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Current Center Fellows

Rushain Abbasi

Mellon Fellowship of Scholars in the Humanities

Department of Religious Studies, Stanford University

Beyond the Divine Command: A History of the Secular in Premodern Islam

Rushain Abbasi received his PhD from the Department of Near Eastern Languages & Civilizations at Harvard University. He was formerly an associate research scholar in the Abdullah S. Kamel Center for Islamic Law and Civilization at Yale Law School. His scholarly work seeks to bring the Islamic intellectual and cultural heritage to bear on contemporary debates in religious studies and social theory. His articles have been published in the Journal of Islamic Studies and Studia Islamica. His dissertation, “Beyond the Realm of Religion: The Idea of the Secular in Premodern Islam,” was awarded the Alwaleed Bin Talal Prize for Best Dissertation in Islamic Studies at Harvard University.

Project Summary:

Abbasi’s current book project is an intellectual history of the development of the idea of the secular in the premodern Islamic world. The study is aimed at undermining the current academic orthodoxy which maintains that the distinction between the "religious" and the "secular" is a modern European invention, and thus wholly at odds with an Islamic worldview. More constructively, however, the book illustrates how premodern Muslim thinkers engaged in sophisticated and complex secularizing strategies in order to resolve a variety of questions pertaining to theology, politics, law, and epistemology. In essence, the project is one which attempts to intervene in contemporary debates surrounding the relationship between Islam and modernity, but through a historically grounded investigation of a single concept (or rather, dialectic) in premodern Islamic thought.

Patricia Alessandrini

Internal Faculty Fellow

Department of Music, Stanford University

Sonic Cyberfeminisms: Creating a Feminist-Informed Vision of Robotic Technology in an Immersive Performance

Patricia Alessandrini is a composer/sound artist creating compositions, installations, and performance situations which are for the most part multimedia and interactive. Through these works, she engages with questions of representation, interpretation, perception, and memory. She performs research on embodied interaction, including instrument design for inclusive performance. She is an associate professor at Stanford University in the Center for Computer Research in Music and Acoustics (CCRMA).

Project Summary:

Alessandrini will be working on a theatrical, intermedial “duodrama” for two coloratura sopranos - Marisol Montalvo and Donatienne Michel-Dansac - and an ensemble of ten conducted musicians, collaborating with author Alexandra Kleeman on its cyberfeminist-futurist drama and interplanetary setting. The question at the core of this “duodrama” is how present and future technologies – including robotics, which will be used to produce instrumental sound – might be imagined from marginalised and/or specifically female perspectives. 

J. G. Amato

SHC Dissertation Prize Fellow

Department of History, Stanford University

Cosimo's Church: The Politics of Religious Reform in Sixteenth-Century Florence

J. G. Amato is a PhD candidate in early modern European history at Stanford University, whose research explores religious, political, and intellectual culture in sixteenth-century Italy. He holds degrees from City College of San Francisco, the University of California, Berkeley, Westminster Seminary California, and Stanford University.

Project summary:

Sixteenth-century Florence’s transformation from a republic to an hereditary duchy entailed the simultaneous generation of a Tuscan church, dependent on the will and vision of Duke Cosimo I de’ Medici (1519–74) for its form and constitution. Paradoxically, Cosimo negotiated political and ecclesiastical liberty for Tuscany not by war or adversarial politics, but by drawing closer into Rome’s embrace.

R. Lanier Anderson

Donald Andrews Whittier Internal Fellow

Department of Philosophy, Stanford University

Montaigne and the Life of Philosophy

R. Lanier Anderson (Philosophy, J.E. Wallace Sterling Professor in Humanities) works in the history of late modern philosophy, with a focus on Kant and nineteenth century philosophy. He is the author of The Poverty of Conceptual Truth (OUP, 2015) and many articles on Kant, Nietzsche, and neo-Kantianism. His current research project goes further back in time to the philosophy of Michel de Montaigne (1533-92) and its relation to practical life. Other research interests include existentialism and relations between philosophy and literature (e.g., “Is Clarissa Dalloway Special?” Philosophy and Literature, 2017). He has been at Stanford since 1996, and has also taught at Harvard, Haverford, Bryn Mawr, and Penn. He has just finished his term as Senior Associate Dean for Humanities and Arts at Stanford.

