Faculty Research Awards Fall 2019


Professor Ellen Boucher
Department of History
Title: Be Prepared: Risk and the Neoliberal Sensibility in Modern Britain

Professor Boucher’s book explores how Britons have understood, and sought to prepare for, catastrophic risks in the modern era. By following the public debate about the hazards of empire, industrialization, war, and nuclear annihilation from the Victorian period through the twentieth century, Professor Boucher uncovers the broader cultural pattern that underlays British responses to risk. While scholars of Britain’s twentieth century have prioritized a narrative centered on the world wars and the rise of the welfare state, this project illustrates that Britons have long perceived risk in ways that value individualism, self-reliance, and competition over social trust and collectivism. Professor Boucher will use FRAP funding to finalize the research for a chapter on the globalization of emergency preparedness regimes across Britain, Hong Kong, Kenya, and Australia.

Professor Caroline Goutte
Department of Biology
Title: Gamma Secretase Function in Notch Signaling

The Goutte lab studies cellular interactions that are mediated by the conserved molecular mechanism known as Notch signaling. The current research in the lab focuses on the gamma secretase enzyme, which plays an essential role in mediating Notch signaling. The Goutte lab uses the C. elegans model system and genetic analysis to probe the success of Notch signaling under different conditions. Experiments are designed to challenge and extend the currently accepted models of gamma secretase function in the context of Notch signaling. Professor Goutte’s FRAP grant will support an experienced research assistant in her lab, who will help wrap up several research projects.

Professor Jill Miller
Department of Biology
Title: Restriction-site associated DNA sequencing (RADseq) in Lycium australe (Solanaceae)

In this project, Professor Miller will use restriction-site associated DNA sequencing (RAD-sequencing) to generate thousands of genetic polymorphisms in Lycium australe that can be leveraged in downstream analyses to determine the population genetic structure and infer patterns of gene flow between individuals that vary in chromosome number. Lycium australe is the only naturally occurring Lycium in Australia and, across its range, this species shows considerable variation in genetic and reproductive traits. In particular, individual plants are either diploid (2n=2X cytotype) with the typical number of chromosomes for the genus or have double the number of chromosomes and are tetraploid (4n=4X cytotype).  Chromosome number is an important feature that often limits reproduction, as individuals with different chromosome numbers are typically not interfertile. This project will investigate the extent of reproductive isolation between plants of different cytotypes (2X or 4X) that co-occur in two mixed populations in Western Australia.

Professor Ingrid Nelson
Department of English
Title: Chaucer's Premodern Media

This project describes how medieval people understood the concept of media not as a set of machine technologies (e.g., television or the Internet), but as a constellation of agents that mediate, or connect two or more actors. Such premodern media consist of human bodies, images, natural elements, political, and juridical officials, and spiritual entities such as saints. It thus counters a common narrative in media history that there was no media before the arrival of the printing press in the West. Further, it demonstrates how Chaucer uses this expansive concept of media to imagine how these forces shape literature, countering prior critical models of Chaucer's poetry based on modern ideas of literary character with a more diffuse, ambient sense of literature arising from a distributed network consisting of many media. Professor Nelson’s FRAP grant will be used to examine original medieval manuscripts of scientific and spiritual material related to these concepts of media and mediation.

Professor Susan Niditch
Department of Religion
Title: The Book of Jonah: Completion of a New Translation and Commentary

Having completed a manuscript on the biblical Book of Jonah, Susan Niditch will use her FRAP grant to hire a graduate student assistant in the field of biblical studies.  The student will assist with a number of technical matters involved the preparation of the final draft before it is sent to the publisher.  The assistant, who will have knowledge of relevant ancient languages and familiarity with transliteration systems, will help Professor Niditch with formatting, proofing, and the preparation of detailed indices. The book is to be published in the distinguished Hermeneia Series.

