Current Fellows

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HRI Campus Fellows 2021-22: Symptoms of Crisis

Faculty Fellows

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John Levi Barnard , Comparative and World Literature
“The Edible and the Endangered: Food, Empire, Extinction”

This project traces the emergence of industrial animal production and consumption as key aspects of American culture and major drivers of planetary ecological emergency. It identifies the climatic and biospheric “symptoms”—from climate change to global pandemics—of animal food systems, while also reading those systems as symptomatic of a larger colonial-capitalist project that has been ecologically catastrophic from its beginnings. Examining this system and its ecological implications through literary texts and other media from early colonization to today, the project offers a genealogy of the present crisis, while also imagining alternative economies and multispecies relations for a livable future.

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Anne Burkus-Chasson , Art History
“The Oddity of Chen Hongshou: A Telling Sign of Seventeenth-Century China?”

My project is about the painter and print designer Chen Hongshou (1598-1652). Modern sinologists have taken the oddity of his figural compositions to be signs of the crises that beset the late Ming court and its people. In my book manuscript, which I plan to complete next year, I examine Chen’s engagement with the late Ming media revolution as a source of the oddity his contemporaries perceived in his work. Rather than delineate a crisis, oddity evidenced Chen’s engagement with emergent ways of reading and seeing illustrated books. What has been taken to be a symptom might be a distraction.

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Eleanor Courtemanche , English
“Fragile Capitalism: The Long Afterlife of Victorian Crisis”

This project consists of two parts: a re-reading of fin-de-siècle utopian and socialist thought in Britain and the United States, and a reconsideration of the fate of Victorian liberalism in the late 20th century, when it returned as “neoliberalism.” It analyzes moments of financial crisis in the work of Dickens, Wells, Morris, Shaw, Bellamy, Norris, Marx, and Keynes, showing how those crises can lead to a variety of options including healthy capitalism, total social collapse, rule by oppressive monopolies, sustainable socialism, or deindustrialized anarchism.

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Carolyn Fornoff , Spanish and Portuguese
“Mexican Culture in the Era of Climate Change”

Climate change has created a crisis of futurity in Mexico, imperiling a variety of ways of life, from rural farming to Indigenous communities and complex ecosystems. In response to this foreclosure, environmentalism has become a mainstream point of concern in Mexican cultural production. This book examines the outpouring of film, poetry, performance, and fine art that signals the ethical imperative to rethink the relationship with the nonhuman world in light of these symptoms of environmental crisis. It theorizes a mode of response that I term “subjunctive aesthetics.” These responses embrace the uncertainty of this moment as an opportunity to reevaluate entrenched models of extractive development and imagine alternative alignments with the environment. Professor Fornoff's WordPress Site

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Bruce Rosenstock, Religion
“Flesh of One’s Flesh: A Black Hebrew Theology of Kinship”

The regime of chattel slavery attempted to impose a condition of kinlessness upon the African slave population. My project examines the symptoms of resilient resistance as they are manifested in the work of reparation and critical reconceptualization of kinship on both a practical and theoretical level on the part of the African Hebrew Israelites of Jerusalem (AHIJ), one of the most successful “return to Africa” movements in American history. AHIJ leaders and I have been engaged in theological and philosophical discussions over the past several years. These discussions inspired and continue to shape my project.

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Sandra Ruiz, Latina/o Studies / English
“Minoritarian Pedagogy: Psychoanalytic Affections in the Space of Aesthetics”

Minoritarian Pedagogy analyzes the politics of difference at the intersection of experimental pedagogy, performance, and psychoanalysis. If psychoanalysis is a cure for symptoms, how might its strategies for gauging interiority operate as an analytic for teaching and combating the crises of epistemology? Following insights from therapeutic models for understanding what constitutes group experiences, the project analyzes unconscious communication in spaces whereby the aesthetic sits at the apex of engagement. The project travels across aesthetic sites such as a gallery, theatre collective, artist residencies, durational workshops, and seminars to argue that collaborative learning sites transform the psychic life of subjects simultaneously.

