Humanities Division Honors Graduate Students and Faculty at the 537th Convocation

Humanities Division 2023 Convocation Ceremony

Division of the Humanities graduates, faculty members, and the graduating students’ families and friends celebrated the 537th Convocation ceremony in Rockefeller Chapel from 4:30 to 5:30 p.m. on June 2, 2023. This is the last year that Anne Walters Robertson is serving as Dean of the Division of the Humanities, and the first year for the new Stuart Tave Course Design Awards honoring graduate students for exemplary course design in teaching undergraduate students.

“At every convocation, we are proud to celebrate the achievements in scholarship and teaching of our faculty and students,” said Anne Walters Robertson, Dean of the Division of the Humanities and the Claire Dux Swift Distinguished Service Professor in the Department of Music. “I am so pleased that at this, my final convocation as dean, we are launching a new award for excellence in course creation by graduate students: the Stuart Tave Course Design Award.”

Experimental UChicago Course Compares Maya, European Stories of Creation

EdgarEdgar Garcia discusses the Popol Vuh with UChicago students. Photo by Jason Smith Garcia discusses the Popol Vuh with UChicago students in the classroom

During the pandemic, English professors Edgar Garcia and Timothy Harrison began to notice connections between two seemingly different texts also written in moments of crisis.

John Milton’s epic “Paradise Lost” was written after the English Civil War once the poet had lost his vision. The “Popol Vuh”—sometimes called “the Mayan Bible”—was written by Maya scholars while living under Spanish colonization and forced religious conversion.

Both tell creation stories, narratives about how the world and its inhabitants formed. And both were written within the same historical moment—though on either side of the Atlantic.

Deborah Nelson Appointed Dean of UChicago's Division of the Humanities

Deborah Nelson

Prof. Deborah L. Nelson has been appointed dean of the University of Chicago Division of the Humanities, President Paul Alivisatos and Provost Katherine Baicker announced[MOU1] . Her tenure will begin July 1.

Nelson is a renowned scholar whose research focuses on late 20th-century U.S. culture and politics. The Helen B. and Frank L. Sulzberger Professor in the Department of English and the College, she currently serves as chair of the Department of English Language and Literature.

“Debbie is a highly regarded scholar who has made important academic contributions and who has contributed in numerous ways to the vitality of our University community,” Alivisatos said. “She is an experienced, collaborative and energetic leader. I am grateful that she has committed to service as Dean of the Humanities Division. Hers will be a powerful voice for the humanities at UChicago and beyond.”

Cornell Fleischer, Historian Who Revolutionized Study of Ottoman Empire, 1950-2023

Cornell Fleischer

Prof. Cornell H. Fleischer, a world-renowned expert of Ottoman history and scholar of the greater Islamic world, passed away in Chicago on April 21. He was 72.

Known for his prowess with languages and as an attentive mentor to his students, Fleischer was the Kanuni Süleyman Professor in the Departments of Near Eastern Languages and Civilizations and History. He was an expert in the Age of Süleyman the Lawgiver—the longest reigning Sultan of the Ottoman Empire—for which his professorship was named.

Humanities Scholar Elected to the American Academy of Arts and Sciences

Salikoko Mufwene
Acclaimed University of Chicago linguist Salikoko S. Mufwene has been elected to the American Academy of Arts and Sciences, founded in 1780 to honor excellence in independent research.

Mufwene is among 269 new members, which includes four other UChicago faculty, honored this year from a range of academic disciplines and selected from more than 1,300 nominations.

The Edward Carson Waller Distinguished Service Professor in the Department of Linguistics and the College, Mufwene is a leading expert on the emergence of creoles and on globalization and language. He received this honor for his breakthrough research in the evolution of language.

Meet the Staff: Verletta Bonney

Verletta Bonney

More than 100 staff members work in the Division of the Humanities. We’ll introduce you to our staff in this continuing series.

Verletta Bonney

Manager of Finance & Events

Franke Institute

What do you like most about your job?

Aside from being a part of a very collaborative team, I enjoy meeeting and working with the many event organizers, grant recipients, and our Franke Institute Fellows.

What was the last good book you read?

I was torn because I have two: You Owe You by Eric Thomas and Inspired & Unstoppable by Tama Kieves. I love motivational books.

You might work with me if:

Can You Describe a Sensation Without Feeling It First?

Research with a person born without somatosensation shows that direct sensory experience is not required to understand language and abstract metaphors.

Blind or colorblind people can describe colors and use expressions like “green with envy” or “feeling blue.” A hearing-impaired person can also say those same vibrant hues are “loud.” But many linguists and cognitive neuroscientists have assumed that somatosensation—touch, pain, pressure, temperature, and proprioception, or the sense of where your body is oriented in space—is fundamental for understanding metaphors that have to do with tactile sensations. Understanding expressions like “she is having a tough time” or “that class was hard,” it was believed, requires previous experience with those sensations to extend their meaning to metaphors.

