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2015-2016

Judith Goldman

Judith Goldman, Assistant Professor, English

“______ Mt. [blank mount]”

A work of innovative, multi-media poetry and unorthodox creative scholarship, my book _____ Mt. [blank mount] inhabits and writes through an iconic poem of British Romanticism, Shelley’s “Mont Blanc” (1816), harnessing it to push the limits of literary criticism and to explore the ecological, aesthetic, philosophical, and technological crossroads of the 21st century. In striking affinity with our contemporary concerns, Shelley’s ode on this storied peak expresses anxiety about glaciers, environmental extremity, and nature’s unmasterability; its prescient formal qualities de-center the human by embodying the uncanny liveliness of inorganic entities. _____ Mt. [blank mount] uses the poem’s insights and inter-texts, historical context, and critical reception histories as compositional resources to rewrite and extend “Mont Blanc.” In turn, my book not only makes the poem a springboard for a speculative poetic-critical practice that addresses future histories and past futures converging at the Anthropocene “now,” but also, through interdisciplinary scholarly research and inquiry-based poetic techniques, focuses on the mountain Mont Blanc itself as a magnet of centuries of different forms of attention and imagination, framing those gazes in strange, new generic-analytic containers. Under contract with Bloomsbury, _____ Mt. [blank mount] will launch “Beyond Criticism,” an academic series for a broad audience.

Philip Kiernan, Assistant Professor, Classics

“The Life of Idols and Idol Hill”

The worship of divine objects (idols) was central to ancient Roman religion. As an HI fellow, I will finish a book on Roman idols and complete an article on a site known as “Idol Hill.” The book, entitled “Pagan Idols,” explores idols as objects with a birth, life and death, drawing on examples of similar practices in other cultures, times and places. Once created and consecrated, Roman idols were housed in temples and close-up access to them was restricted, but they were also central to ritual processions, sacrifices and other communal events. They allowed the gods to be present and enabled human communication with them. In Late Antiquity, many idols were destroyed by Christians and barbarians, while others were carefully hidden in pagan rituals of closure. The site known as Idol Hill, excavated between 2011 and 2013, is an example of an afterlife of an idol, in which a new meaning was assigned to an idol in the medieval or early modern period. The Romans negotiated and interacted with their idols as if they held immense power and were concerned with all earthly matters. Understanding them is critical to understanding the place of religion in ancient society.

carine mardorossian

Carine Mardorossian, Professor, English

“Creolized Ecologies in Caribbean Literature”

Caribbean studies has fundamentally reconfigured the identity-based rubrics of postcolonial studies through a focus on the transcultural, national, racial, and linguistic exchanges that occur in Creole societies. While postcolonial scholars mostly endorse this Caribbean creolized aesthetics, its environmental studies counterpart is far from emancipatory, since the interaction between organisms from disparate places often entails environmentally adverse effects: a hybridized logic also includes invasive species. Creolized Ecologies traces, via the analysis of Caribbean fiction, the ecological ramifications of a creolized cultural model for the environment. The book shows both why 1/ a hybrid model of culture and identity cannot just carry over to the natural world, and 2/ Caribbean writers offer ways of conceptualizing the relationship between humanity and the environment that do not subsume the environment in the name of an abstract and idealized notion of hybridity.

Headshots of the Humanities Institute FellowsPhotographer: Douglas Levere

Ndubueze Mbah, Assistant Professor, History

“Emergent Masculinities: Gendered Power and Social Change in the Biafran Atlantic Age”

I am applying for a Humanities Institute Fellowship to fund the revision of my book manuscript for publication. Specifically, I will use the funding to revise the first two chapters and the introduction of the manuscript, which will allow me to complete the book in the course of my Junior Leave in Spring 2016. Emergent Masculinities: Gendered Power and Social Change in the Biafran Atlantic Age examines how the interregional differences in conceptions of gender that shaped Bight of Biafra’s engagement with fluxive Atlantic economies between 1750 and 1920, defined the gendered demography of the 1.6 million slaves exported to the Americas, transformed local gender ideologies, and ushered a shift from a pre- colonial period characterized by female breadwinners and more powerful female political institutions, to a colonial period of male political domination. A Humanities Institute Research Fellowship will provide the teaching relief necessary for me to dedicate myself to preparing the manuscript for publication, and a dynamic community of scholars in which to develop and exchange ideas and perspectives.