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Emily E. LB. Twarog, Labor and Employment Relations
“Hands Off: A History of Sexual Harassment Resistance in the US Service Industry, 1936–2020”

Hands Off: A History of Sexual Harassment Resistance in the US Service Sector, 1936- 2020 historicizes how women workers have resisted sexual harassment in service industry jobs: work that is gendered female, union and non-union, typically low-waged, and often requiring some form of intimate labor. This project centers the body in the relationship between gender and work: regardless of the type of service work, access to women’s bodies is often perceived as part of the service provided. It shifts the narrative away from the victimization of women workers, instead focusing on how women have demanded agency in their workplaces and communities.

Graduate Student Fellows

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Joseph Coyle, Anthropology
“Queer Pentecostal World-Making in an Uncertain Brazil”

This dissertation project ethnographically analyzes the emergence of LGBTQ+-led Pentecostal churches and queer Pentecostal identity formation at a time of increasing moral conservativism in Brazil. Based in 12 months of ethnographic fieldwork in São Paulo, this dissertation shows how igrejas inclusivas (inclusive churches) and queer Pentecostal artists and activists engage in contests over national belonging. I argue that queer Pentecostal enactments of cultural citizenship illustrate how religion is an increasingly important public force not only in the production of moral conservativism, but of queer worldmaking in Brazil.

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Megan Gargiulo, Spanish and Portuguese
“Race, Gender, and Recogimiento: Discursive Representations of Space, Sexuality, and Productivity in Late Colonial Mexico”

This project examines recogimientos de mujeres [“enclosures for women”] in Mexico from 1700 to 1821, a period marked by impending crisis for colonial Spain. Recogimientos were carceral institutions that punished women accused of threatening social order with their “scandalous” behavior. Incarcerated women were frequently poor and racially marginalized. I analyze archival materials to understand how race and gender influenced the representation of space, illness, sexuality, and productivity in recogimientos. Given their role in enforcing order, recogimientos are ideal to assess symptoms of social crisis. My project contributes to understanding colonial biopolitics, nascent racial capitalism, and Enlightenment rhetoric in colonial Mexico.

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Erin Grogan, English
“Cruising Dystopia: Queer Futurity and Toxic Temporalities in the Anthropocene”

My dissertation begins from a commitment to queer utopia, or a temporal understanding of queerness as actions that bring about future worlds, which I interpret through the lens of environmental crisis. I aim to theorize a way out of the predicament where canonical utopian visions of queer futurity ignore climate change, while our environmental present makes it seem like there is no future. Through case studies on ocean plastic, Indigenous environmental activism, and microbial proliferation, I argue that the environment must be seen as constitutive of queer temporalities and that current environmental crisis necessitates renewed commitment to queer utopian futures.

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LeiAnna X. Hamel, Slavic Languages and Literatures
“Undisciplined Bodies: Deviant Female Sexuality in Russian and Yiddish Literatures, 1877–1929”

A sense of crisis marked the turn of the twentieth century in Eastern Europe. Discussions of female sexuality became a way of diagnosing the unwanted symptoms of mobility, industrialization, urbanization, and evolving models of sociability. This dissertation analyzes the representation of female bodies and eroticism in Russian and Yiddish literatures in dialogue with medical, anthropological, and journalistic works. It shows that these fields cast the deviant woman as a symptom of social decline. I use Foucault to reveal a previously overlooked network of exchanges, parallels, and convergencies between Yiddish and Russian sexual discourses, thus contributing to the history of sexuality.

