to accept or acknowledge. The fact that children, ranging in age from eight to twenty-two, often took the leading role in political movements fanned the flames of these generational disputes. Professor Redding hopes to flesh out these topics in the context of broader research.

Large grants are for more than $6,000 and up to 30,000.

Professor Margaret Hunt
Departments of History and Women’s and Gender Studies

Gender and the Royal Navy: Maritime Communities and the British Military State, 1640-1720

Later seventeenth-century England witnessed some important changes in the relationship between women, families, and the state-at-war. In her book-in-progress Professor Hunt both describes this relationship in detail and argues that it paved the way for some new and more modern understandings of patriotism, sacrifice, gendered politics, and state responsibility. In England the seventeenth-century “naval revolution” included, among other things, a sharp rise in the numbers of men actually serving and dying. This put a huge strain on the women and children left behind, only partially offset by sailor’s pay, widow’s bounties, military contracts (many military contractors were women), parish relief, prostitution, and the like. Professor Hunt hopes to show in her book both that women and their families successfully made a series of new claims upon the militarizing state, and that, as a result, they had a demonstrable impact upon its development. Since her sabbatical began, she has written a full-length essay on the legal position of women in seaport towns (this will probably form one chapter in the book) and delivered a talk based on it to the Johns Hopkins University British History Seminar (in October) and the North American Conference on British Studies (in November). Now that she is in London, she is looking more closely at some key manuscript collections, such as that of John Evelyn, a key member of the Navy ‘Sick and Hurt Board’ in the 1660s. She is also pursuing a new-found interest in ‘Navy plays’ of the seventeenth century (who knew there even were any; but there are, and they are both wonderful and revealing of the times).

Professor David Ratner
Department of Biology

Genetic Analysis of Proteolysis and Signal Transduction 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. Professor Ratner’s research will use the amoeba Dictyostelium discoideum, in which he and his group have 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. Recent genetic and biochemical observations argue for an interaction of the ubiquitinating complex containing the protein FbxA with two other enzymes, a phosphodiesterase (RegA) believed to regulate developmental cyclic AMP levels, and the histidine kinase DhkA. However, many other components of these interacting pathways remain unknown. Professor Ratner’s research will focus on a genetic selection based upon the over-expression of normal Dictyostelium genes that is intended to reveal additional components of the interaction.