Professor Mona Oraby  
Department of Law, Jurisprudence and Social Thought
Title: Book Conference on States of Conversion: Religious Difference and Secular Law
Professor Monica Ringer
Department of History and Department of Asian Languages and Civilizations
Title: Ruins: The Conquest of Antiquity

For eighteenth-century artists, ruins were symbols of the loss of antiquity, of the “decline and fall of the Roman Empire” and equally, of the claim that modernity rested on these ancient foundations. These two different visions of ruins illustrate a major reconceptualization of the meaning of antiquity, and of history.  Typically, the appropriation of antiquity is treated as a European story—of the post-Renaissance “rediscovery” and “reclamation” of a natural birthright. The association with antiquity was connected to new, civilizational explanations of difference and assertions of European cultural superiority. Claiming to be the sole heirs of antiquity served to explain “modernity” as inherently European, and by extension, to insist that to modernize was to Europeanize. Antiquity was central to European conceptions of self, and more particularly, to the European modern self. As articulated clearly by nineteenth-century Hebraicist Ernest Renan, European exceptionalism was the product of a particular parentage: the heritage of antiquity on the one hand, and Christianity on the other.  This picture needs to be complicated in two ways. First, the competition over antiquity needs to be extended outside of the narrow borders of French and English scholarship. French and English scholars, though arguably the most successful, were not the only claimants to antiquity. Although the physical heirs to ancient Rome, Italian historians are typically absent from accounts of the reclamation of antiquity. How did they perceive the ancient past? How did they negotiate antiquity’s reclamation by French and English scholars, and what does this suggest about their positionality within “modern” Europe? Moreover, Ottoman and other Muslim scholars were also interested in asserting their own connection to antiquity—one that they believed offered an alternative genealogy of modernity—one not dependent on transmission via Europe. The Ottoman Empire occupied Byzantium, and many of the key Greek cities are located in Anatolia (Troy, Pergamon, Ephesus, Priene). Moreover, the Ottoman empire retained the Byzantine capital, even transforming the emperor’s church of Saint Sophia into the Sultan’s mosque. The Ottomans thus also had a claim to being the direct heirs of both Hellenic and Eastern Roman antiquity and scrambled to establish museums and fund archaeological digs to pursue these claims. This project seeks to lay bare the full extent of the competition over antiquity as it was claimed by French, English, Ottoman and Italian scholars. Widening the scope of the project beyond well-trodden paths and opening it up to greater comparison—both within and beyond Europe—will illuminate the extent of shared/different constructions of antiquity as the foundation of modernity, as well as the ways in which these relationships to antiquity also shaped positionality within the modern. What did antiquity mean to various scholars in different traditions? Where was antiquity located, both temporally and physically? What do different articulations—as “narratives of meaning”—reveal about definitions of “modern”? How do these contested claims suggest the variety of possible moderns, their relationship with each other, and their location in the context of nineteenth-century European imperialism and colonialism?

Secondly, this project focuses on an additional set of questions that aims to tease out the ways in which claims that antiquity served as a bridge to modernity were also implicated in the construction of individual ‘modern’ subjectivities. Italy was the physical space of Roman antiquity, yet this did not entail a closer lineage in the eyes of French and British historians, who often saw antiquity, like modernity, as civilizations that needed to be embodied in order to be claimed. To be modern, thus, was to adopt “modern” ways of thinking, modern ideals, modern scientific (historical) method, and modern sensibilities and dispositions. To be modern was to embodying modernity’s ideals and aesthetics. Antiquity was dislocated from space, and universalized—only becoming accessible to those that embodied and consumed it. What were the “modern” sociopolitical values that were anachronistically written back into the past? How did specific sensibilities and dispositions of the modern individual manifest themselves as the embodiment and consumption of antiquity?

Professor Nico Vicario
Department of Art and the History of Art
Title: Seamlessness: Art and Architecture at the Turn of the Millennium

This book project analyzes and makes connections between the design, fabrication, and forms of art and architecture produced since the new millennium, on the one hand, and the emerging logics of the Internet and twenty-first century globalization on the other. To pursue this project, Professor Vicario will travel to Chicago; Bilbao, Spain; Leipzig, Germany; and Berlin to begin researching particular sculptures and buildings buildings—namely, the sculpture Cloud Gate by Anish Kapoor (Chicago), the Guggenheim Bilbao, the BMW Central Building by Zaha Hadid Architects (Leipzig), and the art produced by Danh Vo and Nairy Baghramian (both based in Berlin).


