SENIOR SABBATICAL FELLOWSHIP AWARDS

The H. Axel Schupf ’57 Fund for Intellectual Life supports the Senior Sabbatical Fellowship Program, which increases tenured faculty members’ salaries for one semester of leave from 80 to 100 percent. The fellowships are competitive, and they are awarded by the dean of the faculty and the Committee of Six once their recommendations are approved by the president and the trustees. The following are summaries of the 2020–2021 fellowship recipients’ research projects.

Rowland O. Abiodun, John C. Newton Professor of the History of Art and Black Studies
Research Project: Interrogating the Modernist Concept in African Art: Contemporary Art in Nigeria as Represented in the Archives of Ulli and Georgina Beier

Amrita Basu, Domenic J. Paino 1955 Professor of Political Science and Sexuality, Women’s Studies and Gender
Research Project:  Religious Nationalist Populism in Post-Colonial India

Professor Basu will devote her sabbatical to researching and writing a book on religious nationalist populism in post-colonial India. She has been studying Hindu nationalism for decades, and this topic is the subject of her scholarly monograph, titled Violent Conjunctures in Democratic India (Cambridge University Press 2015), four co-edited books, and numerous articles and book chapters. Violent Conjunctures went to press in 2014, the year the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) was elected to power. The book that Professor Basu plans to write will pick up chronologically where the last one left off and will develop a new conceptual framework for identifying both this government’s culturally distinctive features, and its similarities with right wing populist regimes in other regions.

Anston Bosman, Associate Professor of English
Research Project: Shakespeare’s Fire Work: Elemental Art and the Transformation of Media

Professor Bosman will use the history of one element to illuminate how the literature of the past changes and endures. He argues that fire—its physical nature, social power, and metaphorical value—serves as a muse for Shakespeare, his contemporaries, and his adapters. As a process rather than a substance, fire sparks inspiration, but also carries risks. Bosman calls this creative struggle “fire work,” labor done in real and imaginary forges, and he tracks that cultural work across media forms enabled and imperiled by fire. Showing the entanglement of ecological and technological histories, Bosman reveals playhouse and planet to be incendiary environments in which “fire work” tests the limits, and tells the costs, of humanity’s agency.

Alicia Jean Christoff, Associate Professor of English
Research Project: Coatlicue Victoriana and Victorians Unleaving

Rhonda Cobham-Sander, Emily C. Jordan Folger Professor of Black Studies and English
Research Project: The Digital Decade: African Writing and Social Media, 2007–2017
This project focuses on how twenty-first century sub-Saharan African writers respond to digital technologies when they publish traditional print texts, experiment with online conventions, or redefine their relationship to local and international audiences through social media. Drawing on theories about genre, text, audience, and representation developed by Walter Benjamin, Jean Baudrillard, Kathleen Fitzpatrick, Bill Nichols, Marshall McLuhan, Ato Quayson, and Michael Warner, as well as on critical studies of earlier shifts in African literary genres by Akin Adesokan, Karin Barber, and Manthia Diawara, Professor Cobham-Sander argues that literary genres in sub-Saharan Africa were reconfigured between 2007 and 2017 in response to new forms of mediation. Her project aims to intervene in a literary critical conversation that frequently has read postcolonial African writing through an outmoded opposition between text and orality or has equated “text” with the novel. The monograph will offer close readings of print works that draw on digital conventions, as well as the serialized blogs, multimedia essays, listicles, tweets, and TED talks by African writers that circulate on social media. These readings support claims about the formal innovations new modes of delivery have made possible and the often- unanticipated connections they facilitate among writers, texts, and reading publics. Ultimately, the questions Cobham-Sander hopes to raise about the relationship between forms of representation and modes of production will help resituate the work of some of Africa’s most widely read contemporaneous writers.

Francis G. Couvares, E. Dwight Salmon Professor of History and American Studies
Research Project: Proposal for a 9th Edition of Interpretations of American History

Interpretations of American History (IAH) is venerable and highly esteemed by colleagues in American history.  Its chapter format is unique: long historiographical essays written by Professor Couvares, followed by brief, excerpted readings by distinguished historians whose views on the chapter’s topic differ in some important ways. Together, the historiographical essays and excerpts offer students an entrée into the key debates that animate the historical profession today. They also offer insight into the art and science of historical research and the nature of historical interpretation. Professor Couvares and Martha Saxton, Professor of History and Sexuality, Women's and Gender Studies and Elizabeth W. Bruss Reader, Emerita, took over IAH from its founding authors, George Billias and the late Gerald Grob, in the 7th edition (2000). Completely rewriting most of the essays, and substantially editing the rest, they also added new chapters. Again, in the 8th edition (2009), they rewrote and added chapters. Thus, in each edition readers learn about the most current debates that professional historians encounter, while at the same time gaining a sense of the long arc of interpretation. Keeping current with the literature is a crucial part of the IAH strategy—as it is of the historiographical training of advanced students of history. The last two editions added chapters on such new topics as American Indians, immigration, the women’s movement, and the new Right. In the 9th edition, Professor Couvares has added a new chapter on environmental history, which will familiarize readers with the most important work in a booming field of scholarship. In other chapters, new readings will take the place of older selections.  In the new edition, Professor Couvares will continue to “internationalize” the treatment of topics, especially in fields such as slavery and environmental history, where scholarship has become—like its subjects—transnational. In many other fields, even ones usually approached from a national perspective, such as the New Deal, transatlantic and comparative treatments increasingly shape scholarship.  Professor Couvares will continue to incorporate these trends.