Project Summary:

Conventional wisdom holds that philosophy is a theoretical discipline, investigating the nature of truth and reality, the character of the good, the effects of beauty, and the basis of knowledge. But from antiquity, there has also been a quite different conception of philosophy—as a fundamentally practical enterprise pursuing a particular kind of life, rather than theoretical results. Michel de Montaigne (1533-92) is most fruitfully read as a philosopher traveling that second path. He lived in an age of radical discovery, religious conflict, and civil war, but despite the threats to stability all around him, he was always famous for cheerfulness. The philosophical attitude he cultivated was the secret to that equanimity. Anderson's study of Montaigne’s philosophy will focus not just on his ideas, but on his practice of philosophy and the way it is embedded in his writing. Montaigne’s Essays marks the invention of a new genre, the personal essay, and Anderson will explore Montaigne's use of that mode to construct a philosophical way of life. The Montaigne who emerges is more concerned with wisdom than knowledge, but engaging with him can still yield knowledge for us. We, too, live in an age of instability, and we have much to learn from Montaigne about how to live better today, confront our society’s demons, and broaden our sense of what philosophy can and should accomplish.

Anubha Anushree

Career Launch Fellow

Department of History, Stanford University

The Moral Republic: Corruption in Colonial and Postcolonial India

Anubha Anushree is a PhD candidate studying modern South Asia. She focuses on the intellectual history of the colonial state, the emergence of nationalism in South Asia, and subaltern studies. She is also interested in the emergence of literary and linguistic cultures in late nineteenth-century colonial India.

Project Summary:

While studies of the British Empire and its parallel European colonies have focused on questions surrounding imperial ideologies and mentalities, we know very little about what the Empire proscribed, censored and thus, wrote out of their political credo. Anushree's dissertation, “The Moral Republic: Corruption in Colonial and Postcolonial India,” examines the vicissitudes of the term ‘corruption’ in nineteenth- and twentieth-century South Asia to understand how it was repurposed to produce moral authority. She traces how the British presented corruption as a provisional and anomalous deviance due to the extraordinary circumstances of colonialism.

Daniele Biffanti

SHC Dissertation Prize Fellow

Department of French and Italian, Stanford University

The Italian Resistance and its Narrative Mythologizations: Four Possible Paths

Daniele Biffanti is a PhD Candidate in the French and Italian department at Stanford University. He holds a BA and an MA in modern literature from the University of Padova and worked for two years as a teaching assistant at Bard College. His research focuses on post-WWII Italian literature, cinema, and politics. 

Project Summary:

In his dissertation, Biffanti considers how historical events of crucial national importance are turned into fictional narratives – founding myths – and seeks to determine how their diachronic re-shaping reflects cultural progress in society. Specifically, he analyzes how the founding myth of the Italian Republic - the Resistenza against Nazi-Fascism and subsequent Liberazione - has generated different narrative legacies in literature and cinema, and how the development of these legacies in the twentieth and twenty-first century can be traced and interpreted as a form of mythologization.

Riley Brett-Roche

Career Launch Fellow

Department of History, Stanford University

Sources of Chinese Modernity: A History of Archives, Access, and Authenticity 

Riley Brett-Roche is a PhD candidate in Chinese history at Stanford University. Her current research considers the history of the archives of Modern China. Other interests include the history of failed states, transitional justice, and Sino-American relations.

Project Summary:

Tracing collection efforts across the Pacific World, Brett-Roche’s research explores the history of the conservation, organization, and accessibility of the archives of Modern China. This study highlights how the creation of national repositories is a global story and reconsiders the history of the idea of information as public good and human right across the twentieth century.

BuYun Chen

External Faculty Fellow

Department of History, Swarthmore College

Crafting at the Fringes of Empires: Ecology, Trade, and Technology in the Ryukyu Kingdom

BuYun Chen is associate professor of history at Swarthmore College. She is the author of Empire of Style: Silk and Fashion in Tang China (University of Washington Press, 2019). Her current research interests span across multiple fields, including history of craft knowledge and technology, ecological history, and technical art history.

Project summary:

Crafting at the Fringes of Empires explores the understudied history of craft technologies and court power in the independent Ryukyu Kingdom (modern-day Okinawa, Japan) from the seventeenth to nineteenth centuries. It brings together multiple disciplines—history of science, ecological history, anthropology, art history, and conservation science—to reconstruct the relationship between artisanship, technology, and court-controlled resource management during an era of significant economic and political change.

Eli Cook

External Faculty Fellow

Department of History, University of Haifa

Forced to Choose: American Children, Choice Architects, and the Culture of Neoliberal Capitalism

Eli Cook is an associate professor at the University of Haifa where he specializes in the history of American capitalism and economic thought. His first book, The Pricing of Progress: Economic Indicators and the Capitalization of American Life, won the Society for U.S. Intellectual History’s Best Book Award as well as the Morris D. Forkosch Best Book Prize from the Journal of the History of the Ideas.

