Spring 2010 FRAP Awards

The following faculty members received funding awards in spring 2010 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 Jose Celso Castro-Alves
Departments of History and Black Studies
Title: Copyediting of Cultures of Dissent in Nineteenth-Century Brazil and Dreaming of a Raceless Society: Diasporic African American and Brazil in the Twentieth Century 

Information to come.

Professor Christopher Dole
Departments of Anthropology and Sociology
Title: Recovering from Disaster in Turkey 

Centered around a series of devastating earthquakes that struck western Turkey in 1999, Professor Dole’s study will examine the divergent ways that experiences of suffering and recovery coincident with disaster take part in emerging arrangements of medical, political, religious, and economic authority.  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 scientific 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.

Senior Resident Artist Peter Lobdell
Department of Theater and Dance
Title: Tentative Title: Things Going Bump in the Night 

Two years ago, Mr. Lobdell adapted an Italian fairy tale from Italo Calvino’s collection for a play he was writing. He proposes to adapt two more tales into a contemporary American idiom towards an hour-long evening of storytelling. The stories will be accompanied by a series of black magic images illustrating, commenting, and criticizing the narrations. Black magic is a form of puppetry where the puppeteers are dressed in black and manipulate their objects/puppets within a black draped space. The puppeteers are invisible and the objects appear to float, dance in the air, disappear and appear from nowhere.

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

Professor Sara Brenneis
Department of Spanish
Title: Reflecting Spain: A Nation’s Historical Retrospection in Film and Literature 

This project juxtaposes historically-engaged postwar Spanish literature and film with its contemporary reflective counterparts, taking a panoptical view of the literature and film that grapple with Spain’s history since the Spanish Civil War.  The period that encompasses the war (1936-39), World War II, Francisco Franco’s dictatorship (1939-1975), and Spain’s volatile transition from dictatorship to democracy (1975-1982) are defining moments in the country’s past explored, at times obliquely, in countless literary and historical texts of these eras.  The novels and films that have emerged since the beginning of Spain’s democratic era (1982-present), however, examine history with the benefit of hindsight and of free expression, comprising a library of reflection that lend themselves to comparisons with earlier postwar texts and films.  These more recent filmic and literary texts blend history and fiction, becoming objects of historical memory that inherently prompt questions about accuracy, truth, imagination and the fidelity of recollection. In her project, Professor Brenneis will untangle the extent to which these various representations of Spain’s past are considered historically accurate, examine the differences between visual and textual representations of history, discuss the role these texts and films play in the country’s ongoing drive to confront its historical memory, and study their importance as symbols of the country’s past exported beyond Spain’s boundaries.

Professor Lawrence Douglas
Department of Law, Jurisprudence, and Social Thought
Title: Demjanjuk in Munich 

The trial of Ivan Demjanjuk, presently ongoing in Munich, promises to bring to a close the era of Nazi war crime trials that reaches back to Nuremberg.  Professor Douglas’s study of the Demjanjuk trial—first as an article for Harper’s Magazine, and then as a book—aims to do justice to the trial itself and to use the case as a moment of reckoning with the larger legacy of close to seventy years of legal efforts to submit Nazi atrocity to principled judgment in courts of criminal law.

Professor Caroline Goutte
Department of Biology
Title: Modulation of Notch Signaling: Following New Genetic Clues in C. elegans

Within a multicellular animal, cells must communicate with one another.  Such communication is critical during early development when the rapidly dividing cells of an embryo must coordinate with one another to achieve the complex organization and differentiation that is found in an adult animal. In her laboratory Professor Goutte uses the simple soil worm Caenorhabditis elegans as a model system in which to probe the molecular underpinnings of cellular communication.  She has been focusing on one particular mechanism of cell communication that is used by all animals: the Notch signaling pathway.  The core components of the Notch signaling pathway are well known, and are encoded by related genes in all animal species.  Work from several laboratories has shown that Notch signaling is tightly regulated throughout development, as either too much or too little signaling causes severe developmental defects, including several human diseases.  The work proposed here aims to identify new cellular components and molecular mechanisms that act to regulate Notch signaling over the course of development.  We have a collection of gene mutations that compromise Notch signaling in C. elegans, and thus cause observable defects in developing worms.  In recent work, mutations have been identified in four distinct genes that lead to improved Notch signaling in C. elegans embryos.  The molecular identity of two of the four genes is known, but the mechanism by which these gene products influence Notch signaling remains a mystery.  Professor Goutte’s work over the next year aims to decipher why and how these gene products function to modulate Notch signaling.  She will use genetic manipulations and tools of cell biology to characterize gene function in normal worms as well as in worms with compromised Notch signaling, in order to discover the role of these genes, and to extrapolate to other systems.   The other two genes are as yet unknown, and the proposed work will begin seeking their molecular identity.  Identifying cellular components that act to modulate Notch signaling, and probing the molecular mechanisms by which they do so will allow us to contribute to the general understanding of Notch signaling and its tight regulation in all animal species.  This work will be carried out by students working in Professor Goutte’s lab, by Professor Goutte herself, and by her research technician, who will be funded through this award.