Jyl Gentzler, R. John Cooper 1964 Presidential Teaching Professor of Philosophy
Research Project: Defending Justice and Cultivating Phronesis

Defending Justice: Professor Gentzler has long felt that Plato’s general approach to defending justice in the Republic is the best approach. On his view, being a just person is the only way to flourish as a human, but neither justice nor human flourishing (eudaimonia) is fully within our own power. Instead, our ability to be just and to flourish depends on the justice of the larger structures of social organization of which we are a part. Since we all want, more than anything, to live our own best lives, we all have the strongest reason to promote the justice of the social structures of which we are a part. This has been a long-standing project in which Professor Gentzler has argued in support of various aspects of Plato's approach to defending justice. Cultivating Phronesis: Traditionally, an important part of the mission of a liberal arts college, a distinctively American phenomenon, was the ethical education of its students. This tradition has persisted, and Amherst College’s current mission statement, adopted and endorsed by the faculty in 2008, still has a strong ethical component. Through an examination of Aristotle's conception of phronesis, Professor Gentzler aims to defend this aspect of a liberal arts education and to explore how it is most effectively and appropriately taught.

Caroline E. Goutte, Professor of Biology
Research Project: Developing a Genetic Platform for Investigating Notch Signaling Regulation in C. elegans

Professor Goutte will use her sabbatical to expand the genetic tool kit that she uses in her research lab. Recent advances in genome editing in whole animal studies have opened wide the window of possible genetic investigations. Professor Goutte will use literature research, exchanges with scientists, and visits to research labs to develop new tools that can be applied to her research program. The overall goal of her research is to uncover the molecular means by which cell-cell communication can be regulated. Her studies focus on a common cellular mechanism known as Notch signaling, and make use of the powerful genetic model system, C. elegans. Recent work from her research lab has drawn attention to an enzymatic step in the Notch signaling machinery that she plans to investigate in whole animal experiments. She plans to harness the precision of new genome editing tools to probe the regulation of this machinery at the biochemical and cellular level. During her sabbatical, she will also explore ways in which she could adapt these new genetic tools of inquiry to classroom projects.

Nicholas Horton, Beitzel Professor in Technology and Society (Statistics and Data Science)
Research Project: Editing a Special Issue of the Journal of Statistics Education on "Case Studies in Quantitative Environmental Science"

The world faces dramatic environmental challenges, and we need to train the next generation of students to be able to understand, evaluate, quantify, and communicate on a broad spectrum of issues, such as climate change, resource degradation, and biodiversity. Students in environmental science need a basic statistical and quantitative background to evaluate research in this area, to ensure their ability to engage with these questions. To support these efforts at Amherst and beyond, a special issue of the open-access Journal of Statistics Education will be developed that will include a series of twelve to eighteen case studies of interest to students.

Tariq Jaffer, Associate Professor of Religion
Research Project: The Vocabulary and Grammar of Islamic Miracles  

Sheila S. Jaswal, Associate Professor of Chemistry 
Laure G. Katsaros, Professor of French
Research Project: Paper Architectures: Notre-Dame de Paris on the Page

Professor Katsaros will develop a book-length study of Notre-Dame de Paris as a literary, artistic, and architectural icon in conversation during the Romantic era and the early twentieth century.

Ronald A. Lembo, Edward N. Ney 1946 Professor in American Institutions (Sociology)
Research Project: Change on Campus: How Staff Experience Diversification in Higher Education

Professor Lembo will explore in a systematic way the experiences of staff—what they think and feel about the work they do and about the institution(s) at which they work.  He will talk with staff about what they do in their professional capacities in higher education—their job (or jobs), when they started, what they like and don’t like about their work, what working in higher education provides them with, how doing so “fits” in their lives, how the work they do has changed over time, what they think their most significant contributions have been, and so on. Asking staff to step back from their day-to-day work experience, Professor Lembo will ask what they think of higher education itself: of their employer’s status as an educational institution, of its success in implementing diversity initiatives, of the institutional and/or cultural changes that have come with diversification, of diversity’s impact on the work they do, and, more broadly, what sorts of institutional and cultural changes they see as significant since beginning work in this sphere.