Now, research from the University of Chicago with a unique, perhaps one-of-a-kind individual, shows that you can comprehend and use tactile language and metaphors without relying on previous sensory experiences. These findings challenge notions of embodied cognition that insist that language comprehension and abstract thought require direct memory of such sensations.

NEH Grant to Transform UChicago's Creation and Delivery of Digital Collections and Research Data

Digital version of the illuminated medieval manuscript, Le Roman de la Rose (The Romance of the Rose) will be made more discoverable by UChicago Node. (The University of Chicago Library MS 1380)

The National Endowment for the Humanities is awarding the University of Chicago nearly $1 million to transform UChicago’s creation, stewardship, and delivery of digital collections and research data. Working together, the University of Chicago Library and Division of the Humanities will use the grant to build a new digital structure, UChicagoNode—the core of what will eventually be a network extending and enhancing the practice of digital research at UChicago and around the world. The University is committed to raising an additional $4 million to fulfill the vision for this project.

Treasure troves of more than 200 digital collections exist across the University, but they are found in a wide range of unconnected systems, including several hundred terabytes of digital content held at the Library. UChicagoNode will give researchers a single place to go to discover available digital collections through a unified, open access platform.

UChicago Writer's Second Book Wins Three Significant Awards

Ling Ma

UChicago faculty member Ling Ma’s first book “Severance” (2018) received multiple accolades and funding, including the Kirkus Prize, the Whiting Award and the New York Library Young Lions Fiction Award as well earning her a fellowship from the National Endowment for the Arts. Her second book, “Bliss Montage” (2022) has won three significant awards in rapid succession: the National Book Critics Circle fiction prize, the Story Prize, and the Windham Campbell Prize for her collection of short stories.

“I am drawn to this form of writing and always wanted to write a book of short stories,” said Ling Ma, AB’05, assistant professor of Practice in the Arts in the Department of English Language and Literature and the College at UChicago. “A novel is a more forgiving format. In a short story, the reader sees the writer’s craft more easily.”

Two UChicago Scholars Awarded 2023 Guggenheim Fellowships

Orit Bashkin

Guggenheim Fellowships have been awarded this year to two University of Chicago scholars, chosen on the basis of prior achievement and exceptional promise.

Prof. Orit Bashkin and Prof. William Howell are among the 171 Fellows selected in this year’s class from nearly 2,500 applicants to the John Simon Guggenheim Memorial Foundation. Their respective fellowships will support projects on the history of Middle Eastern Jews and how U.S. political institutions shape our democracy.

UChicago to Expand English-Language Translation of South Asian Literature

Cover of Tomb of Sand by Daisy Rockwell

Less than 1 percent of all translated literature published in the U.S. during the past 10 years comes from a South Asian language while the region is home to more than 20 percent of the world’s population. To reverse this trend, the UChicago Humanities Division is launching the South Asian Literature in Translation (SALT) project with substantial funding over five years by Dipak Golechha to support and promote English-language translation of literature written in the major languages of South Asia.

“With this project, we aim to bring some of the extraordinarily rich literature of the subcontinent to publishing markets where it has thus far been severely underrepresented,” said Jason Grunebaum, co-director of the SALT project, a Hindi translator and instructional professor in the Department of South Asian Languages and Civilizations (SALC) at UChicago.

Humanities Scholar Receives the Prestigious William Nelson Prize

Noémie Ndiaye

For revealing how the Romani people of Europe and sub-Saharan Africans were similarly racialized from the 17th century onwards, Noémie Ndiaye received the 2022 William Nelson Prize from the Renaissance Society of America for the best article annually published in the journal Renaissance Quarterly/. Her article “Black Roma: Afro-Romani Connections in Early Modern Drama (and Beyond)” focuses on performance practices in English and French settings showing the same legacy of bondage, enslavement, and human trafficking in theatrical representations for the Romani people and sub-Saharan Africans.

“In plays such as Molière’s Imaginary Invalid, Romani performers were performing Black dances,” said Ndiaye, the Randy L. and Melvin R. Berlin Assistant Professor in the Department of English Language. “The connection is consistent, and I got curious about this. What if this is not a coincidence?”

Scholar Mary Beard to Deliver Lecture Series on What We can Learn from the Classics

Mary Beard photo by Robin Cormack

When Mary Beard’s broadcasting career took off in her mid-50s, she became one of Great Britain’s best-known and most beloved academics thanks to her candor, knowledge about the ancient world and original insights.

Beard has the rare combination of wit, warmth, scholarship and genuine concern for her audiences—from the general public to the generations of students she taught at Cambridge University for more than 40 years.

In April, Beard will discuss “What Can We Learn from the Classics?” as part of the Randy L. and Melvin R. Berlin Family Lectures, hosted annually by the Division of the Humanities at the University of Chicago. Her lecture series will begin April 20 and continue April 25 and 26 at the Rubenstein Forum—both in-person and live streamed—from 6 to 7:30 p.m. CDT. Registration for the series is free and open to the public.