Mark Nathan, Assistant Professor, History

“From the Mountains to the City: Buddhist Propagation and Religious Reform in Modern Korean History”

This project examines the way in which the Korean Buddhist tradition has responded over the last century to profound religious and cultural changes and to various social, political, legal, and demographic pressures. It analyzes the complex factors and dynamics that caused Korean Buddhist leaders and organizational actors to focus their energy and resources on propagating the religion as widely as possible in society as a means of instituting organizational changes and religious reforms that were considered necessary in order to ensure the survival of the religion in the modern world. The central argument is that Buddhist propagation as an organizational goal generated a capacity for coordinated action in the face of tremendous uncertainties about the future of the religion and its ability to compete with other organized religions. The active propagation and dissemination of the religion was not only regarded as necessary for the revitalization of the tradition, but also uniquely well suited to accomplishing that task given the actual conditions they faced. This monograph will be the first to provide a comprehensive and empirical account of Buddhist propagation and will contribute to a wider theoretical discussion by analyzing the underlying forces at work in this phenomenon.

Paige Sarlin 

Paige Sarlin, Assistant Professor, Media Study

“Practice: A Documentary Film about Job Interviews”

Practice: A Documentary Film about Job Interviews is a feature-length documentary that considers the current economic conditions of Buffalo, NY from the perspective of job seekers who are learning how to present themselves to prospective employers. The film documents practice interview sessions that college students, recent PhDs, asylum seekers, and public assistance recipients receive as part of employment training and support at University of Buffalo’s Career Services, the International Institute, an organization that provides support for refugees, and the Buffalo Employment and Training Center. These mock-interviews and the discussions that follow them call our attention to the artifice involved in the marketing of the self and the centrality of representation and performance to all work transactions. Practice: A Documentary Film about Job Interviews provides evidence of the contradictory impact of economic development on individuals and the shifting relations of media and labor practices.

Marla Segol, Associate Professor, Transnational Studies

“Kabbalah’s Two Bodies: A History of Human and Divine Bodies in Jewish Esoteric Literature”

This book tells the story of two bodies in two different times: divine and human, medieval and contemporary. It shows how Jewish mystical conceptions of the body directly inform those characterizing some forms of contemporary religious practice. I begin with the controversial idea that medieval Jewish mystics believed in divine corporeality, and that this belief directly informed their understandings of the human body. Because of this similarity, they began with their own bodies to try to better understand the divine. And in the same way, they began with accounts of the divine body to imagine their own, so that these two models informed each other. In this book I will argue, first, that the meaning of these models changed over time, and second, that these changes are key to understanding the development of kabbalah, for in it, human and divine bodies are brought closer and closer together. Telling the story of these two bodies, then, also tells the story of kabbalah. 

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Hershini Young, Associate Professor, English

“The Vulnerability of Horizontality”

Most of the scholarship thus far on disability and race in sub-Saharan Africa has emerged out of the social and medical sciences, and focuses on the extension of medical and human rights, governmental protection and access to specific marginalized communities. Instead of thinking of these communities as outside of mainstream society and these issues as relevant to only a few, performance and popular culture reveal that illness and non-normative embodiment occupy front and center stage. I explore these issues using the work of Nigerian based performance artist Wura-Natasha Ogunji, in particular her series of performances called “Will I still Carry Water when I am a Dead Woman”. In this series, Ogunji either crawls or walks down various streets in Lagos with plastic water buckets tied to her ankles. I will argue that key elements of her performances include a) normative and non-normative relationships to the ground b) the politics of water and women’s labor, and c) what Ogunji calls a “constant recontextualization of the sacred and the profane as [she] performs the arduous (if not impossible) task of hauling water kegs through the city” (Artist’s statement on Website).