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From the Theremin Cello, “cruel ironies of Love Canal” and novels that reflect global resistance to the market state

The UB Humanities Institute names its 2013-14 Faculty Fellows

Release Date: May 21, 2013

“The fellowship affords recipients the opportunity to regularly discuss their research with one another and with the public, a process that broadens everyone’s understanding of the work going on here and promotes cross-disciplinary engagement.”
Eric Seeman, director, Humanities Institute

BUFFALO, N.Y. -- The University at Buffalo Humanities Institute (HI) has named eight Faculty Research Fellows for 2013-14.  They represent eight departments, all of which have been represented in the program.

Institute Director Erik Seeman, professor of history, says, “Our fellows are the best.  They are innovators – cutting edge scholars whose work places them at the forefront of their disciplines.”

The Faculty Research Fellowships are among several offered by the institute. They will fund the fellows’ release from two courses in the coming academic year, permitting them to focus on a major research project. In addition, they will actively participate in institute programs and present their work as part of the lecture series “Humanities Institute Scholars @ Hallwalls,” the “HI Scholars in the Schools” program.

Seeman says, “The release time is very appealing, of course, but the fellowship also affords recipients the opportunity to regularly discuss their research with one another and with the public, a process that broadens everyone’s understanding of the work going on here and promotes cross-disciplinary engagement.

“It is more difficult than it sounds to explain your academic work broadly and discuss its implications for the audience in particular and to society in general,” he says, adding that the fellows enjoy this challenge and say they very much enjoy discussing their work with those who ordinarily would not be exposed to it.

“Our definition of ‘humanities’ is broad,” Seeman says, “which means that our fellows come from many academic fields – literature, history, classics, anthropology, sociology, geography, music, the visual and preforming arts and more,

“Three of the fellowships are generously supported by the Office of the Vice President for Research (OVPR). The OVPR/HI Faculty Fellows are selected from proposals that are particularly strong in the promotion of the interdisciplinary mission shared by the OVPR and the institute,” he says.

The 2013-14 HI fellows and their research projects:

Joseph Conte, PhD, professor, Department of English, whose project, “Transnational Politics and the Post-9/11 Novel,” suggests that literature produced after Sept. 11, 2001, reflects a shift from the provincial politics of nation-states to those of transnational politics, and confronts issues that require adjudication across national, geographic, cultural, linguistic, religious and racial borders.  Conte cites Don DeLillo’s “Falling Man,” Orhan Pamuk’s “Snow” and J.M. Coetzee’s “Diary of a Bad Year” as examples of work that articulate the emergence of resistance to the global hegemony of the market state and explicitly critique transnational politics that arise as a result of globalization.

Andreas Daum, PhD, professor of history and an expert in German and European studies, will focus on the world-renowned naturalist, traveler and scholar Alexander von Humboldt (1769-1859) for a project titled, “Alexander von Humboldt and the Emergence of the Modern World.”  Daum says it situates Humboldt’s life, his vast oeuvre and public resonance in the center of some of the seminal processes that generated a more “modern,” and specifically a more global world since the 1760s.

The project of cellist and composer Jonathan Golove, PhD, associate professor and associate chair, Department of Music, is titled, “Theremin Cello: Redevelopment of a Lost Instrument.” Also an OVPR/HI fellow, Golove has worked for the past 10 years to recreate the electronic Theremin Cello, a little-known invention of the noted Russian physicist Leon Theremin.  It was one of the first electronic musical instruments and the first to be mass produced. Golove tested and developed the instrument’s playing mechanisms as well as techniques for playing it, since there were no established methods, and created a repertoire for the instrument. As a fellow, he will continue repertoire development, produce performances (including a UB concert) and recordings of this new repertoire and of the few works previously composed for the instrument. He will document entire process in the form of a monograph.

Walter Hakala, PhD, assistant professor, Department of English and Asian Studies, is an OVPR/HI fellow and will conduct the study, “Of Diction and Dictionaries: How Hindi and Urdu Lexicography Defined South Asia.” This multilingual and interdisciplinary book project that will document the role played by lexicographers in fashioning Hindavi — a Persian term once used to describe the dialects spoken from the Indus River eastwards to the Bay of Bengal—into two competing linguistic registers: Urdu and Hindi.

Hakala holds that dictionaries, glossaries and vocabularies he will study constitute a vital record of both dominant ideological structures and emergent social and political formations over a broad swath of South Asia.

Award-winning artist Joan Linder, associate professor, Department of Visual Studies, also an OVPR/HI fellow, will conduct a project titled “Love Canal & Other Cruel Ironies.” Linder is well known for her meticulous pen and ink drawings of figures and objects at life-sized scale. This project will be a room-sized, landscape drawing of Love Canal, one of 22 toxic sites listed on the EPA's website in Niagara and Erie counties.  It will be produced on location.

Linder says, “The history of our regional terrain, its use and misuse are an integral part of the economic development and collapse of the area. This project takes a slow-look at the man-made environmental atrocity, which prompted the creation of  the "Superfund" and now exists like an unmarked grave, a mundane field grown over with wild flowers and a chain link fence.” The work will culminate in an exhibition, and the mobile studio will be open to the public while she’s working.

Deborah Reed-Danahay, PhD, professor, Department of Anthropology, will work on a book project “Bourdieu and Social Space,” which brings a new perspective to the work of influential French sociologist Pierre Bordieu, a major figure in late-20th century social theory.

She says the book will illuminate Bordieu’s  contributions to the ‘spatial turn’ in the humanities and social sciences and calls it, “an interdisciplinary study of his concept of reified social space, an arena for social positioning and co-existing points of view.”

Gwynn Thomas, PhD, associate professor, Department of Transnational Studies, will conduct a project titled “When a Woman Leads: Regendering Political Power and Leadership”

In her previous research into the presidencies of Laura Chinchilla in Costa Rica and Michelle Bachelet in Chile, Thomas analyzed ways in gender shaped the meaning and social significance of the office of the presidency. This project will place the gendered office of the president within a broader cultural and historical perspective by examining the complicated strategies of changing gendered definitions of politics, political leadership and political participation.

Marion Werner, PhD, assistant professor, Department of Geography, will conduct a research project titled “Global Displacements: Work and Development in the Dominican Republic and Haiti.”

She points out that the rise of out-sourcing and off-shoring led by transnational corporations in the 1970s incorporated millions of workers into global factories throughout the so-called developing world. These factories became icons of development, promising income, technology, progress and urban modernity.  

But the economic shifts of the past decade have moved many centers of production to China and elsewhere, costing workers 100,000 jobs in the Dominican Republic alone. This raises questions, she says, about what the promise of development holds for places and workers included and excluded from this production circuit. Werner’s project explores categories of meaning and strategies mobilized by owners, managers, workers, the state and development agencies to make sense of, and reproduce, livelihoods lost through this wrenching economic change.

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