Michèle Lowrie and Claudia Brittenham Receive NEH Fellowships

Michèle Lowrie and Claudia Brittenham Receive NEH Fellowships

Michele Lowrie and Claudia Brittenham

Two scholars from the Division of the Humanities, Michèle Lowrie and Claudia Brittenham, have been awarded fellowships from the National Endowment for the Humanities to support their research in the 2018–19 academic year. Lowrie and Brittenham are two of just sixty-six recipients of the highly sought-after fellowships that support advanced research in the humanities.

“The Humanities Division is enormously proud of Michèle’s and Claudia’s scholarly achievements,” says Anne W. Robertson, Dean of the Division of the Humanities and the Claire Dux Swift Distinguished Service Professor in the Department of Music. “In addition to their scholarship, I am struck, and deeply grateful, that both received such recognition while working tirelessly in the service of their departments and the Division as Deputy Dean (Michèle) and as members of the Division’s Policy Committee (Michèle and Claudia).”

Michèle Lowrie, Andrew W. Mellon Professor in the Department of Classics, is a scholar of Roman literature, focusing particularly on the intersection of ideology and literary form, as well Roman political thought. 

Lowrie hopes to use the fellowship to complete her book project, “Security, A Roman Metaphor.” The idea for the book began in the aftermath of September 11th and the ensuing debate over the trade-offs between personal rights and national security. This debate allowed Lowrie to view the struggle between the Roman Senate and the “plebian” class from a new perspective. Her eventual book will trace both national security’s emergence as a concept in Roman literature and the politics of its trajectory.

In an attempt to tease out the more conceptual side of the history of national security, Lowrie will examine a variety of literary genres including historical and philosophical texts, oratory and rhetoric, as well as poetry. By examining sources outside the traditional political canon, Lowrie notes, this project “reveals an untold history, and sheds light on ideological blind spots that continue to inform political discourse to this day.”

She believes the most important aspect of this work is understanding the idea of security or the Latin, securitas, began as a metaphor for the peace of mind of the body politic, and “the development of this metaphor reveals the anti-democratic nature of national security as a discourse.”

“The politics of national security in the 21st century turn on a fear of dangers perceived as originating mostly from outside. These may come from other people—such as refugees, immigrants, foreign foes, and terrorists—or arise from impersonal forces, like changes in climate or the spread of disease,” says Lowrie. “Such assumptions, however, lie in stark opposition to the term’s conceptual origins in ancient Roman political thought, where the looming threat remained the outbreak of civil war.”

Claudia Brittenham, Associate Professor in the Department of Art History, researches the art of ancient Mesoamerica, with particular attention to the ways that the materiality of art and the politics of style contribute to our understanding of images.

Brittenham plans to use her fellowship to finish her book project, “Unseen Art: Memory, Vision, and Power in Ancient Mesoamerica.” “I’ve been working on this project for quite some time, and I’m finally at a point where I can see how the pieces will all come together,” she says. “The year’s leave funded by the NEH will make this book a reality.”

Brittenham’s book will examine the conditions under which ancient art was viewed and experienced, focusing particularly on ancient practices opposed to modern models of museum display. In doing so, she looks at a variety of items: Aztec carvings on the undersides of sculptures, Maya lintels displayed overhead in doorways, and buried Olmec offerings.

The book will use a series of case studies drawn from major Mesoamerican civilizations to investigate how, as Brittenham describes, “art could operate beyond the realm of the visual, and explore the ways in which concealed images and esoteric knowledge might be used to maintain power and social difference.”

“Unseen art pushes us to develop creative ways to explore ancient viewing experiences and the reception of ancient works of art,” says Brittenham. “The insights gained demonstrate the value of contextualized ways of looking at all artworks.”

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January 4, 2018