Project Summary: 

By tracing the choice-centric emergence of Choose-Your-Own Adventure books, fantasy sports, teen magazine quizzes, school stock market simulations, Ritalin-fueled standardized tests, Nickelodeon market research and much more, this pre-internet cultural history of American neoliberalism examines how childhood was restructured by an endless array of interactive, multiple-choice “menus.” While such novel formats led children to genuinely feel as if they were wholly individual subjects entirely free (and thus also responsible) to choose their own fate, this project traces the origins of our current era of platform capitalism and rising inequality by uncovering the powerful “choice architects” and social conditions that structured the choices made available to them.

Phoebus Cotsapas

SHC Dissertation Prize Fellow

Department of French and Italian, Stanford University

Un autre monde pour le philosophe? Mortality and the Limits of Philosophy in Early Modern Atheism

Phoebus Cotsapas is a PhD candidate in French, with a focus on seventeenth- and eighteenth-century literature. He completed his BA in philosophy and French at St Hilda’s College, Oxford, and his MSt in modern languages at New College, Oxford. Before coming to Stanford for his doctoral studies, he taught English at Université Paris Nanterre.

Project Summary:

In his dissertation, Cotsapas looks at the ways in which death was construed as posing a unique set of problems for atheist thinkers in seventeenth- and eighteenth-century France. At a time when philosophy was seen by many of its practitioners as all-conquering, and when philosophical and scientific developments enabled some of these practitioners to reject the existence of God and the associated promise of an afterlife, these early atheists turned to philosophy, divorced from religion, as a source of consolation in the face of a death that would mark the absolute end of personhood, the ultimate limit. Focusing on five authors of philosophical and literary works across a variety of genres, authors who were either atheists themselves or at least sympathetic to atheistic philosophy, Phoebus will argue that the complexities and anxieties that characterize the ways in which they wrote about mortality are best understood as a key element of a more wide-ranging confrontation with the question of the limits of philosophy.

Pablo Seward Delaporte

SHC Dissertation Prize Fellow

Department of Anthropology, Stanford University

The Risks of Violence: The Politics of Migrant Life in Chile

Pablo Seward Delaporte is a PhD candidate in the Department of Anthropology at Stanford. He specializes in medical, political, and urban anthropology with a focus on Chile and Latin America. Prior to his doctoral work, Pablo completed ethnographic and creative projects in Rapa Nui, Chile, and in the Peruvian Upper Amazon.

Project Summary:

Delaporte's project is broadly concerned with racist and sexist violence, poverty, and environmental risk as forms of harm and death. It uses phenomenological and person-centered ethnography with Latin American migrant women living in self-built settlements in Antofagasta, Chile, to examine how people experience and address these forms of harm and death through practices and relations of care, and how these practices and relations of care intersect with state-based efforts to protect vulnerable communities.

Ksenia Ershova

Mellon Fellowship of Scholars in the Humanities

Department of Linguistics, Stanford University

Participant Encoding in West Circassian

Ksenia Ershova received her PhD in the Department of Linguistics at the University of Chicago and completed her undergraduate studies at the Russian State University for the Humanities. Ksenia is interested in the structural nature of language, with a particular focus on the syntactic and morphological constraints observed in languages with complex morphology. Her research focuses primarily on indigenous languages of the Russian Caucasus and is based on data collected through fieldwork in the region. Ershova's work has been supported by the National Science Foundation and the Association for Slavic, East European, and Eurasian Studies.

Project Summary:

Ershova's current project focuses on the syntax of participant encoding in West Circassian, a language spoken in the Republic of Adygea, Russia. The goal of the work is to both provide a comprehensive account of the syntactic structure of West Circassian, and to inform our understanding of cross-linguistic variation in the domain of argument encoding.

Margaret Galvan

Distinguished Junior External Fellow

Department of English, University of Florida

Comics in Movement

Margaret Galvan is assistant professor of visual R=rhetoric in the Department of English at the University of Florida. Her archivally-informed research examines how visual culture operates within feminist and queer social movements of the 1970s-90s and includes a first book, In Visible Archives, nearing completion with University of Minnesota Press.

Project Summary:

Her second book project, Comics in Movement, recovers how American LGBTQ cartoonists in the 1980s and 1990s formed community through comics that visually represented their sexual experiences and participation in feminist and queer activist causes. While these cartoonists crucially documented LGBTQ life and activism in a moment when the community was facing government neglect of the HIV/AIDS crisis and disregard for their civil liberties, their comics have been largely forgotten since they were published in ephemeral and out-of-print forms affiliated with social movements: anthologies, newsletters, periodicals, zines, etc.

Kirstin Haag

SHC Dissertation Prize Fellow

Department of Music, Stanford University

Music, Manuscripts, and Missionaries in the Early Colonial Guatemalan Highlands

Kirstin Haag is a PhD candidate in musicology at Stanford University. Her research examines sacred music practice in colonial-era Guatemalan missions. Other research interests include the performance of musical nationalism at sports games in the U.S. and higher education humanities pedagogy. She received her BA in music and english literature from the University of California, Davis.

