Mellon Postdoctoral Teaching Fellows
*This two-year fellowship is administered through the Office of the Dean, School of Arts & Sciences. For information, please click here.
in the Humanities and Humanistic Social Sciences*
The Documentary Impulse: A History of Sound Media in Twentieth-Century Poland
In my project, I consider the impulse to document history across the complex world of sound media in twentieth-century Polish culture: wax cylinders capturing folk song traditions, letters recorded on postcards, foreign radio programming broadcast across borders, cassette tapes shared through communities of political opposition, and documentary films coauthored by directors and avant-garde composers. Throughout, the document represents at once the goal of historical agents to capture and preserve the grain of their present and the explicit confluence of historical and artistic creativity in sound media. Through my engagement with sound and music in Polish cultural history, I suggest that practice of making and hearing media provided generations of individuals living through the century’s tumult an opportunity to collaborate creatively.
Historical Musicology, 2011-2013
Baruch Spinoza and the Matter of Music: Towards a New Practice of Theorizing Musical Bodies
The notion that musical sound is made by bodies and circulates within and among bodies is axiomatic in both popular and academic accounts of musical performance and listening. My research develops an intellectual history of the mind-body problem in order to theorize the pleasure, intensity and sociality typically ascribed to musical embodiment and embodied knowledge in contemporary thought. Showing that much of music studies’ engagement with musical bodies has taken shape as moral opposition to René Descartes infamous mind-body dualism, I develop an alternative ethical approach through the thought and reception of one of Descartes’ earliest and most radical critics: Baruch Spinoza (1632-1677). In his Ethics (pub. pth. 1677), Spinoza theorizes the body as constitutive of the mind, overcoming Descartes’ dualism with a robust account of mind-body unity and interaction. Reconstructing Descartes’ dualism through his Compendium of Music (1618), I render its Spinozistic overcoming as a challenge to rethink how music distributes ethical and social knowledge through its material action upon and within bodies.
Scott M. Francis
The Reflexivity of Judgment: Marguerite de Navarre, Spiritual Libertinism, and the Querelle des amies
The works of Marguerite de Navarre (1492-1549) may be read as a response to two mid-16th-century controversies. One involves the “spiritual libertines,” who held that salvation was only attainable through complete inhabitation by the Holy Spirit, which rendered sin impossible and laws and judgments unnecessary, and who were roundly condemned as heretics by Calvin and other Protestant reformers. Another involves the Querelle des amies, a literary debate over the role of women in courtly love. I aim to show how Marguerite defends spiritual libertinism and reveals the impossible situation in which courtly love places women by using literary and theatrical devices to make her readers and spectators aware of the limitations and presumptiveness of their own judgment in matters of theology and love.
South Asia Studies, 2011-2013
Translating Hinduism: Dara Shikoh and Persion Textual Cultures in Early Modern South Asia
In seventeenth-century India, a Muslim prince, Muhammad Dārā Shikoh (1615-59), translated into Persian roughly fifty of the Sanskrit sacred texts known as the Upaniṣads, affirming that they contain the key to interpreting the allegorical secrets of the Qur'an. By exploring the writings that Dara produced and commissioned, as well as their later circulation and reception, my project investigates an important chapter in the interactions between Indic and Islamic intellectual traditions in early modern South Asia. I locate Dārā's interventions of interpreting and codifying Indic knowledge within the context of Mughal practices of royal self-fashioning, which also served as an instrument of political authority. I also inquire how Dārā's project speaks to a set of multilingual conversations on spiritual technologies of liberation, traversing the arena of the court and beyond. Finally, I examine the role of Dara Shikoh's legacy and memory in later articulations of a monotheistic Hinduism, examining how the textualization of Indic knowledge through the medium of Persian helped shape the ways in which certain Hindus came to systematize their traditions from the seventeenth through the nineteenth centuries.