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Lilah Leopold, Art History
“Countering Apocalypses Then, Now, and Tomorrow: Land Use, Resource Extraction, and Contemporary Art”

The Svalbard Global Seed Vault, sometimes referred to as the “doomsday vault,” stores crop seeds with the goal of preserving global agricultural biodiversity in event of human or natural disaster. Norwegian artist Dyveke Sanne’s permanent installation, Perpetual Repercussion (2008), embeds mirrors and fiber-optic cables into the seed vault’s entrance. This work invites us to engage with the vault’s operating mechanisms, and to re-think how humans encounter and imagine the land that supports our shared agricultural heritage. My dissertation accepts this invitation through analysis of other artworks that similarly ask viewers to engage with how we use land and extract resources.

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Sarah Marks Mininsohn, Dance
“Performance Nests: Choreographing Frameworks for Instability and Contamination”

My research examines the nest as a means of addressing the short-lived and cycling temporality of a dance in relation to social and environmental instability. I grapple with the nest as a metaphor and choreographic practice, to construct a dance as a series of disparate fragments kinesthetically and architecturally woven together. In a remarkably precarious moment for dance-making, I will reframe crisis in terms of ongoing and circling timelines of contamination, attending to non-linear time in my choreographic approach. This research will support my choreographed and written thesis, and open new space for possibility in dance and humanities disciplines.

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Jessica Witte, English
“The Fasting Girl: A Literary, Digital, and Medical History of Anorexia from the Novel to the Clinic (1740–1900)”

This project examines how the connotations associated with fasting changed over the long nineteenth century, contributing to a shift in Western medical epistemology that culminated in the pathologizing of anorexia nervosa. I discuss how literary representations of female self-starvation and convergent discussions in the medical field about pathological fasting worked together over time to dismantle the religious—and often positive—connotations associated with female fasting. I trace this change through two tiers of analysis: a case study of novels published during the long nineteenth century and a digital sentiment analysis of 150 volumes of Lancet, a prominent British medical journal.

Emerging Areas in the Humanities: Legal Humanities Research Group

Director and Mellon Faculty Fellow, 2021–22

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Colleen Murphy, Roger and Stephany Joslin Professor of Law, Professor of Philosophy and Political Science, Acting Executive Director of the Illinois Global Institute
Colleen Murphy is the Humanities Research Institute-Andrew W. Mellon Faculty Fellow in Legal Humanities, Roger and Stephany Joslin Professor of Law, and a Professor of Philosophy and of Political Science at the University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign, where she also serves as Acting Executive Director of the Illinois Global Institute. Murphy’s research focuses on political reconciliation and transitional justice in response to entrenched injustice and on ethical dimensions of risks. She is the author of The Conceptual Foundations of Transitional Justice (Cambridge University Press 2017), which won the 2017 North American Society for Social Philosophy Book Award, and A Moral Theory of Political Reconciliation (Cambridge University Press 2010); co-editor of thee volumes; and author or co-author of more than 50 journal articles and book chapters. Murphy is an Associate Editor of four academic journals (Journal of Moral Philosophy, Science and Engineering Ethics; Journal of Ethics and Social Philosophy; and Journal of Human Development and Capabilities) and on the Editorial Boards of two additional journals (Law and Philosophy, and Sustainable and Resilient Infrastructure). Her research has been supported by funding from the National Endowment for the Humanities and the National Science Foundation, and through fellowships from the Princeton University Center for Human Values and 4.TU Centre for Ethics in the Netherlands. Murphy has delivered more than 130 invited lectures at universities throughout the United States and in 11 additional countries. She has also written or recorded more than a dozen popular op-eds and podcasts for venues including the Chicago Tribune, Boston Review, and Ms. Magazine. Murphy holds a M.A. and Ph.D. in philosophy from the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill and a Bachelor of Arts from the University of Notre Dame.

