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Neubauer Collegium Announces 2018-19 Research Projects

February 12, 2018


2018-2019 Faculty Research Projects

The Neubauer Collegium for Culture and Society holds an annual competition for collaborative humanistic research projects led by University of Chicago faculty. In its first six years the Neubauer Collegium will have supported 80 collaborative research projects led by 143 Faculty Fellows – coming from all departments in the Humanities and Social Sciences Divisions, as well as nearly all divisions and all professional schools at the University. These projects have also brought to campus Visiting Fellows from around the world.

The following Neubauer Collegium faculty research projects will begin in July 2018:

Censorship, Information Control, & Information Revolutions from Printing Press to Internet
Cory Doctorow (Electronic Frontier Foundation), Adrian Johns (History), Ada Palmer (History)

The digital revolution is triggering a wave of new information control efforts, ranging from monopolistic patent laws to the Great Firewall of China. These efforts are sometimes conspicuous, as with the deletion of archives or the arrest of authors, and sometimes subtle, as in the fine-print terms of service contracts that accompany the software downloads that saturate our lives. How are these efforts affecting creativity, innovation, and discourse? How do they endanger the circulation and survival of art and knowledge in the digital age? And how can we craft policies that will simultaneously protect creators, businesses, consumers, artistic freedom, and privacy? This project proposes to answer these questions by leveraging our knowledge of the print revolution after 1450, a moment like our own, when the explosive dissemination of a new information technology triggered a wave of information control efforts. Many of today’s attempts at information control closely parallel early responses to the printing press, so the pre-modern case gives us centuries of data showing how such attempts variously incentivized, discouraged, curated, silenced, commodified, or nurtured art and expression. Examining the digital revolution in light of the print revolution will help us avoid repeating past mistakes, and let us craft information control policies that will make the digital world a fertile space for art and innovation.

The Contours of Black Citizenship in a Global Context
Jessica Swanston Baker (Music), Adom Getachew (Political Science), Yanilda María González (SSA)

This interdisciplinary project situates questions of black citizenship in a transnational and global context. Over the last two decades and particularly in the last five years, social movements in the United States, Latin America, the Caribbean, and South Africa have called attention to the limits of legal inclusion in contexts where histories of slavery and colonialism have persistently conceived of blackness as a marker of non-citizenship. The research team will examine how colonial and postcolonial states mark and define the boundaries of belonging and theorize the diverse practices citizens, activists, and artists employ to reimagine and rethink black citizenship. Understanding citizenship as legal entitlement to rights, as belonging, and as political, social, and cultural activity reveals the multiple terrains on which black citizenship is contested. Through multi-method and interdisciplinary analyses of vulnerability and resistance to state violence in Latin America, music and cultural practices in the Caribbean, and the ideologies of imperial belonging in Africa and its diaspora, the project challenges contemporary scholarly notions of citizenship and works toward decentering a U.S.-based and binary model of racial inquiry.

Cultures of Protest in Contemporary Ukraine, Belarus, and Russia
Yuliya Ilchuk (Stanford University), Olga Solovieva (Comparative Literature)

The goal of this project is to create a productive dialogue among Ukrainian, Belarusian, and Russian intellectuals and artists who share the values of democratic governance, human and civil rights, and freedom of artistic expression, as well as among scholars of the recent history and culture of these three countries. This dialogue will help to better understand the complex interconnection of culture and politics in the region and showcase the three countries’ attempts to deal with the heritage of totalitarianism and pursuit of democratic reform, while exploring the role of art and culture in this endeavor.

Curses in Context
Christopher Faraone (Classics), Sofía Torallas Tovar (Classics)
Visiting Fellows: Richard Gordon (University of Erfurt), Celia Sánchez Natalías (University of Zaragosa)

Small lead tablets inscribed in Greek or Latin with private curses against rivals or wrongdoers reveal a darker side of ancient life that is often hidden from us in our sources for ancient history. This project aims at a general study of these texts found throughout the Mediterranean Basin and beyond. These texts have generally been studied as a unified corpus with little emphasis on the local context of their deposit in tombs, sanctuaries, and bodies of water or on the local features of dialect and paleography. Carefully excavated hoards from Greece, Italy, and Roman Germany allow us new opportunities to study these curses in their archaeological context. This project requires a combination of technical skills: restoration, imaging, paleography, archaeology, and historical and religious studies. A series of meetings will provide a platform for new editions of texts and general studies of important aspects never considered in the past.

