Humanities Division Honors Graduate Students, Faculty, and Staff at 538th Convocation

Humanities Division Honors Graduate Students, Faculty, and Staff at 538th Convocation

Division of the Humanities Convocation Ceremony 2024

By Sara Patterson

Division of the Humanities graduates, faculty members, and the graduating students’ families and friends celebrated the 538th Convocation ceremony in Rockefeller Chapel from 4:30 to 5:30 p.m. on May 31, 2024. This is the first year that Deborah L. Nelson is serving as Dean of the Division of the Humanities and the inaugural year for the academic excellence and leadership awards for graduates of master’s degree programs.

“At each convocation, we are proud to celebrate the achievements in scholarship and teaching of our faculty and students,” said Deborah L. Nelson, Dean of the Division of the Humanities and the Helen B. and Frank L. Sulzberger Professor in the Department of English Language and Literature and the College at UChicago. “I am immensely pleased that we are inaugurating new awards to honor the excellent scholarship of graduates with master’s degrees.”

In addition to honoring the accomplishments of more than 150 graduating students with master’s and doctoral degrees, five leaders in the Humanities Division, including Dean Nelson and Dean of Students Shea Wolfe, recognized 17 students, faculty, and staff for their stellar achievements.

Humanities Division Faculty and Instructor Awards

Bobbi Josephine Hernandez-Sze AM 1993 and Morgan Chia-Wen Sze MBA 1993 Award: Martha Feldman

Music is Prof. Martha Feldman’s lifelong passion. Until her early 20s, she was a full-time classical guitarist before pivoting to musicology. Throughout her life, she has been learning new types of music and new ways to engage with music.

“Nowadays young people acquire music through streaming services and consume it using headphones while doing countless other things,” said Feldman, the Ferdinand Schevill Distinguished Service Professor in the Department of Music and the College. “In my undergraduate classes, the headphones come off and all devices are stashed away. This is an essential step on the path to becoming thoughtful, critically attentive listeners, focused on understanding what we’re hearing and thinking about.”

At UChicago, Feldman enjoys working with and learning from the intellectually intense, brilliant, and adventuresome students. “It is humbling to work with them and endlessly fascinating,” she said.

On the last day of class, Feldman encourages her students with this advice. “Follow your passions,” she said. “Don’t just indulge them, do something powerful with them. Use them to develop yourself as an individual but also to change in the world.”

Janel M. Mueller Award for Excellence in Pedagogy: Leslie Buxbaum and Valentina Pichugin

Assoc. Prof. of Practice Leslie Buxbaum started working in theater as a child—first as an actor and then as director and writer. While her work as an artist and teacher has varied in many ways, she identifies that she thinks (and feels) through creating theater and performance.

“My teaching is informed by my combination of a PhD and a long career in theater-making,” said Buxbaum, associate professor of practice in the Committee on Theater and Performance Studies. “I’ve spent years tacking between the seminar table and the rehearsal room, which is what we ask our students to do. As a theater director, I create rooms in which artists can do their best work in service to creating a production. As a teacher, I think similarly about the circumstances that enable students to do their best work.”

For her students, Buxbaum relishes guiding them to conceptualize and realize original artistic thesis projects. She asks questions to help her students figure out what they want to do and how to create the structures in which to do so.

Senior Instructional Prof. Valentina Pichugin jokingly said that she could not decide whether to study medicine or law, and that is why she chose Slavic languages and literatures and has no regrets.

During her own college and graduate studies, Pichugin learned important skills, which eventually shaped her own teaching. “‘To be like water’ was the trickiest one to learn,” said Pichugin, senior instructional professor in the Department of Slavic Languages and Literatures.

She developed all the courses that she teaches at UChicago over time. They evolve and change continually, providing flexibility and room for improvisation, which is of great value to her and her students.

At the end of each quarter, when students present their final projects, there is a strong sense of bonding over teamwork, which Pichugin finds sublime and very rewarding.

Humanities Division Graduate Student Awards

Doctoral Student Awards
Distinguished Dissertation Award: Laura Colaneri

Laura Colaneri is fascinated by how integral politics are to Latin American literature. Through her studies, she realized how many early Latin American politicians were also writers and developed an interest in Latin American legacies of dictatorships and how writers sought to understand politics and create societal change through literature.