Project Summary:

Haag's dissertation examines how a collection of early colonial music manuscripts in the European sacred tradition became the center of an Indigenous religious practice in Western Guatemala missions. Contributing to a growing discourse on colonial-era Central American cultural practices, this project highlights rare evidence of the lived religious experiences and embodied musical practices of the Q’anjob’al and Chuj Maya people.

Daniel Hernández

SHC Dissertation Prize Fellow

Department of Iberian and Latin American Cultures, Stanford University

Beyond Naturalism: Ethnographic Recordings in Modern Latin American Literature

Daniel Hernández is a PhD student in Iberian and Latin American cultures at Stanford University. Born in Colombia, he received a BA in literary studies at Universidad Javeriana in Bogotá. His dissertation focuses on how ethnographic practice and the use of new recording technology in the American tropics transformed literature in that region over the course of the early twentieth century. His broader interests include media theory, new materialisms, ethnography, ecocriticism, and the relationship between technology and literature at large. 

Project Summary:

In his dissertation, Hernández analyzes novels, photographs, journals, and tape-recordings produced by novelist-ethnographers who were documenting the hinterlands of Colombia, Brazil, Cuba, and Peru. His monograph examines how the emergence of modern recording devices such as cameras and tape-recorders shaped modern Latin American literature, as they were used to engage with indigenous and Afro-descendant communities living in peripheral areas. He highlights how recording devices provided authors with new means for perception, allowing them to involve and emulate indigenous and Afro-descendent worldviews in fiction.

Ana Ilievska

Mellon Fellowship of Scholars in the Humanities

Department of French and Italian, Stanford University

The Machine in the Novel: Fictional Human-Machine Interactions at the European Periphery (ca. 1870-1914)

Ana Ilievska received her PhD in comparative literature from the University of Chicago in 2020 and holds BA and MA degrees from the Eberhard Karls Universität Tübingen. Her teaching and research focus on Italian and Lusophone literatures with particular attention to the relationship between literature and technology from a philosophical and Southern European perspective. Ilievska is currently finishing work on a co-edited bilingual anthology of contemporary poetry from Sicily, forthcoming with Italica Press.

Project Summary:

Ilievska’s first book project traces the “voices” of technology in novels written during the Second Industrial Revolution. In The Machine in the Novel: Literature and Technology at the European Periphery, she outlines literary models for alternative attitudes towards technology in the works of Carlo Collodi, Luigi Pirandello, and Eça de Queirós through a comparison with works by Mary Shelley, J.-K. Huysmans, and Émile Zola. The project not only takes a fresh look at Southern European authors by catapulting them into current conversations about literature, technology, and Artificial Intelligence. It also questions Eurocentrism and its take on the Industrial Revolution from within the margins of Europe itself. Ilievska’s work has received recognition by the Fulbright Program, the U.K. Society of Pirandello Studies, the Fundação Eça de Queiroz, and the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation. Her second project will be a study of the interpenetration of Italian and Balkan literature in Sicily and Trieste.

Seungyeon Gabrielle Jung

Mellon Fellowship of Scholars in the Humanities

Department of East Asian Languages and Literatures, Stanford University

Toward a Utopia Without Revolution: Globalization, Developmentalism, and Design

Seungyeon Gabrielle Jung studies politics and aesthetics of modern design with a focus on South Korean and Silicon Valley design. She received her PhD in Modern Culture and Media from Brown University in 2020. Trained in graphic design, Gabrielle also writes on the issues of design and feminism.

Project Summary:

Design as we think of it today is a modern invention. "Modern design," which appeared during the Industrial Revolution to solve the problems of modernity, came to dominate our understanding of design. “Toward a Utopia Without Revolution” questions this prevalent definition of design “as problem-solving” and contends that modern design produced more serious and enduring issues than those it was intended to resolve. This project looks at political and aesthetic problems that modern design projects generated in South Korea, a country that has experienced not only rapid economic development but also immense political progress in less than a century, from the end of the World War II to the beginning of the new millennium.

David Kazanjian

Marta Sutton Weeks External Fellow

Department of English, University of Pennsylvania

Ante-Possession: The Afterlives of Dispossession

David Kazanjian is professor of English and comparative literature at the University of Pennsylvania. His fields include transnational American literary and historical studies through the nineteenth century, continental philosophy, Afro-diaspora studies, Latin American studies, and Armenian diaspora studies. His most recent monograph is The Brink of Freedom: Improvising Life in the Nineteenth-Century Atlantic World (Duke).