Emotion Construction without a Sense of the Body
Lenore Grenoble (Linguistics), Peggy Mason (Neurobiology)
Visiting Fellow: Lisa Barrett (Northeastern University)

This project extends the research team’s investigation of Kim, a remarkable individual without somatosensation, from the restricted area of sensory experience into the broader and more momentous world of affect and emotion. The researchers are motivated by the finding that affect and emotion structure are anchored in interoception, meaning the feeling of the body. Since the feeling of the body depends overwhelmingly on somatosensory sensation, understanding the structure of affect and emotion in a person without somatosensation offers a unique opportunity. Kim is highly social, has likes and dislikes, and does not express any affective, emotional, or social behavior that dramatically differs from the norm. This investigation will go beyond casual assessment and compare Kim’s emotion structure to that of healthy and disabled (mobility) controls. Mobility disabled controls are included to account for the challenges and strategies common to those who use a wheelchair to navigate the world while isolating the somatosensory differences unique to Kim.

Making Asylum
Evelyn Z. Brodkin (SSA), Staffan Höjer (University of Gothenburg, Sweden) Karen Nielsen Breidahl (Aalborg University, Denmark)

Mass migrations test the will and capacity of western democracies to “make asylum” in ways that protect human rights, provide the foundations for a new life, and incorporate refugees into host communities. This project probes the making of asylum, closely interrogating how asylum is made through the everyday practices of street-level organizations and how those organizations shape the lived experience of asylum-seekers and the formation of attitudes about democracy and the welfare state. It focuses on Sweden and Denmark, countries known for their humanitarian commitments and strong welfare state protections, yet challenged by a recent surge in asylum-seeking as millions have fled zones of conflict, violence, and persecution. In Scandinavian countries, as elsewhere in Europe, mass migration has produced a “refugee crisis,” provoking deep concerns about the incorporation of newcomers and fueling anti-immigrant and populist opposition. This project investigates the conflicted politics of asylum, developing a theoretical approach that links the macro-politics of the welfare state to the micro-politics of street-level organizations and the lived experience of asylum-seekers. It aims to open new scholarly avenues for the study of human rights, political institutions, and the welfare state and to provide insights into the asylum experience.

Motion and Meaning: Sign and Body Gesture in Dance Narratives across Cultures
Diane Brentari (Linguistics), Anastasia Giannakidou (Linguistics), Haun Saussy (Comparative Literature)
Visiting Fellow: David Shulman (Hebrew University of Jerusalem)

This project brings together faculty from the humanities, performing arts, and social sciences to investigate the relationships between meaning and motion, particularly in the context of classical Indian dance. Training in classical Indian dance is intensive and requires mastery of dozens of gestures and facial expressions with extraordinarily subtle distinctions that convey specific emotions to the audience. Aesthetic expectations are very important, and the gestures of dance form a poetics of posture and movement. The overarching question of the project is how meaning is produced by the body, and the goal is to develop a grammar of bodily expression by exploring the ways in which such a grammar would be similar to, or different from, the grammars of spoken and signed languages. The work will involve two components. The first involves the form-meaning correspondences within the locus of the dancers themselves. The second component investigates the meanings as they are understood by the audiences within the communities in which these dance traditions are typically performed.

NigerHeritage: Research, Development, and Planning for Novel Museum, Cultural Center, and Field Station Facilities
Paul Adderley (University of Stirling), Mohamed Alhassane (Museum of Natural History, Paris), Ralph Austen (History), Lauren Conroy (Fossil Lab), Didier Dutheil (Terre-à-Terre), Bess Palmisciano (Rain for the Sahel & Sahara), Susan Rasmussen (University of Houston), Lisa Roberts (naturalia, inc.), Rebel Roberts (Stantec), Paul Sereno (Organismal Biology and Anatomy)
Visiting Fellow: Mariam Kamara (Brown University)

This project continues rethinking the design and function of a museum, a cultural center for nomadic peoples, and local field stations—each with a distinct role in the preservation of Niger’s unique paleontological, archaeological, and cultural heritage. Scientists, social scientists, architects, planners, and the public in Niger will collaborate to develop the mission and plans for these innovative, energy-efficient cultural initiatives, which shepherd the repatriation and long-term stewardship of priceless artifacts originating from the region.

An Organon for the Information Age: Ontology-Based Data Integration for Humanistic and Biomedical Research
David Schloen (Oriental Institute), Samuel Volchenboum (BSD, Pediatrics), Malte Willer (Philosophy)

This project is concerned with the computational problem of integrating heterogeneous data, described in accordance with disparate conceptual ontologies, to answer questions by means of comprehensive automated querying and analysis. This problem affects all disciplines, including the humanities, and has become especially pressing in the era of “big data” on the Internet, which tantalizes us with the prospect of detecting previously unseen patterns and relationships that may stimulate new insights and enlarge our intellectual horizons. With the aid of visiting speakers and computational work in ontology design, the research team will explore the theory and practice of ontology-based data integration using “top-level” formal ontologies. The aim is to understand how theory informs practice in this area and how the stubborn inability of computer systems to achieve true “artificial intelligence” may reveal philosophical weaknesses in the way human knowledge has been understood and represented. Achieving this aim will require interdisciplinary discussions between theoreticians and practitioners in the field of ontology and a willingness to range across the humanities and the sciences—in this case, with a focus on biomedical science, the area of natural science most intensively engaged with ontology-based data integration. Explorations will likely draw on a rich literature in epistemology and the philosophy of mind, and will be of general interest to scholars who are engaged in the digital humanities.

