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Announcing the 2019-20 Faculty Research Projects

February 20, 2019

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 seven years the Neubauer Collegium will have supported 87 collaborative research projects led by 156 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 2019:


The CEDAR Project: Critical Editions for Digital Analysis and Research 
Jeffrey Stackert (Divinity School), Ellen MacKay (English), Simeon Chavel (Divinity School), Thibaut d’Hubert (South Asian Languages and Civilizations), Whitney Cox (South Asian Languages and Civilizations), Christopher Woods (Oriental Institute)

The CEDAR project aims to produce critical editions for the digital age. It brings together six faculty members from four departments and schools at the University as well as scholarly advisors from other institutions. The textual foci of the project are four distinct literary corpora: English (Shakespeare), Assyriology (Gilgamesh), Biblical Studies (the book of Genesis), and South Asian literature (Middle Bengali poetry). Employing the OCHRE database software developed at the Oriental Institute, CEDAR will create digital text editions that are maximally descriptive and data-rich in their representation of texts and their media (including scrolls, codices, clay tablets, etc.). By comparing the features of exemplary texts studied in the respective fields represented in this project and by examining reflexively the scholarly practices of these fields, CEDAR will abstract the common challenges presented to philologists everywhere and apply lessons learned from one textual corpus to other texts written in quite different scripts, languages, and cultural contexts. In its software engineering component, CEDAR will identify the common structural elements and algorithms inherent in a seemingly heterogeneous collection of data and methods, an approach that yields simpler, more elegant code that can be used for many different purposes. The intent is to make the critical editions produced by CEDAR available online in open-access format with a sophisticated analytical user interface.

Engineered Worlds III: Terraformations
Joseph Masco (Anthropology)

Engineered Worlds III: Terraformations is the concluding chapter in a multi-year collaborative project on assessing anthropogenic environments and planetary conditions. The Engineered Worlds project interrogates the implications of a world where ecologies everywhere have been affected by human industry, and where new problems of insecurity, the terms and temporality of knowledge production, and the scale of endangerment challenge established categories of thought and analysis. The goal of this collaborative project is threefold: 1) to create new concepts and methodologies for researching planetary-scale environmental problems that are distributed in time as well as space; 2) to connect the individual to the global environment via logics of toxic exposure and to theorize in a new way the relationship between specific kinds of pollution and changing environmental conditions; 3) to build a network of interdisciplinary scholars working collaboratively to understand these complex problems, modeling in the humanistic social sciences the kind of multidisciplinary collaborations that are normal in the physical and natural sciences. Building on past events in 2015 and 2017, EW III: Terraformations includes a research seminar, a major conference, and several book-length publications. Its key theme, “Terraformations,” explores the root of “terra” as both territory and terror. EW III: Terraformations poses a set of questions for research involving the affective, imaginary, and material engagements with environment, thinking about how the long history of anti-black, settler colonial, and extractive capitalist forms interact in the creation of a globalized world that is unequal, structured by toxics, and divided by radically different forms of in/security. The goal is to mobilize insights into human capacities to affect life on a planetary scale and move them into a discussion of how communities are working to live in and move through violent conditions - that is, to both imagine and create alternative worlds.

Experimental Monumentality 
Robert Bird (Slavic Languages and Literatures), F. Miguel Caballero Vázquez (Harper-Schmidt Fellow)
This project consists of an exhibition in Moscow and a workshop in Chicago to explore a pressing problem of modern and contemporary societies: what to do with monuments of the past and how to build monuments for the future. Through the reconstruction of a cardboard monument built in Spain and sent to the Soviet Union in 1937, we will recover a long-forgotten history of an artistic exchange and trigger a conversation about experimental monumentality from the 1910s to the present. The first part of this project is an exhibition at the Shchusev State Museum of Architecture in Moscow. This will be the final part of the reenactment of a performative monument built and destroyed during the Spanish Civil War. Following the Spanish tradition of Fallas, the monument was built by unions in Spain, sent to the USSR as a gift for the twentieth anniversary of the Bolshevik Revolution, and burned in a ceremonial bonfire. According to Spanish communists, this was a model for how the monuments of international communism should be: built by the community, movable, ritual, transient. The construction, journey, exhibition, and final immolation of the monument will be filmed. The resulting video will be screened at the Neubauer Collegium in the context of a workshop with invited artists and scholars who will discuss examples of experimental monumentality in the twentieth and twenty-first centuries.