Post-Doctoral Fellows, 2020–22

Sabeen Ahmed


Sabeen Ahmed, Philosophy, Vanderbilt University, PhD
“Against the Exception: A Juridical Genealogy of the Racial Order of Things”

In post-9/11 philosophical scholarship, the notion of the “exception” has become a useful heuristic for problematizing various forms of racially motivated sovereign violence. Originally formulated by Carl Schmitt as the ultimate expression of sovereign authority in times of crisis and extended by Giorgio Agamben as having “everywhere become the rule,” the exception demonstrates the “emptiness of law” and the attendant potential of all of us to fall victim to extrajudicial measures taken by the state: as a tool of the sovereign, the “exceptional decision” limits the freedoms of citizens to defend a state in peril or denies “threatening” subjects the guarantee of basic rights in the name of protecting the whole. What the exception demonstrates above all is thus the failure of liberal legalism: the breakdown of universal human rights and the violation of our freedom from sovereign interference.

And yet, as scholars of race and postcolonialism have demonstrated time and again, “the majority of the planet’s inhabitants have already been living under a permanent state of exception” ; that is, permanently excluded from the liberal promise of freedom and protection. This permanence renders the “exception” anything but exceptional for those racialized subjects upon whom sovereign violence is inflicted and unfelt by those in whose name such violence is enacted—unfelt, that is, until it is the racial order that is threatened. In this sense, the claim that we are all potentially the “exception” belies its profoundly normative asymmetry.

Against the Exception: A Juridical Genealogy of the Racial Order of Things is a sustained analysis of how discourses of the exception, by invoking the ethos of liberal legalism, in actuality mask over the racial violence of law itself. This law is not the law of universal rights and individual autonomy, but a law that works to entrench and re-establish a desired racial order. Challenging the idea that the “exception” is a tool of sovereignty that operates at law’s limits, this reading argues that the “exception” is a fundamental technology of juridical power that acutely illuminates the state’s handling of threats to the racial order of things. Drawing on the work of Michel Foucault as well as challenges thereto, it rethinks law as a juridical power that works to institutionalize a particular, normative social and political ideal—an ideal that, in our age of biopolitical governmentality, is predicated upon Westphalian geopolitical hegemony.

Beverly Fok


Beverly Fok, Anthropology, University of Minnesota, Twin Cities, PhD
“Chattel Land: A Labor Perspective”

In the last 50 years, the island state of Singapore has used land reclamation to expand its landmass by an astonishing 25 percent. Its target for 2030 is 30 percent and plans are being made for 50 percent later this century. Reclamation creates, as it were, “new” land “from sea.” Key to this land-making however is not amorphous saltwater, but sand and labor, both of which Singapore imports in vast quantities from its South¬, East, and Southeast Asian neighbors. Harnessing those flows, reclamation would appear to put the very ground itself in motion. Foreign coastlines are dismantled, ferried piecemeal, then reassembled into new land in Singapore by migrant workers on barges. Land paradoxically becomes chattel. What then becomes of chattel—including certain forms of labor?

My research looks at the legal and labor histories that have made possible Singapore’s fabrication of mobile land, rehabilitating a link between today’s migrant labor and its earlier prefiguration, colonial convict labor, which was first tasked with “creating” new land is the island’s interior. Just as today’s reclaimed land needs labor’s upkeep to fend off the tides, interior land needed constant servicing to prevent its return to the jungle. Where convict labor’s lot was “imprisonment in transportation, beyond sea, for life” (Pieris 2009), reclamation workers, confined in vessels, trace an unending circuit between dredge sites at sea and fill sites near land. By situating migrant labor within longue durée circuits of colonial labor, my research sees the making of mobile land as not new but rather partaking of longstanding political economies of extraction.

Pre-Doctoral Fellows, 2021–22

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Claire Branigan, Anthropology
“Ineffective Laws, Active Citizens: Creating Justice in the aftermath of Femicidio in Argentina”

This dissertation is an ethnography of the movement for justice in cases of femicidio in Argentina. Taking place in court rooms, protests, and victims’ homes, I investigate how activists seek retribution after femicide in an ineffective and sexist legal system. Based upon ethnographic fieldwork and document/media analysis, I explore how a diverse coalition of citizens cultivate overlapping forms of justice (feminist, social, and punitive) by engaging in creative, long-term organizing that includes feminist direct action, kinship-based activism, and human rights law. I argue that “gender-justice” occurs, not through changes in laws, but citizens that challenge cultural and institutionally enshrined beliefs about gender and violence.