Joseph G. Moore, Professor of Philosophy and Environmental Studies
Research Project: Puzzles of Population Ethics

Professor Moore will write a book on population ethics aimed at the general reader. In the first part of the book, he will survey world population numbers, the history of population theory, and ethical considerations bearing on the right to procreate. In the second part, he will introduce and explore four fascinating puzzles of population: whether the interests of future generations should be discounted; how to think about cases in which policy affects the identity of those who come into existence; how a world with many moderately happy people can be worse than one with fewer, but very happy people; and finally, whether human existence is really a good thing, as our pro-natalist cultures assume.

Klára Móricz, Professor of Music
Research Project: Title of Your Project: “The Tale of Two Cities: Music and the Congress of Cultural Freedom in Berlin and Paris”

Professor Móricz plans to explore the cultural terrain of post-war Berlin and Paris with respect to how music became a tool in the psychological (cold) warfare between the Soviet Union and its former Western allies. She will research the musical life of post-war Berlin, both in the Soviet and in the allied sectors, survey concerts, the documentation over the denazification of famous musicians, and Nicolas Nabokov’s activities in Berlin and then in Paris as secretary general of the Congress for Cultural Freedom.

Samuel C. Morse, Howard M. and Martha P. Mitchell Professor of the History of Art and Asian Languages and Civilizations
Research Project: Innovation and Revival in Kamakura-Period Sculpture

This project will explore the role played by sculptors from Nara in transforming Buddhist sculpture during the Kamakura period (1185–1333). These artists were deeply conscious of the artistic legacy of past eras since they were active in the restoration of the temples in that had burned in the civil war at the end of the twelfth century. They reformulated the formal properties of images by incorporating symbolically naturalistic traits into their images such as rock crystal for the eyes. In addition, they signed their works for the first time, thereby taking ownership of artistic production in unprecedented ways. The result was a new language of artistic expression that came to dominate sculptural production in the succeeding centuries.

Susan R. Niditch, Samuel Green Professor of Religion
Research Project: Ethics in the Hebrew Bible and Beyond

Pooja Rangan, Associate Professor of English in Film and Media Studies
Research Project:  Audibilities: Documentary and Sonic Governance

Professor Rangan is rethinking the habits of listening that documentary media endorse when they beckon audiences to hear disenfranchised subjects. In her new book interdisciplinary book project, titled “Audibilities: Documentary and Sonic Governance,” she is analyzing marginalized oral and aural practices alongside critical theories of race, language, and disability. Professor Rangan practices receptiveness to what is not immediately audible as articulate, persuasive speech—to those communiqués that we miss when we seek normative evidence of a human voice. She is seeking a more expansive listening and documentary praxis: one that embraces mutual dependency and translation, and rejects humanitarian norms. To do so, Professor Rangan engages practitioners who confront pressing social concerns such as linguistic profiling, vocal surrogacy, audism (the pathologization of hearing impairments), and accent reduction. While these concerns have also historically been documentary concerns, they have become especially urgent during the period of unprecedented migration and cultural confrontation extending from the late 1980s to the present, when oral and aural diversity have become both increasingly common and increasingly policed. If marginalized documentarians are newly audible, Professor Rangan contends, they also present new critical opportunities: to amplify the often-imperceptible ways in which documentary has narrowed the meaning of the human through sound, and to evolve new modes of attending to radical difference in times of unending conflict.

Christian Rogowski, G. Armour Craig Professor in Language and Literature (German)
Research Project: Lotte Reiniger (1899–1981), Weimar Germany’s Animation Film Pioneer

The project focuses on one of the few female film makers of the Weimar era (1918–1933), German-Jewish animation film pioneer Lotte Reiniger (1899–1981), the creator of the world’s first full-length animated feature film, Die Abenteuer des Prinzen Achmed ("The Adventures of Prince Achmed," 1926). Born in Berlin in 1899, Charlotte (“Lotte”) Reiniger initially developed her skills in shadow plays involving cut-out silhouettes for theater productions of fairy tales. In the early1920s, after producing a number of short (one- or two-reel) animated fairy tale films, Reiniger embarked on the ambitious project of turning motifs from stories collected in Arabian Nights, using the silhouette technique she had perfected in her previous ventures. Professor Rogowski proposes to write a brief monograph on Lotte Reiniger’s pioneering film, for the recently inaugurated series, "German Film Classics."

Geoffrey Sanborn, Henry S. Poler 1959 Presidential Teaching Professor of English
Research Project: The Joy of John Darnielle

Professor Sanborn proposes to write a full-length analysis of the songwriter/novelist John Darnielle, whose work offers us the opportunity to think through the relationship between mood and knowledge, the nature of the joy that can ensue from suffering, and the ontological status of poems and songs. The aim is to extend the techniques of contemporary close reading to a body of work that lies just outside the boundaries of what ordinarily counts as literature, in order to contribute to the ongoing national effort to keep literature and literary studies as vital as possible.

