Five UChicago Humanities Professors Receive Research Funding

Five UChicago Humanities Professors Receive Research Funding

Four of the UChicago Humanities Division Faculty Who Received Research Funding

The Division of Humanities at the University of Chicago announced that five professors will receive research funding of $32,000 each on July 1, 2018, to advance their work in specific humanities fields. Covering a broad range of interests and Humanities departments, the five professors are Orit Bashkin in Near Eastern Languages and Civilizations; Alain Bresson in Classics; Laura Letinsky in Visual Arts; Larry F. Norman in Romance Languages and Literatures; and Eric L. Santner in Germanic Studies.

The Humanities Division recognizes these faculty members for years of scholarly productivity in their specialty, and dedicated and outstanding teaching and service to their department, the Division of Humanities, and the University of Chicago. “All of these colleagues have advanced the scholarship in their field both at home and abroad,” says Anne Walters Robertson, the Dean of the Division of the Humanities. “This generous funding will allow them greater flexibility as they carry out the work related to their research, for example, travel, costs of publication, research assistance, lecturers or post-doctoral scholars, and attending conferences.”

During the next three years, the five professors have discretion to determine how they will allocate the funds to support their work. The funds have been provided through the generosity of the Humanities Council.

Orit Bashkin Ascends to a Leadership Role in Her Field
Orit Bashkin’s offbeat topics, such as how the Dreyfus affair in France affected the Arab world, make fundraising more challenging. So the professor was overwhelmed to receive $32,000 to support her ongoing scholarship efforts during the next three years.

“Having these funds to use at my discretion gives me a leadership role in my field,” says Bashkin, professor of modern Middle Eastern history in Near Eastern Languages and Civilizations Department in the Division of Humanities at UChicago. “I can advance my research faster, help to promote junior scholars, and raise the profile of my scholarly work.”

For her current project about how the Jewish French army captain Alfred Dreyfus was first falsely condemned of handing secret documents to the imperial German military and later exonerated, she is exploring its aftermath. How did it affect Muslims, Christians, and Jews in the Middle East? How did they articulate their own criticisms of European anti-Semitism? To help research the complex topic, Bashkin plans to hire one or two UChicago graduate student interns who read Arabic.

During UChicago Humanities Day on Oct. 20, she will present a session about the Dreyfus Affair. The all-day event on UChicago’s campus expects to draw about 1,000 registrants.

“These funds allow me to do great research and start conversations with other interested scholars across the world,” Bashkin says.

Additionally, she hopes to enrich the lecture series for the UChicago’s Division of Humanities by sponsoring presentations on Middle East cultural history, Iraq history, and the history of the Jews in the Middle East.

For the final 33 percent of the funds, Baskin expects to collaborate with UChicago organizations, such as the Franke Institute, Center for Jewish Studies, and the Center for Gender Studies, to discuss the relationship between gender, race, and colonialism in the Middle East, and how European race theory influenced the Middle East in their upcoming conferences. “Funding is so critical for conferences about humanities topics,” she says. “The effects of our scholarship in the humanities are not seen immediately, but our work does change perspectives and tackles critical issues.”

Alain Bresson Reveals Trade Connections in the Ancient World
Connecting ancient texts about trade with how coins circulated in the ancient world is one of the scholarly endeavors that Alain Bresson pursues. A recent database tracking how coins from various kingdoms and city-states moved throughout the ancient world expanded his studies of economic history. The $32,000 research grant allows Bresson to move forward more quickly on using this database to advance his scholarly work.

“By funding my work on the application of economic concepts to the ancient world, I can reach a more mainstream audience of historians and economists for my books and articles,” says Bresson, Robert O. Anderson Distinguished Service Professor in the Classics Department of the Division of Humanities at UChicago.

To develop the database, Bresson and his assistants used methods also applied among others by biologists to analyze the interactions of proteins. The trade routes and coins are envisaged as a multidimensional space creating visual order from chaos.

“We are at the frontier of combining humanities and science,” he says. “Even in the study of the ancient world, we have too much data to manipulate and sort it out by traditional methods. Thanks to network analysis, I can now extract the information I need to reveal the trade connections and financial transfers throughout the ancient Mediterranean and the Middle East.”

Prior to this research grant, Bresson received a Guggenheim Fellowship, providing him with extra time to develop the database. “Obtaining these funds helps me think of more scholarly projects that I can develop and collaborate with colleagues nationally and internationally about the economic history of the ancient world,” he says.

The multilingual Bresson also plans to travel, pursue ancillary scholarship work such as taxes and tributes in the Persian Empire, and engage a few UChicago post-doctorate Classics students to assist in editing his work. While he is French, Bresson now writes primarily in English and secondarily in German and French.

Laura Letinsky Opens Up New Artistic Vistas
Traveling to different countries opens new horizons in art. When Laura Letinsky was traveling through India a few years ago, she started to look differently at the indigenous art and became intrigued with textiles. While her primary medium is photography, Letinsky began an art project that morphed from photographs into tapestries and then architectural glass.