Project Summary:

Ante-Possession: The Afterlives of Dispossession examines legal cases from turn of the eighteenth-century Yucatán and New England, showing how they call for a revision of contemporary theories of dispossession. Kazanjian argues that while dispossession entailed the theft of labor, bodies, and land, dispossessed people often challenged such theft without claiming prior ownership and without seeking the return of their putatively prior possessions, thereby refusing or unsettling possession as such.

Radhika Koul

SHC Dissertation Prize Fellow

Department of Comparative Literature, Stanford University

The Drama of our World: Spectator and Subject in Medieval Kashmir & Early Modern Europe

Radhika Koul is a PhD candidate in the Department of Comparative Literature at Stanford. She works on the aesthetic thought of tenth-century Kashmir alongside the drama and intellectual history of early modern Europe, in particular France and Britain. She graduated from Yale and taught as a Teach for India fellow for two years before coming to Stanford. She also runs The Koshur Fellowship, a program devoted to the rehabilitation of the Kashmiri language. 

Project Summary:

Koul is currently finishing a dissertation titled “The Drama of our World: Spectator and Subject in Early Modern Europe & Medieval Kashmir.” Her scholarly work seeks to bring Kashmir’s rich tradition of Sanskrit poetics, aesthetics, and philosophy to bear on matters considered unique to European modernity. She is especially interested in the comparative as a mode of thinking that inherently subsumes the interdisciplinary and bridges the divide between the humanities and society.

Tanya Luhrmann

Violet Andrews Whittier Internal Fellow

Department of Anthropology, Stanford University

Voices (or, Voices of Spirit, Voice of Madness)

Tanya Marie Luhrmann is the Albert Ray Lang Professor at Stanford University, in the Stanford Anthropology Department (and Psychology, by courtesy). Her work focuses on the anthropology of mind, and the way different representations of mind affect spiritual and psychiatric experience—in particular, the voices of spirit and the voices of madness.

Project Summary:

At the heart of the human experience of spirit and madness lies a voice. Luhrmann's current project is a book that explains what we know voice-hearing, and in particular, about the relationship between madness and religious experience. She has found these experiences to be shaped by deliberate training, by local culture and, most profoundly, by the way we think about the mind itself.

Lucía Martínez Valdivia

External Faculty Fellow

Department of English, Reed College

Audiation: Listening to Writing

Lucía Martínez Valdivia is associate professor of English literature and humanities at Reed College, where she teaches courses on early modern poetry, poetics, and humanist thought. Her first monograph, Common Meter: A Revised History of English Poetry, 1548–1948, is currently under review, and she has published various articles and chapters on early modern English poetry and prosody.

Project Summary:

Audiation: Listening to Writing imports and introduces the concept and keyword of audiation from music education to literary criticism and sound studies, describing the faculty by which we “hear” in the mind. For literary criticism, audiation facilitates a focus on the mental soundscapes text can convey, on the range of non-lexical and non-vocal sounds alphabetically represented language can record and communicate, and on its capacity to create mental experiences of sound that exceed the possibilities of physical speech and the acoustic worlds available to our physical senses. Surveying and reconsidering the sound-related phenomena and vocabularies that typically attach to literary critical and neurocognitive discussions of silent reading in general, and of reading lyric poetry in particular, this project models possible affordances of the concept of audiation for theorizing literature and sound.

Jeff Nagy

Career Launch Fellow

Department of Communication, Stanford University

Watching Feeling: Emotional Data from Cybernetics to the Present

Jeff Nagy is a PhD candidate in the Department of Communication. His research interests include the datafication of emotions and emotional data as a corporate asset, the history and future of computer-mediated labor, and the political economy of platforms. From 2015-2019, he was the SAP Stanford Graduate Fellow. Read more at jeff-nagy.com.

Project Summary:

This dissertation uncovers how computer scientists, psychologists, marketers, and others came together to make emotion computable over the second half of the twentieth century. Drawing on original archival research, Nagy examines the transformation of emotion into data from post-World War II cybernetics to contemporary sentiment analytics, and he uses this history to reconsider the role that emotional data play as manipulatable variables and corporate assets in the political economy of digital platforms.

Michelle K. Oing

Mellon Fellowship of Scholars in the Humanities

Department of Art and Art History, Stanford University

Puppet Potential: Visual and Kinetic Mimesis in Late Medieval Sculpture, 1300-1525

Michelle K. Oing received her PhD from Yale University in the history of art and architecture. Her research centers on the intersection of sculpture and performance in late medieval Northern Europe, considering how material, crafted objects were used to negotiate between earthly and divine realms.

Project Summary:

Oing's current book project examines the role of moveable sculpture in Northern Europe through the conceptual framework of puppetry. At the core of this project is a new definition of puppetry that emphasizes the interactive relationship between puppeteer, puppet, and audience, as well the puppet's ontological status as both inert object and perceived life. By tracing the "puppet potential" of sculpture, this monograph places conceptions of representation and mimesis at the center of the turbulent changes in artistic and religious expression in late medieval Northern Europe.