Her award-winning dissertation on “The Sinister Southern Cone: Mood, Affect, and Horror in the Cultural Imaginary of Argentine and Brazilian State Terror” examined the narrative strategies that Argentine and Brazilian authors, filmmakers, and artists have used to respond to 20th- century dictatorships, particularly the use of conventions of the horror genre in novels, a film, an experimental play, an experimental artwork, and archival sources.

Her dissertation topic was meaningful because Colaneri could seamlessly integrate her academic and personal interests. “In my personal life, I am deeply invested in politics and social change,” said Colaneri, who earned her PhD in Romance Languages and Literatures. “I’m also a huge horror fan, with an interest in all things spooky. I brought this passion and unique perspective into my academic work.”

Colaneri finds the emphasis on interdisciplinary studies at UChicago allows her to incorporate important ideas from sociology, history, and political science into her studies of literature and literary methods. In turn, her dissertation could look at culture more broadly and incorporate film and art.

Graduate Student Teaching Awards: Benjamin Diego and Heather Glenny

The first time Benjamin Diego held a medieval manuscript, he realized that, although the object was unfamiliar and outside of his immediate understanding, through touch he shared a common experience with its medieval scribes and previous readers.

“Medieval and other historical objects offer a tangible connection to new and often radically different ways of looking at and experiencing the world,” said Diego, a PhD candidate in Art History. “My training in art history is more than theory driven. It is always applied, object-centered, and humanistic.”

While the medieval art of Iberia that Diego studies seems distant, its interpretation bears on contemporary histories, borders, and being human. He enjoys teaching students, especially through visits to the Special Collections in UChicago’s Regenstein Library, where they can touch and decipher manuscripts.

Diego hopes to find a career in academia or museum education, which will allow him to continue working as a researcher and educator. “I feel that I have options because of the sheer number of opportunities my degree program has given me to develop my research, writing, and teaching skills,” he said.

Heather Glenny revels in the vast potential for interdisciplinary work, the breadth of the meaning of text, and the accessibility of the courses, which allow her to work with students from all disciplines. She has also found great opportunities for pedagogical development by teaching undergraduate courses of her own design, studying through the Chicago Center for Teaching and Learning, and learning from UChicago professors dedicated to her pedagogical development.

Recently, Glenny had the opportunity to teach in the London Study Abroad Program. One day she took her class on a field trip to the Crossness Pumping Station, a historic sewage treatment facility. They had studied the legend of the Rat Queen and other myths related to the sewage system. But Glenny was worried that the students would find the site boring, smelly, and gross.

“I was shocked when we entered into the ornately decorated original pumping site, and the students were so excited—taking photos, showing things to each other,” said Glenny, a PhD candidate in English Language and Literature. “It was so strange and so great. Every detail of the space was a metaphor or symbol for human digestion—taboos of excrement made into wrought-iron art.”

After she graduates from UChicago, Glenny hopes to continue teaching.

Stuart Tave Course Design Awards: Alice Casalini and Tobias Scheunchen

From her early years, Alice Casalini was surrounded by art and architecture. Her parents are architects who took her to art exhibits, shows, and museums. As a child, she learned to draw and paint.

Casalini gravitated toward Chinese art history and came to UChicago because the Art History Department has a strong tradition of Asian art history. She has enjoyed exploring different topics and different subjects during her studies and courses, even those not specifically tied into her dissertation studies.

For Casalini, the ability to design and teach her own class was one of the best moments and a defining moment of her doctoral career. In one example, she asked students to choose three or four objects and develop a short gallery talk when they visited the galleries of the Art Institute of Chicago.

“The students were assigned to take notes on the objects and pull together a brief narrative centered on a specific topic,” Casalini said. “Each presentation was great.”

She would like to continue doing research, writing, and teaching when she graduates from UChicago.

Tobias Scheunchen was drawn to the Middle East first through voluntary work and then through academic study.

“I remain convinced of the importance of complicating our often too simplistic narratives about Middle Eastern history, collaboration with scholars and students in the region, and the need to educate the next generation of students and scholars for whom the Middle East is more than an academic textbook fantasy,” said Scheunchen, a PhD candidate in Near Eastern Languages and Civilizations.

He finds a strong emphasis on pedagogical training and teaching at UChicago. Scheunchen has learned how to think about how to be an instructor, how to present information, and how to facilitate the most effective learning for students. During his tenure here, he completed a master’s degree in legal studies from the UChicago Law School, which has helped his training as a legal historian.

Additionally, Scheunchen has studied archives in Europe and the Middle East, which included the Papyrus Collection in Vienna, the British Library at Cambridge University, and the Monastery of St. Catherine’s in Egypt, studying Arabic and Greek documents. His most rewarding work has come working with students.