Molecular Dynamics: Emergence of a Paradigm Shift 
Benoit Roux (Biochemistry and Molecular Biology), Daniele Macuglia, Giovanni Ciccotti (University of Roma “La Sapienza”)

Since the early 1950s, computing power has grown by some 18 orders of magnitude. This unprecedented technological development has caused a silent paradigm shift in physics and allied fields. For the first time, it has become possible to study the time evolution of systems consisting of thousands or even millions of molecules, thus enabling us to simulate macroscopic materials and predict their properties. Surprisingly, the available literature on the historical development of molecular simulation is extremely scarce. The time seems ripe to work toward such a goal; the field is old enough to provide the detached perspective required for historical investigation, but events remain recent enough to offer the possibility for historians to directly interact with some of the development’s protagonists. The goal of this project is to arrive at a coherent epistemological understanding and historical reconstruction of this key emerging area of modern science from the early 1950s to the present day. The project aims at developing two complementary lines: locating, collecting, and preserving relevant sources for the history of Molecular Dynamics (MD), in order to arrive at the creation of a meaningful archive, and producing scholarly pieces of historical research providing a careful analysis of the past development, the contribution of the major actors, and the disciplinary alliances needed for a more ordered and efficient progress. The project is therefore located at the intersection of computational physics and intellectual history. That is why it can only be successfully achieved by a collaboration presenting the mix of skills required (computation, physics, biology, history, and philosophy).

Practices of Emancipation 
Christopher Taylor (English), John Clegg (Harper-Schmidt Fellow)

Practices of Emancipation is a collaborative research project applying social scientific and humanistic methods to the study of African Americans in the Civil War era. We will build and map a linked database containing detailed Union Army records on hundreds of thousands of formerly enslaved people. Our goal is to deepen our understanding of the agency of enslaved people in their own emancipation, as well as to better understand how emancipation was lived by freedpeople and what it meant to them. At the same time, we aim to provide genealogists, students, and scholars with an opportunity to discover the life stories of individuals who are largely absent from the history books. By inscribing ex-slaves within familial and national histories, genealogical work directly confronts the enforced conditions of kinlessness and natal alienation constitutive of chattel slavery. We will invite researchers and stakeholders to a series of colloquia in which we will present our findings and explore the potential for further collaborative research on digital historiographical methods and nineteenth-century black history. For the database we will be geo-coding and linking together two projects that are digitizing Union Army records: the military service records of the United States Colored Troops (African American Civil War Soldiers) and “contraband camp” registers (Last Road to Freedom). In many cases an African American soldier’s family will appear as refugees in the camp registers, allowing us to link these databases together. Most of the people in these registers had fled enslavement to arrive at Union Army lines, and these records were typically the first official documents to record their names, in addition to age, birthplace, occupation, pre-war residence, etc. By making this data publicly available we will provide African American genealogists with a searchable database allowing descendants to trace enslaved ancestors. The work of linking and geo-coding records will also allow us to produce a dynamic map of emancipation as it played out in movements of fugitivity and armed resistance to slavery.

Revolutionology: Media and Networks of Intellectual Revolution
Robert Bird (Slavic Languages and Literatures), James Farr (Northwestern University)

This project studies the media and networks by which ideas advocating radical change have been produced and disseminated by developing and employing a material-based or even materialist version of intellectual history. Over its first fifteen months, Revolutionology has benefited from three conferences and two visiting scholars, resulting in the establishment of a scholarly network and one published volume (two more are projected), as well as a fledgling digital resource that so far traces the geographic and chronological spread of four key texts of intellectual revolution generated in Russia. For the next two years we intend to continue this work tracing the global spread of revolutionary ideas, supplementing it with non-Russian texts and a digital mapping of Chicago as a site of intellectual revolution. We will convene an advisory board of core participants on an annual basis, hold a conference in 2020 on revolutionary Chicago, and convene a capstone conference in 2021 reuniting the entire network to review progress and establish future targets. In support of these goals we will also invite Sheila Fitzpatrick as Visiting Fellow in fall 2020.

Śāstram: Form, Power, and Translation in Indian Scholasticism 
Whitney Cox (South Asian Languages and Civilizations), Gary Tubb (South Asian Languages and Civilizations), Constantine Nakassis (Anthropology), Haun Saussy (Comparative Literature), Sarah Nooter (Classics)

The Sanskrit word śāstra, from a verb meaning “to discipline, to govern,” supplies a blanket term for a vast and heterogeneous spectrum of Southern Asian texts and the social forms in which these have been propagated. It would not be an exaggeration to say that the very basis of South Asian conceptualization and practices of knowledge was founded on the idea of śāstra. With antecedents available throughout the recorded history of India, by the middle of the first millennium CE śāstra had attained something like its recognizable “classical” form. The Laws of Manu are one instance of śāstra, as is the Kāmasūtra or the grammar of Pāṇini; so too are works of philosophy, texts on elephant lore, magical grimoires, and commentaries on literary classics. To pass as codified knowledge in early India (and beyond) was to be framed as śāstra of some sort. Despite this centrality, little sustained reflection has been devoted to understanding what śāstra was and what it did, such that it could have a formative capacity in shaping cultures and histories throughout Asia. This project will bring together philologists and intellectual historians specializing in Sanskrit and those working in adjacent linguistic cultures with linguistic anthropologists, historians of science, and specialists of East Asia and the classical West to understand how this package of cultural and cognitive technologies functioned across a range of specific historical and regional contexts, with the intention of better understanding the internal logics and historical instantiation of these practices of knowledge.

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