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Faculty Fellows

2023-24 Humanities Institute Faculty Fellows

David Alff, Associate Professor of English

David Alff studies the eighteenth-century Anglophone world. His work has appeared recently in the journals Critical Inquiry and English Literary History, various academic essay collections, and popular venues like The Washington Post, The Boston Review, and The Los Angeles Review of Books. He is currently writing a monograph, “Rights of Way: A Literary Approach to Infrastructure.” His new book, The Northeast Corridor, is coming out from the University of Chicago Press in March 2024. Corridor is the first biography of America’s most important railroad. It shows how trains make the places that make us.

David Alff will present his talk “Rights of Way: A Literary Approach to Infrastructure” as part of the Scholars@Hallwalls series on September 8, 2023 at the Hallwalls Contemporary Art Center.

In recent decades, humanists have asked how societies deliver basic amenities like potable water, rapid transit, waste disposal, and on-demand light. Alff’s talk traces the conceptual roots of infrastructure to the early modern world. Long before “infrastructure” entered the French then English vernaculars, the sixteenth-century theological doctrine of public works compelled collective life through acts of earthmoving, architecture, performance, and charity. Alff investigates the writings that authorized land use for the common good, and show how their language continues to predict built environments today.


Jenifer L. Barclay, Associate Professor of History and Associate Director of the Center for Disability Studies

A scholar of race and disability, historian Jenifer L. Barclay is the author of The Mark of Slavery: Disability, Race, and Gender in Antebellum America (University of Illinois Press, 2021) and her work appears in publications such as Slavery & AbolitionWomen, Gender, and Families of Color, and The Oxford Handbook of Disability History. She is working on her second monograph, Between Two Worlds: A Black Disability History of Southern Education from Emancipation to Integration and co-editing a forthcoming collection with Stefanie Hunt-Kennedy, Cripping the Archive: Disability, Historyand Power.

Jenifer L. Barclay will present her talk “‘A History Worth Cherishing’: Race-ability and the Complexities of School Desegregation” as part of the Scholars@Hallwalls series on February 2, 2024 at the Hallwalls Contemporary Art Center.

Triumphalist histories of Brown v. Board of Education depict the desegregation of public schools as a difficult but necessary step in the United States’ inexorable march toward progress, overcoming the racism of a supposed minority of white citizens until justice prevailed. In this lecture, historian Jenifer L. Barclay centers the experiences of former students of doubly segregated southern schools for the deaf and blind and the 1952 Miller v. Board of Education of the District of Columbia case to explore the ways that a Black disability perspective disrupts and nuances this historical narrative.


Carrie Tirado Bramen, Professor of English

Carrie Tirado Bramen is a literary and cultural historian of the U.S. nineteenth century. She is the author of two books, American Niceness: A Cultural History (Harvard 2017), and The Uses of Variety: Modern Americanism and the Quest for National Distinctiveness (Harvard 2000). She has written for the Washington Post, The Conversation, Black Agenda Report, Political Theology Network, and Times Higher Education. She is currently working on a book entitled, “’The Journey-work of the Stars’: A Cultural History of Astrology in the American Nineteenth-Century.”

Carrie Tirado Bramen will present her talk “‘The Journey-work of the Stars’: A Cultural History of Astrology in the Nineteenth-Century United States” as part of the Scholars@Hallwalls series on December 1, 2023 at the Hallwalls Contemporary Art Center.

In recent years, popular interest in astrology has skyrocketed. There is a flourishing publishing industry, a strong social media presence, lucrative apps such as Co-Star that give daily horoscopes, and an endless array of online classes, and podcasts. Bramen’s book project provides a history of this contemporary moment by going back to the nineteenth century, a period that historians have depicted as a fallow period in astrological practice before the Theosophy Movement entered the scene in the 1870s. She argues that the nineteenth century actually represents a rich array of astrological practices from “prophetic almanacs” that foretold with surprising boldness crises of sickness, war, and natural disasters to the rise of Wall Street seers who predicted with varying degrees of success the boom-and-bust cycle of financial speculation. Astrology helped to navigate the uncertainty of modern life by providing a language of decipherability that made misfortune explicable rather than arbitrary. It accounted for past events and predicted future ones by using the semiotic tools of astral interpretation. This interdisciplinary study is ultimately a story about reading signs.


Robert B. Caldwell Jr., PhD FRGS, Assistant Professor of Indigenous Studies

Robert Caldwell studies Indigenous history, particularly the history of tribal Nations of what is now the Southeastern U.S. Some of his interests include cartographic history, ethnohistory, foodways, the history of the social sciences, the study of colonialism, imperialism, race and indigeneity, and the history of migrations. He has published two books and articles focusing on his own tribe, the Choctaw-Apache Community of Ebarb, LA. His manuscript Indians in their Proper Place, which details the historical evolution of linguistic and ethnological maps is under contract with the University of Nebraska Press.

Robert Caldwell will present his talk “Iconic American Indian Tipi in Spain’s Second Age of Discovery” as part of the Scholars@Hallwalls series on March 8, 2024 at the Hallwalls Contemporary Art Center.

In the popular imagination, the tipi is both the stereotypical home in which all American Indians once lived and a near universal symbol of Indianness.  While many assume that the stereotype of the Tipi with Indians in general came about during the 19th-century Anglo-American westward Imperial gaze, my research shows otherwise. This research examines the context of the introduction and use of the tipi as a map icon in the 18th-century by Spanish and argues that this coincided with the rise of Comanche power in New Spain’s northern borderlands.