Third Millennium City-States in Northern Mesopotamia: Household Archaeology and Urban Layout
My research centers around the household archaeology and urban layout of third-millennium city-states in northern Mesopotamia. I am particularly interested in the ways non-elite city inhabitants organized their domestic space and activities within the context of a much larger, urban spatial configuration. By examining ancient burials made beneath house floors, I am currently investigating the complex relationship between the quotidian activities and intramural mortuary practices of ordinary city inhabitants in the past. My current research also focuses on residential burials for infants and their associated funerary assemblages. My research interest extends to comparative analyses of the East Asian and Near Eastern civilizations. Methodologically, I specialize in quantitative and distributive analyses of archaeological remains, particularly of architectural features, domestic implements, and ceramic sherds.
History of Art, 2011-2013
Painting on Stone: Artistic Practice and the Meaning of Materials in Renaissance Imagesa
In the summer of 1530 Sebastiano del Piombo began applying oil pigments onto slabs of Genovese slate. Sebastiano's unusual choice, contemporary sources narrate, was primarily utilitarian; during the sack of Rome in 1527 many of Sebastiano's paintings had been destroyed by Imperial troops. Sebastiano thus sought to make his paintings more durable and less subject to the vicissitudes of war and other catastrophes. Beyond the pragmatic concerns of conservation, primary sources also hint at another, more artistically ambitious purpose for Sebastiano's artistic experiment; painting on stone, they suggest, reverses the natural order of decay. Operating in the liminal space between painting and sculpture, stone pictures were understood by contemporaries to "last eternally." Following on Sebastiano's invention, a number of other painters adopted the stone medium. This curious substitution of stone for canvas within the production of large, independent easel paintings has few parallels in the history of Western art, or even global art more generally. Why, then, did stone emerge as an actor in the representational economy of European art in the middle of the sixteenth century? This is a novel question, and serves to introduce stone paintings into mainstream accounts of the development of Early Modern artistic practice. This project posits Sebastiano's experiment with stone as a starting point for a broad reconsideration of artistic practice in the Renaissance. It will track the diffusion of this innovative artistic practice while examining the ideological and art theoretical imperatives that underwrote this novel adaptation of traditional artistic practice.
Gender, Sexuality & Women's Studies, 2012-2014
Handmade: The Everyday Feelings and Textures of Transgender Embodiment
In my research I place transgender studies in dialogue with craft and material studies, affect theory, and feminist art history and visual culture. My project mobilizes the term "felt" in both its material and affective senses to animate interwoven questions of texture, trace and sensation. Craft – too often dismissed as low art, amateurism or merely "women's work" – generates a rich investigation of feminist labor, collective process and quotidian aesthetics. I cultivate, rather than dismiss, craft's over-determined relationship to the domestic sphere and the feminine, as an ideal site through which to observe gender, labor and the quotidian. I deploy craft to theorize what I call the "handmade" body and signal my interest in the everyday and ordinary affects of transgender embodiment.
East Asian Languages and Civilizations, 2011-2013
Between Family and State:
Networks of Literati, Clergy, and Villagers in Shanxi, North China, 1200-1500
Drawing primarily on documents written by Confucian-educated literati in southern China, American historians of medieval China have argued that the way in which the elite achieved social status in Chinese society between 1200 and 1500 led ultimately to the establishment of a Neo-Confucian order at the village level. A local perspective focusing on northern China yields an interpretation of social change in which the literati did not dominate. Abundant inscriptions from Shanxi province in north China show that the Mongol conquest disempowered literati and conferred greater influence to clergy and villagers. New Buddhist and Daoist institutions rose to prominence, and villagers organized themselves through irrigation societies. Through new networks built around these institutions, Shanxi men and women remade local society and transformed relations between local communities and the state. The Ming dynasty (1368–1644), which ruled China in the aftermath of Mongol rule, reinstituted privileged legal status for literati, suppressed religious groups, and exercised coercive power to establish a Neo-Confucian social order in village communities. Yet most northerners showed little interest in these trends. While Buddhist and Daoist organizations did decline, powerful village associations for the worship of local deities became the dominant social institution in late imperial Shanxi. Emphasizing the distinctive experience of social transformation in north China challenges prevailing historical interpretations, which take the southern model as universal for all of China.