Professor Dwight Carey
Department of Art and the History of Art
Title: Material Masters: Slavery, Construction, and Labor in Mauritius

Professor Carey will use his FRAP grant to complete the research for his book, “Material Masters: Slavery, Construction, and Labor in Mauritius.”  Located nearly 400 miles off the coast of Madagascar, Mauritius was uninhabited when Dutch colonizers claimed the island in 1638. Nevertheless, the slaves whom the Dutch and later the French and the British brought from India, East Africa, Madagascar, West Africa, and Southeast Asia developed an unmatched understanding of the land and its resources as they toiled in construction from the seventeenth to the nineteenth century. Through identifying tropical hardwoods, turning coral into building mortars, and using local sand to make limewash, Mauritian slaves indigenized themselves—they crafted an intimate and uncontested knowledge of a territory that no one else on earth, not even their masters, comprehended. Archival and building sample research conducted overseas and at the Amherst College Geology Lab form the bases of this project. The book subsequently positions Mauritius as a vector for rethinking the meaning of indigeneity and the role of construction labor in the contestation of colonial authority in Mauritius and beyond.

Professor Nusrat S. Chowdhury
Department of Anthropology and Sociology
Title: Mobs and Megaprojects: Rumor, Surveillance, and the Dilemmas of Development in Bangladesh

What role do gossip and rumor play in revealing the social costs of development in the global south? This book project engages with this question through a set of specific events in Bangladesh: In July 2019, separate crowds publicly lynched eight people within five days on suspicions of kidnapping children. Groups of ordinary citizens attacked the victims–both women and men–near or on school campuses across the country. The tragic events were propelled by a rumor that the construction of the Padma Multi-Purpose Bridge requires children’s heads for completion by 2020. The multi-billion-dollar megaproject, the longest river-bridge to date that is slated to increase the national GDP by 1.2 percent, has spurred controversies at an international scale. In 2012, the World Bank cancelled its funding accusing the Canadian engineering firm SNC-Lavalin’s employees and one Canadian-Bangladeshi citizen of bribing Bangladeshi government officers. The World Bank’s unprecedented decision to completely disengage from the project has spurred debates about the donor organization’s commitment to supporting infrastructure in the global south. This book-length ethnographic study will explore the relationship between rumor, development infrastructure, and surveillance technologies in order to understand the social and political lives of megaprojects in the global south.
Professor Nicola Courtright
Department of Art and the History of Art
Title: The Paradoxical Queen: Marie de’ Medici and the Art of Authority
Nicola Courtright’s book project, titled “The Paradoxical Queen: Marie de’ Medici and the Art of Authority,” suggests a new approach for interpreting the spaces that Marie de' Medici inhabited as queen, queen regent, and dowager queen in early seventeenth-century France, thereby challenging the way we believe monarchic power was historically exercised. Inaugurated under Henry IV and inflected by Florentine models, the early spaces the king developed in royal residences for his Medici consort made a queen’s place in the monarchic structure unusually visible. Professor Courtright argues that Henry IV explicitly crafted a place for his consort at his side in the structure of governance in order to lend her authority after his death, and visibly elevated her as his collaborator, not only in his public statements and political acts, but also in powerful new imagery created for royal residences. Professor Courtright’s book, encompassing first the opulent architecture, decoration, and gardens that Henry IV added to the favorite royal château of Fontainebleau and then the dowager queen’s Luxembourg Palace, demonstrates the spatial and conceptual expansion of the king’s concept of powerful union with the queen. After his death, royal residences continued to display a powerful picture of the queen’s partnership and shared sovereignty with the king. The book’s interpretation of these spaces and their functions disputes the familiar narrative that French politics and art were dedicated to shaping the image of the singular, absolute power of the king, and re-casts the definition of gender in early modern ruling culture. Professor Courtright will use her FRAP grant to support her work consulting original sources that document the decoration of the spaces, many of which were destroyed over the past centuries, and to support a 3-D architectural rendering of one of the major spaces, now lost.