Professor Allen Guttmann
Departments of English and American Studies
Title: Book: Balls, Bats, and Brushes: Sports and American Art from Benjamin West to Andy Warhol

With an emphasis on major painters such as Winslow Homer, Thomas Eakins, and George Bellows, SPORTS AND AMERICAN ART: FROM BENJAMIN WEST TO ANDY WARHOL is an interdisciplinary study of sports-themed art within two equally important contexts that are seldom considered together:  the history of American sports and the history of American art.

Professor Dick Poccia
Department of Biology
Title: Nuclear Envelope Formation: Minding the Gaps

Chromosomes are enclosed in a special cellular compartment formed by a double membrane that reforms at each cell division. Most of that envelope originates from a large, continuous and highly folded membrane that extends throughout the cell called the endoplasmic reticulum. The enclosure of the chromosomes leaves gaps that must be sealed, but the mechanism of sealing is still controversial. Professor Poccia has hypothesized that gaps are sealed by small membrane vesicles he and his lab discovered that are potentially highly fusigenic.  Professor Poccia and his group will test the involvement of such vesicles by labeling them, the reticulum and the chromosomes with three fluorescent dyes emitting different colors and imaging their interactions during the cell cycle of live one-cell embryos using a confocal microscope and subsequent three-dimensional reconstruction of serial images.  These experiments will shed light on not only the mechanisms of nuclear envelope formation but general biochemistry and regulation of membrane fusion.

Professor David Ratner
Department of Biology
Title: Biochemical and Genetic Investigation of Ubiquitin Dependent Proteolysis in Dictyostelium

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.  The research proposed uses the amoeba Dictyostelium discoideum, in which it has been 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, phosphorylation by a “two component” histidine kinase, 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, key evidence for this model is lacking, as to date no one has observed the predicted ubiquitination of RegA.  Professor Ratner and his lab shall attempt to demonstrate explicitly the hypothesized ubiquitination using genetically engineered ubiquitin and available antibodies.  In parallel, by targeted mutation of the Dictyostelium genome he and his group shall explore the roles of several other genes thought to be involved in the interaction.

Professor Ilan Stavans
Department of Spanish
Title: Three Projects: An intellectual biography of Isaac Bashvis Singer; a book and museum exhibit on anti-Semitism in Argentina; and a graphic novel on Mexican street children

The funding will be used to complete three projects: a fotonovela called Once @ 9:53 am, done in collaboration with Argentina photographer Marcelo Brodsky, about the terrorist attack in Buenos Aires in 1994; a graphic novel titled Padre Chinchoya, with Mexican artist Santiago Cohen, about a priest doing altruistic yet controversial work with homeless children in the Mexico City streets during the 1985 earthquake; and a biography of Yiddish-language writer and Nobel Prize-winner Isaac Bashevis Singer, to be published by Princeton University Press.

Professor Wendy Woodson
Department of Theater and Dance
Title: Australia Projects: Performance and Video

Wendy Woodson has received a FRAP grant to develop a new series of performance and video pieces that continue her creative research in Australia. The first project is an ongoing multi-channel video installation entitled Transitions that is based on interviews with refugees and immigrants currently living in Australia and images of displacement and migration; the final version will be exhibited in Melbourne and in the USA.  A second project is the completion of an experimental fiction movie titled Shore, also concerned with stories of displacement and belonging.   The third project is the development of a new movement/theater piece entitled Dora that is concerned with relationships between body, memory and ecology.  Woodson will be an artist-in-residence at the Royal Melbourne Institute of Technology, where she will collaborate with Australian artists and academics in the development of this new series.