Berin Golonu, Assistant Professor of Art History, Department of Art

Golonu’s research interests include Ottoman art and visual culture, landscape architecture, art and ecology, and photographic histories of the Middle East. Her current book project Modernizing Nature/Naturalizing Modernization: Urban Greenspace and Cultural Memory in Ottoman and Post-Ottoman Lands looks at the design, function, use of public recreation space in Ottoman and Post-Ottoman cities during the long nineteenth century. Golonu’s art criticism has been published in various international arts journals including Third Text, Artforum, Art in America, Aperture and frieze. Golonu’s curatorial projects have been displayed at Dorsky Gallery; the University of Rochester; New Langton Arts; and Yerba Buena Center for the Arts in San Francisco.

Berin Golonu will present her talk “Modernizing Nature/Naturalizing Modernization: Structuring Public Leisure Space in the Late Ottoman Empire” as part of the Scholars@Hallwalls series on October 20, 2023 at the Hallwalls Contemporary Art Center.

Similar to the urban parks of industrializing cities, new Ottoman “public gardens” were established to serve as symbols and tools municipal reform during the long nineteenth century. These spaces were fitted into urban cultural landscapes where longstanding practices of recreation and entertainment had taken root. This presentation looks at public gardens in key Balkan and Anatolian cities to trace how their establishment followed the expansion of infrastructural networks and imaging technologies. While these spaces signified the Ottoman empire’s centralizing command over the provinces, they also served as platforms where publics emerged into visibility to address or challenge state power.

Cody Mejeur, Assistant Professor, Department of Media Study and Director, Amatryx Gaming

Cody Mejeur is Assistant Professor of Media at University at Buffalo, SUNY, and Director of the Amatryx Gaming Lab & Studio there. Their work uses games to theorize narrative as an embodied and playful process that constructs how we understand ourselves, our realities, and our differences. They are currently the game director for Trans Folks Walking, a narrative game about trans experiences. They are an Executive Council member for the International Society for the Study of Narrative and work with the LGBTQ Video Game Archive on preserving and visualizing LGBTQ representation.

Cody Mejeur will present their talk “Boots Made For Walking: Embodied Storytelling By/With/For Trans People in Video Games” as part of the Scholars@Hallwalls series on November 17, 2023.

This talk presents the design of Trans Folks Walking, a video game anthology of trans community stories, including plans for a new volume of stories currently under development. In a shift from game development projects that usually bring in diversity consultants to help in telling marginalized stories, Trans Folks Walking is a game developed by, with, and for trans communities with values of reciprocity and social justice at its center. The talk will also examine the very real limitations and difficulties of this work, particularly in a moment of ascendent anti-trans activism and attacks.


Mopelola Ogunbowale, Assistant Professor of Africana and American Studies

Mope Ogunbowale is a scholar of Afro-Atlantic religions and popular music with broader specialization in urban ethnography and gender and sexuality studies. In her upcoming book project, The Spirit is the Music: Osun’s Aesthetic Manifestation in Reggae Dancehall Music, Mope explores the workings of Osun, a West African Goddess associated with creativity, rebellion and feminist resistance in the musical, discursive and embodied practices of reggae and dancehall musicians in Lagos, Nigeria since the 1980s. On the side, Mope is involved in preliminary research on Afrobeats music, a Nigerian popular music form ruling the global airwaves by storm.

Mope Ogunbowale will present her talk “Ghetto-Soldiers, Charliemen and Angry-Boys: Rebellious Masculinities in Nigerian Reggae-Dancehall Music” as part of the Scholars@Hallwalls series on April 26, 2024 at the Hallwalls Contemporary Art Center.

This presentation explores rebellious masculinity performances in Konto music, a reggae-dancehall styled music genre created in Ajegunle, an urban poor area in Lagos since the 1980s. Through discursive and embodied practices, Konto male musicians constructed identities to navigate the economic and political instabilities that beset their city as Nigeria plunged into economic recession and authoritarian rule in the 1980s. By characterizing themselves as Ghetto Soldiers, Charlieman and Angry-Boys, Konto musicians not only detail their agitations against the post-colonial Nigerian state, they discuss their participation in legal, quasi-legal and illegal activities to survive the “hard-life” of the city. Through a close and intertextual analysis of song lyrics, oral interviews, music videos and extant literature, this presentation introduces Konto’s rebellious masculinities into the study of reggae and dancehall masculinities.


Stephanie Vander Wel, Associate Professor of Historical Musicology

Stephanie Vander’s research focuses on the singing voice, performance, and representations of gender, class, race, and region in country music. Her book Hillbilly Maidens, Okies, and Singing Cowgirls: Women in Country Music, 1930-1960, named by PopMatters as one of the best non-fiction books of 2020, explores the sonic and embodied performances of female country artists in 1930s barn dance radio, 1940s California country music, and 1950s honky-tonk in Nashville’s country music industry. Her current research centers on humor and comedy in women’s country music of the 1950s to contemporary times.

Stephanie will present her talk “Gendered Acts of Comedy: June Carter’s Stages Performances in Country Music” as part of the Scholars@Hallwalls series on April 12, 2024 at the Hallwalls Contemporary Art Center.

June Carter’s public image as a member of the esteemed Carter family ensemble and a wife of the iconic Man in Black, Johnny Cash, draws from the gendered concepts of traditionalism and domesticity. By focusing on her performances on radio, television, and recording, this paper offers a revisionist narrative of Carter’s career that centers on her role as one of the most prominent country comediennes of the mid-century. Her comedic acts of female unruliness served as a means to take control of the commercial spotlight and broadened the expressive opportunities for female country artists.

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