Eric Sawyer, Professor of Music
Research Project: Recorded Album of Orchestral Works

During his sabbatical, Professor Sawyer plans to complete a recorded commercial CD of original orchestral music. The four compositions to be included are linked by their featuring of instrumental and vocal soloists. Performances are by Boston Modern Orchestra project, Gil Rose, music director.

Paul Schroeder Rodriguez, Professor of Spanish
Latin American Documentary Cinema: A Comparative History

This book will trace the evolution of documentary cinema in Latin America from its origins in the silent period (most famously in the documentation of the Mexican Revolution); through the era of state-sponsored, official newsreels and documentaries in the 1940s and 1950s; to the explosion on the scene of highly political documentaries in the 1960s and 1970s; to the creative documentary movement that slowly emerged in the 1980s, and which leads directly to today’s frequent exploration, by documentarians of all stripes, of the thin line that separates fiction and non-fiction, reality and collective make-believe. It will be the first comparative history of the genre in the region, as existing studies of documentary cinema in Latin America privilege either a national perspective or a specific period.

Katharine Emans Sims, Associate Professor of Economics and Environmental Studies
Research Project: Balancing Conservation and Economic Development  

Rebecca H. Sinos, Edwin F. and Jessie Burnell Fobes Professor of Classics
Research Project: Pictorial Prayers in the West Greek World

This study will focus on images found in Greek graves in South Italy and Sicily that belong to burials of individuals who had hopes of a special afterlife, rather than the bleak existence seen in traditional views of Hades. These hopes are apparent in texts, usually poetic, inscribed on miniscule gold leaves placed on or near the corpse. The texts have received a good deal of attention, but the objects with images that accompany these burials have been largely ignored. Yet the significance of imagery is apparent in a pictorial gold leaf found in a grave in Syracuse. The aim of this investigation is greater understanding of the messages inherent in these images, and how they contribute to our knowledge of this form of personal religion.

Robert T. Sweeney, William R. Mead Professor of Art 
Research Project: “The Development of Abstracted Paintings Created from On-Site Paint Studies of the Connecticut River"

During his sabbatical, Professor Sweeney will develop a series of large paintings in his Worthington studio abstracted from studies he completed working from sites over the 400 miles of the Connecticut River. In addition to referring to these studies, he will be employing memory and imagination to endeavor to develop in these painting abstractions a unique "Sense of Place."

Sarah Turgeon, Professor of Psychology (Neuroscience) 
Research Project: Characterizing the Antidepressant-like Effects of Caffeine in Adolescent Rats and Humans

Olufemi Vaughan, Alfred Sargent Lee 1941 and Mary Farley Ames Lee Professor of Black Studies 
Research Project: Family Matters: Kinship, Modernity, and Elite Consolidation in Colonial and Post-Colonial Southwest Nigeria

During the sabbatical leave, Professor Vaughan will complete a book manuscript titled “Family Matters: Kinship, Modernity, and Elite Consolidation in Colonial and Post-Colonial Southwest Nigeria.” The manuscript is based on extensive analysis of more than 2,500 letters written between 1926 and 1994 from three generations of his family, interviews that he conducted with older relatives in the last three years, and archival research on the emergence and consolidation of an indigenous civil service and educated Christian elite in colonial southwestern Nigeria. The analysis of the family correspondence on which this book project is based is drawn from family documents he obtained from his late father, Alfred Abiodun Vaughan, fifteen years ago.

Kiara Vigil, Associate Professor of American Studies
Research Project: Natives in Transit: Indian Entertainment, Urban Life, and Activism from the 1930s to the 1970s.

“Natives in Transit: Indian Entertainment, Urban Life, and Activism from the 1930s to the 1970s” turns to the world of popular entertainment, largely centered in Southern California and characterized by the film industry. From the earliest days of cinema to more recent “reimaginings” of the Western, like Walt Disney’s Lone Ranger and Tonto (2013), filmmakers have attempted to represent America by narrating stories of Western conquest and development that featured Native people. The project's emphasis on mobility pushes back against dominant discourses and popular histories that situate Native people as always already rooted in one place, and subsequently one time. Moreover, because there are no “official” archives that chronicle the experiences of Native entertainers and their spheres of influence, a major contribution of this book is to locate previously unknown or under-utilized materials. This type of research requires reading “against the grain” of studios’ materials, like those of Warner Brothers. It also necessitates the creation of new archives by conducting oral histories with Native entertainers from this period.

Boris Wolfson, Associate Professor of Russian
Research Project: The Secret Lives of Late Soviet Stages