“I saw how students changed their thinking over the course of the academic quarter,” Scheunchen said. “The best part was when I noticed they were pushing themselves to expand their horizons, even in moments of great difficulty and when confronted by topics not easy to digest.”

Next year, he is working as an associate research scholar at Yale Law School.

Master’s Degree Student Awards

Dean’s Award for Excellence in Middle Eastern Studies: Anna Shabi

After taking Arabic classes during her undergraduate years, Anna Shabi decided to delve more deeply into Middle Eastern studies to learn more about history and culture of the region. She is of Iraqi Jewish descent.

Shabi found that the interests of UChicago faculty aligned with her own. “It’s been such a privilege to work with so many people at the top of their fields,” she said.

Moving to Chicago from the U.K., Shabi has enjoyed the experience of living in the city and describes it as “exciting and formative.” One of her favorite memories is collaborating with other members of the Middle East Studies Students’ Association to plan and organize the annual Spring Charity Gala.

Dean’s Award for Excellence in Digital Studies of Language, Culture, and History: Elliot Galvis

Elliot Galvis became curious about digital studies through intersecting interests in critical media and cultural studies. He wanted to gain a better understanding of computational tools and frameworks for studying born-digital media. By doing so, Galvis hoped to understand and critique the escalating deployment of digital tools by governments and private corporations along with the histories of these technologies. He has also sought to better implement data management practices in his research and personal life.

Galvis found the master’s degree program in Digital Studies at UChicago gave him valuable training in how to organize, analyze, and manipulate data for his goals and interests. He has enjoyed the multidisciplinary fields that comprise the Forum for Digital Culture and the combination of technical and socio-historical training he has received.

By building on his research on book bans in the U.S. and his work as digitization assistant in UChicago’s Preservation Division, Galvis hopes to pursue a career in libraries and public-facing cultural research. His studies for the master’s degree can be directly applied to this work.

Immediately after graduation, Galvis will serve as a metadata intern at the UChicago Library for the 2024 Mary and Samuel Somit Preservation Internship.

Dean’s Award for Outstanding Graduate Leader in Visual Arts: Tianjiao Wang

Tianjiao Wang has learned from artists like Jessica Stockholder and Pope.L in Visuals Arts at UChicago. On May 4 in Hutchinson Courtyard, she gathered with the Department of Visual Arts alumni, faculty, students, and staff around Stockholder’s installation sculpture “For Event” to celebrate the collective Master of Fine Arts (MFA) experience they all had with Pope.L.

“For me and many Department of Visual Arts alumni, this was an unforgettable and extraordinary educational experience,” Wang said.

In addition to celebrating Stockholder’s artwork, those in attendance revisited Pope.L’s wisdom, the significance of designing the seminar, and present ambient and improv works. For many years before his passing in December 2023, Pope.L guided MFA students to create a theater production of the Grimm Brothers’ story “Hansel and Gretel” as a special seminar.

“I believe in work and life, we need moments like May 4 to celebrate, honor, remember, reflect, learn, cherish, and share,” Wang said. “This is the unique aspect of the MFA program that brought me to UChicago. And this is something unique about art.”

Dean’s Award for Excellence in the Master of Arts Program in the Humanities: Seva Khusid, Jennie Morris, and Adalia Schenk

Born in Russia, Seva Khusid has been studying abroad since 2017 as a path to emigration. He has enjoyed the flexibility of disciplines through the Master of Arts Program in the Humanities (MAPH).

“I realize just how much this flexibility enables unique scholarship,” Khusid said. “The more distinct fields the students get to tackle, the more non-obvious and valuable connections they will draw between them. UChicago creates a place of intellectual discussion impossible anywhere else.”

While Khusid has many fond memories of UChicago, such as the launch of the MAPH journal Common Forms and the Works-in-Progress Conference where MAPH students discuss their theses-in-progress. The highlight of the year for him, however, was the monthly South Asian Film Nights organized by MAPH students Meenakshi Ajit and Shefali Mehta.

As he looks toward the future, Khusid may apply to a doctoral program or go into making video games. In his master’s degree thesis, he explored using games as rhetorical tools like interactive models that make explicit the intricacies of societal systems. Khusid wants the players to learn more than how the game designer understands the world; the players should engage with the world critically and produce a perspective of their own.