Traci Parker

External Faculty Fellow

Department of African-American Studies, University of Massachusetts

Beyond Loving: Love, Sex, and Marriage in the Black Freedom Movement

Traci Parker is an associate professor of African American Studies at the University of Massachusetts Amherst. She is the author of Department Stores and the Black Freedom Movement: Workers, Consumers, and Civil Rights from the 1930s to the 1980s (University of North Carolina Press, 2019). She earned her PhD in history from the University of Chicago.

Project Summary:

Beyond Loving: Love, Sex, and Marriage in the Black Freedom Movement examines African American romantic relationships in the Civil Rights and Black Power Movements to understand how African Americans loved, dreamed, and remade their lives in the revolutionary 1960s and 1970s. Beyond Loving reveals that these movements not only generated important and lasting shifts between African Americans and whites but also among African American men and women and revolutionized gender, sex and sexuality, family, community, and activism.

Rhodes Pinto

Mellon Fellowship of Scholars in the Humanities

Department of Philosophy, Stanford University

The Treatment of Motion in Presocratic Philosophy

Rhodes Pinto studies the philosophy of ancient Greece and Rome. He received his PhD and MPhil in classics (ancient philosophy) from the University of Cambridge and his BA in philosophy and classics from Villanova University.

Project Summary:

The project offers the first comprehensive study of motion in early Greek (Presocratic) philosophy by tracing through the Presocratics the presence and combinations of seven themes: causation of motion, circular motion, self-motion, soul, mind, immortality, and divinity. By letting the evidence on each Presocratic’s conception of motion and other philosophical views illuminate each another, the work offers new interpretations of the philosophy of the Presocratics and a re-evaluation both of the importance of motion in early Greek philosophy and of the development of Plato’s and Aristotle’s metaphysics.

Ali Qasmi

External Faculty Fellow

Department of History, Lahore University of Management Sciences

Over the Moon: Ulema, State, and Authority in Pakistan

Born and raised in Lahore, Ali Usman Qasmi is a historian of modern South Asia. He has published extensively in his area of expertise, including two monographs - Questioning the Authority of the Past: The Ahl al-Quran Movements in the Punjab, and The Ahmadis and the Politics of Religious Exclusion in Pakistan (winner of Karachi Literature Festival Peace Prize). Along with several journal articles and chapters in academic works, he has co-edited three volumes, including Muslims Against the Muslim League: Critiques of the Ideas of Pakistan. He has previously been the recipient of the Newton International Fellowship for postdoctoral research. Since 2012, Qasmi has been teaching history at the LUMS University's School of Humanities and Social Sciences.

Project Summary:

Qasmi's project analyzes contestations between the Ulema and the postcolonial State on themes relating to scientific rationality, sovereign power, and religious authority. He looks at the larger public discourse in Pakistan on the sighting of the new moon to determine the Islamic lunar calendar. The Ulema insists that the new moon be visible to the naked eye; the State wants to use technology to estimate the precise date of religious observances tied to the Islamic lunar calendar. In adopting their position, the Ulema are confronted with the spectre of an epistemological crisis and an enchantment of State power. The postcolonial State, on its part, sees this as an opportunity for enhancing the scope of its power by hegemonizing the discourse on religious authority and using it for nation-building purposes. The cumulative impact of these processes is that the Ulema there have in practice adopted a revisionist approach towards classical juristic texts to make 'tradition' adaptive to contemporary changes and to help them to modify their role as 'custodians of change' in the context of postcolonial State's appropriation of Islam for a nationalizing project.

Amanda Reid

Mellon Fellowship of Scholars in the Humanities

Department of Theater & Performance Studies, Stanford University

To Own Ourselves: Dancing Caribbean Radicalism in Independent Jamaica

Amanda Reid received her PhD from the Department of History at the University of Michigan, and her BA from Williams College. She writes about dance, cultural policy, queer studies, and Caribbean black radicalism. Her research has been supported by the Mellon Mays Program, the Social Science Research Council, and the University of Michigan Center for Latin American and Caribbean Studies.

Project Summary:

Reid’s manuscript project is a political history of the West Indies that forefronts dance as a decolonizing epistemology. Reid examines the choreographies and transnational political communities formed by state-affiliated concert dance companies in Jamaica, Trinidad, and Guyana (1930-1976). She argues that West Indian performers used their bodies to theorize freedom as a practice of self-ownership in response to the failures of the state’s vision of post-coloniality.