Professor Jeeyon Jeong
Department of Biology
Title: Investigating the Role of Chromatin Remodeling in Iron Homeostasis

Iron is an essential micronutrient for virtually all organisms, including plants, and plays critical roles in many metabolic processes. However, the chemical properties that make iron beneficial can cause toxic effects in the cell if iron is present in excess or if it is improperly localized. Therefore, organisms have evolved delicate mechanisms to tightly control iron acquisition, use, and storage. Plants acquire iron from the rhizosphere, the environment surrounding the roots. Although iron is abundant in the earth’s crust, iron in the soil primarily exists in a form that is not readily accessible for plants and is one of the most limiting nutrients for plant growth. Therefore, plants have evolved complex mechanisms to efficiently acquire iron, while preventing potential toxicity from excess iron. Much work has revealed the molecular components and mechanisms involved in modulating the expression of genes involved in iron acquisition.  However, how iron homeostasis genes are regulated at the level of chromatin still remains to be explored. 

Recent studies from the Jeong lab have added novel insights to iron homeostasis by demonstrating that chromatin remodeling, how DNA is packaged into a highly compacted structure, directly affects the expression of genes involved in iron acquisition. Professor Jeong will use her grant to support her work to elucidate further the genetic mechanisms underlying chromatin remodeling during iron deficiency, and to better understand iron homeostasis at the molecular level. This project demonstrates a great potential in investigating chromatin remodeling as a regulator of iron homeostasis, opening up new possibilities in developing crops with improved nutritional value and tolerance to abiotic stressors in the future.

Professor Pooja Rangan
Department of English
Title: Audibilities: Documentary and Sonic Governance
In her book, titled "Audibilities: Documentary and Sonic Governance," Professor Rangan fundamentally rethinks the humanitarian habits of listening that documentary media endorse when they "give voice to the voiceless." She asks: What if there were not only a different kind of speaking to which documentary could aspire, but a different kind of listening? What new modes of relationality, what other common ground could we then seek, as documentary subjects and audiences? “Audibilities” seeks answers to these questions in the expressive and receptive modes of displaced and disabled people—those whom documentarians have perhaps hushed the most in the name of giving voice. 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 always 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 argues, they also present new opportunities: to amplify the often-imperceptible ways in which documentary has narrowed the meaning of the human through sound, and to sound new vocabularies, critical and aesthetic, for coming together in these times of permanent global crisis. Professor Rangan will travel to a number of archives and film festivals to interview artists and to understand the political and social forces that impel their work.

Professor Paul Schroeder Rodriguez
Department of Spanish
Title: Latin American Documentary: A Comparative History

Professor Schroeder Rodriguez is writing a book-length history of the documentary in Latin America from the silent period to the digital age. It will be a companion book to his last book, which traced the history of narrative cinema in the region. He will use FRAP funds to travel to the twelve major film archives in Latin America, a necessary first step for this project because many of even the best documentaries produced in Latin America do not circulate widely.

Professor Christopher van den Berg
Department of Classics
Title: Critical Matter: Performance, Identity and Object in Greco-Roman Criticism

“Critical Matter: Performance, Identity, and Object in Greco-Roman Criticism” offers a new theoretical framework for understanding the social and aesthetic stakes of literary criticism in Greco-Roman antiquity. Its interdisciplinary approach considers how reception of the spoken word is inherently linked to the reception of visual media. The book analyzes a range of Greco-Roman texts of criticism, but does so by paying serious attention to the material contexts of these discussions, drawing on fields such as art history, archaeology, numismatics, epigraphy. “Critical Matter” argues for a broad rethinking of ancient criticism and literary history. Professor van den Berg thus aims to reshape the canon of classical criticism as he examines the nexus between literary creation and evaluation, political identity, and the textual life of material objects. The research conducted for this project will take place in Rome, Italy, as a fellow of the American Academy in Rome and at Princeton University as an ACLS Burkhardt Fellow.