Planetary History: Growth in the Anthropocene
Fredrik Albritton Jonsson (History), Dipesh Chakrabarty (History), Emily Lynn Osborn (History)

One of the most striking and often remarked upon effects of climate change is its power to unsettle our basic understanding of the modern world. Our planet is changing into a strange and unstable new environment, in a process seemingly outside technological control. The fossil fuels that once promised mastery over nature have turned out to be tools of destruction, disturbing the earth system. Even the recent past is no longer what we thought it was. Geologists are telling us that the whole territory of recent history, from the end of World War II to the present, forms the threshold to a new geological epoch: the Anthropocene. This dramatic discovery has aroused a great deal of interest far beyond the earth sciences. At the University of Chicago, a group of scholars are at the forefront of exploring the implications of the Anthropocene framework for historical research and the ways in which it encourages us to rethink our pedagogical aims. The reseachers on this project will explore the history of planetary change in a double sense: the biophysical dimension of economic development in the context of the Anthropocene, and the history of earth system science, which produced this object of knowledge in the first place.

Theorizing Indian Democracy
Dipesh Chakrabarty (History), Tejas Parasher (Political Science), Jennifer Pitts (Political Science), Nazmul Sultan (Political Science)

The politics of India, which marked the seventieth year of its independence in 2017, have become an ever more important object of study for scholars in the humanities and social sciences. Indian democracy has long been considered an exceptional case—an unlikely political system for a society marked by high levels of inequality and remarkable fragmentation and diversity. But despite all misgivings, India’s democracy has deepened, broadened, and transformed over the past seven decades, often in ways that belie standard assumptions about the nature and trajectory of democratic politics. Analyzing the meanings and practices of democracy in India therefore offers an important opportunity to rethink key concepts and categories like statehood, popular sovereignty, constitutionalism, and citizenship. Such analysis allows for new accounts of India’s own politics and history and, more broadly, helps us understand the different forms that democracy can take outside of Western Europe and North America. “Theorizing Indian Democracy” will initiate a conversation on this topic by bringing together an interdisciplinary team of humanists and social scientists from India, the United States, and Europe.

Understanding the Meaning-Making of Violence: Bridging Perception, Cognition, and Cultural Schema
Marc Berman (Psychology), Kyoung whan Choe (Psychology), Dario Maestripieri (Comparative Human Development), Coltan Scrivner (Comparative Human Development), Richard Shweder (Comparative Human Development), Gabriel Velez (Comparative Human Development)

This two-year project utilizes an innovative mixed-methods approach in which the researchers combine eye tracking and interviewing to better understand how people construct meaning from violent images. The project aims to explore the role of life experiences, such as exposure to community violence, as well as individual differences, such as trait empathy or aggression, on both visual and cognitive biases in perceptions of violence. The driving research questions are: 1) How do people make meaning from violent content? 2) How do people integrate the meaning constructed from violence into their existing cultural schema? 3) Can we predict the meaning that people extract and construct from a scene of violence based on how they direct their attention while viewing the scene? A better understanding of how visual biases interact with cognitive biases in viewing violence will lead to new research in several fields across disciplinary boundaries. Though this research methodology is grounded in psychology and neuroscience, the findings will also raise interesting research questions for scholars working in other social science disciplines and the visual arts. The project seeks to engage with these other disciplines by offering possible insights on such questions as: How does violence in a piece of art or film influence narrative, meaning-making, and understanding of the piece as a whole?

Visualization for Understanding and Exploration (VUE)
John Goldsmith (Linguistics), Hakizumwami Birali Runesha (Research Computing Center)

The goals of this project are to increase the awareness and sophistication of thinking about data visualization at the University of Chicago, especially within the humanistic disciplines, and to take concrete steps towards empowering faculty projects that could benefit from data and information visualization. The project aims to explore new ways of conducting research in light of the deluge of data in the humanities and social sciences by seeking to understand the transformative character of data visualization for research and communication within humanistic disciplines. VUE will help build a community of scholars across multiple disciplines who share an interest in how data visualization can help both their work and the dissemination of their work. This will be done by bringing innovative, forward-thinking leaders in this field to campus for seminars and interactive work sessions and by creating an ecosystem to support the development of new visualization projects across multiple humanistic fields. VUE will develop and make data visualization tools available for download or through web platforms and host an exhibition to demo these tools, which will be open to the entire UChicago community. By fostering a data and information visualization community on campus, VUE will support the ongoing research of scholars in humanistic fields, provide engagement opportunities and research tools for the campus community, and establish UChicago as a hub for humanistic data visualization.

Read more about the Neubauer Collegium's faculty-led collaborative research projects >>