Margarita Lila Rosa

Mellon Fellowship of Scholars in the Humanities

Department of Comparative Literature, Stanford University

The Enslaved Womb: The Legislation of Black Maternity and Freedom of the Womb in Brazil

Margarita Lila Rosa received her PhD from Princeton University in comparative literature with a graduate certificate in African American studies in 2021. Her research explores Black womanhood and struggles against slavery and carcerality.

Project Summary:

Rosa’s current project, titled In Search for Freedom: Black Women’s Resistance to Carcerality in Early Twentieth Century Rio de Janeiro and Los Angeles, explores the lives of Black women after the abolition of slavery in Rio de Janeiro and Los Angeles, as women aimed to resist the increasingly carceral logic of their environments. This project uses prison records and newspaper clips to explore how Black women sought spaces of ephemeral freedoms and sought to create permanent spaces of freedom for themselves.

Shu-mei Shih

Marta Sutton Weeks External Fellow

Department of Comparative Literature & East Asian Languages and Cultures, UCLA

Comparative Literature in a Relational World

Shu-mei Shih is the inaugural Edward W. Said Professor of Comparative Literature and Professor of Asian Languages and Cultures & Asian American Studies at UCLA. She is also the president of the American Comparative Literature Association. Her work, situated at the intersection of the fields of comparative literature, Sinophone studies, area studies, and ethnic studies, examines and expands that space of intersection to find new concepts to better understand our complicated world.

Project Summary:

While at the Stanford Humanities Center, Shih hopes to complete her monograph, Comparative Literature in a Relational World, which offers a new method of comparison and connects minor and minoritized literatures from around the world in terms of significant world historical events spanning the long twentieth century.

Nigel Smith

Marta Sutton Weeks External Fellow

Department of English, Princeton University

Literature Crossing Ethnic and Racial Boundaries 1600-1700

Nigel Smith is William and Annie S. Paton Foundation Professor of Ancient and Modern Literature and chair of the Committee for Renaissance and Early-Modern Studies at Princeton University.  He has published mostly on seventeenth-century English literature, especially Marvell, Milton, and the radical tradition. Polyglot Poetics: Transnational Early Modern Literature is shortly forthcoming.

Project Summary:

Smith is examining the emergence of a ‘global’ literature over a century before it is usually supposed to happen in the mercantile entrepots of early modern Europe, from the fusion of Christian, Jewish and Muslim texts inside a multi-ethnic study group in early seventeenth-century Amsterdam to poetry meant to be of global appeal, sometimes available in several languages simultaneously, claiming to be an extension of the oldest sacred texts, not merely from Judeo-Christian tradition. This is the first detailed literary study of the coming together of different cultures and creeds embracing Europe, Asia, Africa and America, as early modern trading entrepôts made connections globally and began to produce populations at home or in colonies that manifested multi-racial identities, some producing early anti-slavery statements in the face of the widespread adoption of chattel slavery.

Hannah Smith-Drelich

Career Launch Fellow

Department of English, Stanford University

Altered Appetites: Food and Metaphor in Early Modern England

Hannah Smith-Drelich is a PhD candidate in English literature at Stanford University. Her research explores the intersection of food and literature in early modern England. She received her BA from Williams College, an MA in Food Studies from NYU, and an MA in English from McGill.

Project Summary:

Smith-Drelich’s dissertation, “Altered Appetites: Food and Metaphor in Early Modern England,” argues that appetite was a crucial and, in many cases, existential concept in early modern discourse. Her work situates appetite as a metaphoric nexus of early modern experience, drawing from fields that include the history of science and medicine, the study of classical philosophy and its reception in the Renaissance, food history, manuscript and early print recipe traditions, and records of trade, agriculture, and food production.

John Tennant

Mellon Fellowship of Scholars in the Humanities

Department of Classics, Stanford University

Proverbial Plato: Proverbs, Gnômai, and the Reformation of Discourse in Plato’s Republic

John Tennant’s research concerns the transmission of cultural wisdom in Greek prose and poetry and how this transmission was called into question in the late fifth century BCE – coming to a head in works by authors such as Euripides, Thucydides, and especially Plato. John explores how proverbs, aphorisms, and other rhetorical commonplaces become particularly important at times when shared discourse breaks down, when language itself becomes an object of mistrust. John received his PhD in classics from the University of California, Los Angeles (2019) and his MA in classics from Stanford University (2013). The transformative potential of figurative speech employed in proverbs became apparent to John while practicing as a union labor lawyer, his previous profession. The law itself is arguably composed in large part of just such phrases, with similar normative aspirations. John received his Juris Doctor from Harvard Law School, where he first became interested in the seeming connections between modes of discourse and speakers’ ethics and moral values. In 2002-03, John received a Fulbright Post-Doc Research Fellowship to work with police unions and immigrants' rights advocates in Paris, France, studying the ways in which tensions might be reduced in the Parisian suburbs between rank-and-file police officers and the communities they serve, composed primarily of Muslim immigrants from the Maghreb.