In her early 30s, Jennie Morris took a course in ethics and discovered that she wanted to spend her life immersed in philosophy. She likes the interdisciplinary nature of the MAPH program, which allowed her to focus on philosophy but also to take classes in sociology and law.

Morris found strong support and encouragement for her work from the MAPH staff, including Hilary Strang and Maren Robinson, as well as her preceptor Andrew Pitel and her thesis adviser Instructional Prof. Ben Laurence. “After every conversation with Ben, I left his office feeling inspired and understood,” she said.

After graduation, Morris returns to her home state of Colorado to work as a K-12 Dean of Students at a charter school. She hopes to continue her education through a doctoral program in applied philosophy or environmental ethics.

“I have no doubt that my master’s degree from UChicago will open doors to those opportunities,” Morris said.

Adalia Schenk studies literature that addresses colonial histories, moments, and symptoms. She was drawn to the field through her love for her family, community, and the objects of literature that resonate for her.

“I think the role of language in relation to colonial formations is infinitely complex, and the particularities of the varied instances of colonialism reflected in literature is a wellspring of ambivalent inspiration,” Schenk said.

She expects to apply for PhD program for 2025‒2026 and pursue a career in higher education interacting with scholars.

College and University Awards

Llewellyn John and Harriet Manchester Quantrell Awards

The following was published in UChicago News on May 16, 2024.

UChicago annually recognizes faculty for their incredible teaching and mentoring of undergraduate and graduate students through the Llewellyn John and Harriet Manchester Quantrell Awards, believed to be the nation’s oldest prize for undergraduate teaching. Two of the Humanities Division of the Humanities faculty members received the 2024 Quantrell Awards: Anton Ford and Chris Kennedy.

Anton Ford, Associate Professor in the Department of Philosophy and Deputy Dean of the Division of Humanities

When Anton Ford was in high school, he found a steamer trunk in the basement of his house that contained his parents’ books from college. He spread them on the floor and took the most appealing for himself.

As he recalls, the trunk had a wide variety of books: novels, poetry, history and sociology books, political texts and philosophy books. He said he remembers reading some Platonic dialogues, and developing an interest in Emerson and Nieztsche.

“My tastes have matured,” he said. “But that was my first encounter with philosophy, on the floor of the basement of my childhood home. The trunk itself came to have a sentimental value for me. I brought it with me to college, then to graduate school, and then to my first job, here, at the University of Chicago.” 

Ford joined the faculty at UChicago in 2007 and is now an associate professor in philosophy with areas of special interest in Anscombe, Aristotle and Marx. In his classroom, Ford's approach aligns closely with the UChicago ethos of teaching how to think, not what to think.

On the last day of class, he said he hopes his students will leave not so much with a message as with a set of intellectual tools for thinking about the world they will be stepping into.

“The philosophers whose work I tend to teach are systematic thinkers,” he said. “One thing about a system of thought is that it can help one to see the connection between things. Another is that it provides one with intellectual orientation in an infinite variety of new circumstances.”

Through his teaching, Ford aims to empower his students to navigate a transitional phase in their lives with clarity and purpose.

“College is a pivotal moment in life, a point between academic and professional paths,” he said. “Depending on who one happens to meet, what interests one develops, what one encounters in class, what is happening in the world—and much else—one’s future trajectory could change very radically. Not every period of life is like that. Nothing in particular follows from the fact that this is a pivotal moment. But the fact is worth bearing in mind.”

Chris Kennedy, Professor in the Department of Linguistics

Chris Kennedy, who has been teaching linguistics at UChicago for nearly 20 years, wasn’t planning to become a linguist.

“I was living in Austin, Texas, playing bass in a punk band,” he remembers. “I had a horrible case of poison ivy one summer and was stuck inside. I asked my now wife/then girlfriend to grab me a book by Noam Chomsky from the Austin Public Library. She brought me a copy of ‘Syntactic Structures,’ and I was hooked.”

In the Department of Linguistics, Kennedy teaches undergraduate and graduate courses in semantics and pragmatics, and the occasional course in syntax. He also helped design and is the faculty director for the new cognitive science major, for which he teaches the two foundational courses alongside instructors in the Psychology Department. He also teaches in the Philosophical Perspectives humanities sequence.

Kennedy says he appreciates UChicago students’ passion for the “acquisition of knowledge,” which he incorporates into his own teaching approach.