As the recipient of $32,000 in funding, she plans to travel to India or Germany with several students from UChicago. “Traveling to other countries is very vibrant and vital to discourse about art,” says Letinsky, professor and director of graduate studies in the Visual Arts Department of the Division of Humanities at UChicago. “This will be a tremendous opportunity for these students to look at the world in different ways. Art comments on the culture where the art is produced.”

In addition to traveling with more students to enrich their art experience, she wants to invest in a high-end digital camera, allowing Letinsky to experiment with digital photography and include this aspect in her teaching. She is now able to work with student research assistants to advance her artistic projects and to purchase materials for the students she teaches so they too can experiment with different art media.

“The art world is a different world from the sciences,” she says. It may not be as apparently practical, but Letinsky thinks a life worth living necessarily engages aesthetics.

“As artists, we can use those zeros and ones in ways that open up possibilities for a richer, more meaningful, and better life,” she says.

Larry F. Norman Finds a Wider International Audience for His Scholarly Work
As a leading scholar of French literature, Larry F. Norman collaborates with partners in France, international universities, and UChicago. With plans for an upcoming French translation of his award-winning book, The Shock of the Ancient: Literature and History in Early Modern France, the $32,000 research funding came at an opportune moment.

“Since my work is deeply transnational and requires active exchange with an international range of scholars that incurs expenses and demands resources, this research funding has an immediate impact,” says Norman, Frank L. Sulzberger Professor of Romance Languages and Literatures Department in the Division of Humanities at UChicago. “Working with a research group based at the Université Jean Monnet Saint Etienne on central arenas of my research, including the book’s translation, the project’s leader and her colleagues are seeking partners to advance the impact of its work. It is crucial for this effort to show UChicago is substantially helping to support his effort, and this funding allows me to contribute right away.”

Leading the French side of the project is Delphine Reguig, a rising star in French 17th-century studies. The book’s translation is part of a multiyear project she spearheads on “Ancients and Moderns,” which includes a series of international conferences, providing a wider network for The Shock of the Ancient’s dissemination and impact.

“It is important to note the target audience for the French translation of The Shock of the Ancient is quite broad: beyond France and extending to all non-Anglophone scholars working in French studies for whom French is more approachable than English,” Norman says. “This research funding makes it possible for me to advance work with multiple partners in Europe.”

Working on the topic of “comparative classicisms” across the cultures of Europe and beyond, he cultivates connections in France, Germany, England, and the Americas to advance his work. Norman, who has held visiting professorships at several French universities, also works closely with graduate students in Europe.

Published in 2011 by UChicago Press, Norman received the 20th annual Modern Language Association’s Aldo and Jeanne Scaglione Prize for French and Francophone Studies for The Shock of the Ancient: Literature and History in Modern France in 2011. The Scaglione Prize honors an outstanding scholarly work in its field.

Eric Santner
Eric Santner

Eric Santner Cultivates More Intense Intellectual Dialogue
Despite being a Germanist, Eric Santner’s recent scholarship has led him into deeper engagement with several Italian philosophers, particularly Giorgio Agamben and Roberto Esposito. Although many of their books have been translated into English, he desires to read the work in the original Italian to gain more insights.

“I have some proficiency in Italian, but I hope to be able to do more intensive language learning,” says Santner, Philip and Ida Romberg Distinguished Service Professor in Germanic Studies at UChicago. “I want to enter into actual dialogue with this community of philosophers. These research funds will help make that possible.”

In addition to the Italian philosophers, he has developed intellectual partnerships with scholars in German-speaking countries, as well as in England, France, Slovenia, Israel, and Australia. Santner cultivates close ties with a group of philosophers in Ljublijana, Slovenia, particularly Slavoj Zizek, Mladen Dolar, and Alenka Zupancic. These three philosophers have traveled to Chicago to attend conferences, present lectures, and teach seminars in a team.

“The $32,000 research fund will allow me to spend more time with this group from Slovenia on their home turf, present my scholarly work to the community, and, hopefully, teach a few compact seminars,” Santner says.

Traveling to Israel is on his agenda to visit Paul Mendes-Flohr, a close colleague who recently retired from UChicago. “We have co-taught several seminars, and my own work has really depended on that shared pedagogical engagement,” Santner says.

He plans to spend time with Mendes-Flohr in Israel, where his book, On the Psychotheology of Everyday Life: Reflections on Freud and Rosenzweig, was translated. This book grew directly out of his collaboration with Mendes-Flohr. Santner hopes to teach a compact seminar with his colleague there.

“This funding will allow me to sustain and even deepen the sort of intense intellectual dialogue that has nourished my work up until now,” he says. “I also will feel less inhibited about purchasing books and materials needed for my research.”

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July 13, 2018