Project Summary:

Tennant's current project (a continuation of the subject of his dissertation) is to frame Plato’s Republic as an attempt to reform the state of discourse in a politico-discursive crisis that occurred toward the end of the fifth and beginning of the fourth century in Athens, by focusing on the previously unexplored role that proverbs and gnômai play in Plato’s creation of the ideal polis. Plato uses such commonplaces not solely for the purpose of lending his dialogue a more authentic character. Rather, they both elucidate the dynamics of power that inhere in the prevailing modes of Athenian discourse and provide a locus for Plato’s critique of the improper use of language. Plato reveals how discursive reform is inseparable from social and political reform. Proverbs, gnômai, and other rhetorical topoi serve collectively as one of the building blocks of a just society. Put simply, wordcraft isstatecraft.

Sharika Thiranagama

Internal Faculty Fellow

Department of Anthropology, Stanford University

Emancipation Projects: The Everyday Life of Caste in India

Sharika Thiranagama is associate professor of Anthropology at Stanford University. Her work explores the intersection of political mobilization and domestic life in both Sri Lanka and India, particularly exploring new kinds of publics, privates, and forms of political violence and historic inequality. Her book In My Mother’s House: Civil War in Sri Lanka was published in 2011 by UPENN press. She is currently the president of the American Institute for Sri Lankan Studies, and has been the co-founder and co-director of the Center for Global Ethnography at IRISS, Stanford. Her research interests are in ethnicity, global enslavement, labor, violence, gender, kinship, caste, and displacement. 

Project Summary:

Sharika Thiranagama will be writing a book tentatively titled Emancipation! Communism and Caste in India while at Stanford Humanities Center. This project examines how ordinary people live and contend with historically deep subordination, humiliation, and exclusion, through the lens of the everyday life of formerly untouchable caste Dalit communities in the communist state of Kerala, India. It centers on households, neighborhoods, inheritances of blockage as well as aspirations to wealth, local aspirations and how deep inequality is reproduced in everyday life. By applying a deeply historical and comparative lens to the lives of these communities in Kerala, the book explores how global ideas of emancipation and dignity are woven into everyday lives in marginal communities in India.

Anna Toledano

SHC Dissertation Prize Fellow

Department of History, Stanford University

Collecting Independence: The Science and Politics of Natural History Museums in New Spain, 1770–1820

Anna Toledano is a PhD candidate at Stanford studying history of science. Her academic research focuses on natural history collecting in eighteenth-century Spain and Spanish America. Anna is also a museum professional and has developed interpretive content at a variety of museum institutions. She holds an MA in museum anthropology from Columbia University and an AB in history of science from Princeton University.

Project Summary:

Toledano's dissertation interrogates why certain plants, animals, and minerals made the journey to Spain from Spanish America—and why most did not—to develop a new, material interpretation of natural history collecting in the late Spanish Empire. Her use of diverse textual and object sources from Mexican, Guatemalan, Spanish, and Californian collections weaves together a holistic story of the history of science in the Viceroyalty of New Spain.

Lora Webb

SHC Dissertation Prize Fellow

Department of Art & Art HIstory

‘Kosmo’ Embodied: Eunuchs and Byzantine Art in the Ninth through Twelfth Centuries

Lora Webb is a PhD candidate in the Department of Art and Art History where she specializes in Byzantine art. She studied art history at Oklahoma State University (BA 2011) and Tufts University (MA 2013), and her research has been generously supported by the Kress Foundation. 

Project Summary:

Webb's dissertation investigates how eunuchs were visually present in the Byzantine court where they enjoyed high rank and close contact with the imperial family. She addresses three interrelated aspects of court eunuchs: 1) their visual representation, 2) their patronage of art objects, and 3) because they were “made” through the act of castration, the way that elite eunuchs themselves could be construed as art objects. 

Carolyn Zola

SHC Dissertation Prize Fellow

Department of History, Stanford University

Public Women: Urban Provisioners, 1750s to 1860s

Carolyn Zola is a PhD candidate in United States history at Stanford University. Her research explores gender and labor in eighteenth- and nineteenth-century North America. A Bay Area native, she worked in theater, studied at City College of San Francisco, and earned her BA in history at UC Berkeley before coming to Stanford. 

Project Summary:

Working at the intersection of social and cultural history, Zola's dissertation explores the lived experiences of white and black female hucksters, street peddlers, and market women who sold food in port cities, both in the formal economies of public markets and in the vernacular economies of the streets. Her work also analyzes the profusion of cultural representations generated by female provisioners in order to better understand these ubiquitous yet elusive sellers.