“I like to approach my classes with the idea that I am learning the material alongside the students, approaching it from a position of discovery rather than presenting it from a position of authority,” said Kennedy. “Much of the time, this is literally true, because I've found that the best way for me to really understand new ideas, especially from areas outside my own expertise, is by working through them in a classroom full of University of Chicago students. And even when I teach a class on something I’m very familiar with, I like to start from some basic assumptions and then, together with the students, build up the theory from scratch.”

Kennedy threw himself into new material as an undergraduate student and said his curiosity has been a major influence in his career. He recalls coursework in religion and archeology, as well as his primary undergraduate major in Russian language and literature, as formative educational experiences even though they were quite different from the field he works in today.

“Whenever a student asks me what they should study, I say: ‘It doesn’t matter. What matters is that you find the best teachers, and do different things,’” he said.

Norman Maclean Faculty Award

The following was published in UChicago News on February 21, 2024.

Prof. Martha C. Nussbaum was one of two recipients of this year’s Norman Maclean Faculty Award, which honors her extraordinary contributions to teaching and student life within the University of Chicago community.

Established in 1997, the awards are named in honor of Prof. Norman Maclean, PhD’40, the critically acclaimed author of A River Runs Through It, who taught at UChicago for 40 years. The awards are presented by the Alumni Association and the Alumni Board.

Martha C. Nussbaum is the Ernst Freund Distinguished Service Professor of Law and Ethics, appointed in the Law School and Department of Philosophy, and she is an associate member of the classics department, political science department and the Divinity School. A leading scholar and public intellectual, she writes about ancient Greek and Roman philosophy, political philosophy and the nature of the emotions. Her more than 25 books include The Fragility of Goodness: Luck and Ethics in Greek Tragedy and Philosophy, Upheavals of Thought: The Intelligence of the Emotions, Not for Profit: Why Democracy Needs the Humanities, and Creating Capabilities: The Human Development Approach. Her most recent book is Justice for Animals: Our Collective Responsibility.

Nussbaum has taught at the University of Chicago since 1995 and won the Faculty Award for Excellence in Graduate Teaching in 2002. She has won numerous other prizes and awards, including the 2016 Kyoto Prize, the 2018 Berggruen Prize for Philosophy and Culture, the 2017 Don M. Randel Award for Humanistic Studies from the American Academy of Arts and Sciences, the 2021 Holberg Prize, the 2022 Balzan Prize, and the 2022 Order of Lincoln from the State of Illinois. She has received 66 honorary degrees from universities in the United States and abroad.

Humanities Staff Awards

Outstanding Service Award: Bridget Madden and Michael Zmija

Through the Visual Resources Center (VRC), Bridget Madden enjoys providing support and resources for different aspects of collaborators’ work with images and beyond to the Department of Art History and the entire arts and humanities community. Images and material collections from the VRC are used in the classrooms, students refer their friends to the VRC’s digitization lab or image permissions advice, and faculty borrow camera equipment for their archival and field research.

“At UChicago, everyone is deeply invested in their work, both the big picture and granular details,” said Madden, associate director of VRC for the Department of Art History.

Recently, Madden and her VRC colleague Allie Scholten planned a workshop on image captions in collaboration with faculty members Claudia Brittenham, Jacobé Huet, and Matthew Kruer to share practical advice and discuss how image captions can become a dynamic part of scholarship.

Since 1989, Michael Zmija has worked in facilities for the Division of the Humanities and since no two days are alike, he has never grown tired of it. He looks forward to the daily challenges and problem-solving to help his coworkers.

Through his position, he engages with the entire University and has developed relationships and learned skills from the various trade shops and engineers, which have helped him adapt to everyday challenges both professionally and personally.

Growth Champion Award: Alejandro Velazquez

As program coordinator for the Open Practice Committee in the Department of Visual Arts, Alejandro Velazquez leads the program, invites a roster of artists to campus, exposes students to different ways of thinking about art, and supports faculty initiatives. He enjoys working at Logan Center for the Arts and finding new entities and communities that have pockets of knowledge and study at UChicago.

Among many activities, Velazquez recently hosted a program for an alum and teaching fellow in Visual Arts to practice giving a job talk. “It was rewarding to see faculty and staff come together during the lunch hour to listen and give feedback and to hear from the teaching fellow how this day benefited her in preparation for her upcoming campus interview,” he said.

Also, Velazquez hosted a public artist talk presented by the Harper-Schmidt Fellow, Tongji Philip Qian in Winter Quarter and co-sponsored a conversation between Qian and Reiko Tomii, an independent art historian and curator, during Spring Quarter, welcoming Qian to the department and campus.


May 31, 2024