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Ian Toller-Clark, History
“Carceral Democracy: Race, Prisons, and the Realignment of Politics in Wisconsin, 1940–1972”

"Carceral Democracy: Prisons, Race, and the Realignment of Politics in Wisconsin, 1940–1972," analyzes the construction of the modern correctional system and how it reshaped racial and social inequalities across postwar metropolitan Wisconsin. This dissertation contributes to the burgeoning interdisciplinary field of carceral studies, which explores the origins and consequences of mass imprisonment and policing as public policy. "Carceral Democracy" argues that proponents of postwar liberalism—a political movement based on meritocratic individualism and equal opportunity—considered rehabilitating prisoners within the prison to be a key aspect of the U.S. welfare state. In the process though they forged the foundations for mass incarceration.

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Undergraduate Interns, 2021–22

Thomas Ballard, Political Science and Economics

Alice Lee, Political Science and Psychology

Alex Wellman, Economics and Political Science

Andrew W. Mellon Graduate Fellow in Public Humanities

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Azlan Guttenberg Smith, Creative Writing
“Verbatim Theater as Civic Art”
Faculty Mentor: David Wright (English and Creative Writing)

Azlan Smith is an MFA candidate in Creative Writing: Fiction at the University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign. Before that they taught high school for nine years. Their research interests center on storytelling's participation in culture, genre fiction as modern mythology, and public humanities projects that use narrative for community building and activism. Over the last eight years they've developed Voices, a collaborative project that builds a stage for participants' stories, offering communities another way to see, share, and support themselves.

Summer Faculty Research Fellows

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Christopher Kempf, English
“All These Ithacas” and Local Color

The HRI Summer Faculty Research Fellowship will allow me to conduct research for several essays in my forthcoming creative nonfiction book, Local Color. I am especially excited to visit the archives and gorges at Cornell University for an essay titled "These Ithacas." Centered on a series of suicides that took place at Cornell during my graduate work there, the essay combines discussion of upstate New York geography, Derridean deconstruction, the Hudson River School of American painting, and my own experience moving to Ithaca from the Midwest. I intend to use HRI support to travel to Ithaca and undertake both archival research and field studies in Ithaca and its environs. Specifically, I will study material related to the founding and construction of Cornell, as the decision to locate the school atop Ithaca's East Hill, where it would overlook Cayuga Lake, symbolizes for Derrida the triumph of reason over nature. What motivated this decision, I want to uncover? How does Ithaca's dramatic geography relate to the school's mission as a "land-grant" institution? What role does education play in the domination of the American landscape?

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Magdalena Novoa E. , Urban and Regional Planning
“Wounded Landscapes: Race, gender, and grassroots preservation in Wallmapu”

Dr. Magdalena Novoa is using the HRI summer fellowship to collaborate with the Agrupación de Familiares de Detenidos Desaparecidos de Mulchén (Association of Relatives of Detained and Dissappeared of Mulchen) in the Region of Araucanía in southern Chile, as well as local institutions and communities to conduct preliminary research to design, manage, and construct, a memory site and documentation center in the Malleco National Forest reserve. The memory site will commemorate 18 forestry workers who were executed in 1973 during the dictatorship of Augusto Pinochet at the hands of landowners, police, and military and subsequently their bodies made to disappear. Archival research, participatory workshops, and oral histories will help map and reconstruct erased places and concealed histories of the workers and their families. The preliminary research will also illustrate how widows and their families use memory and historic preservation to reclaim land and life stories towards reparation and healing. Due to Covid-19 Chile remains in state of emergency and the methods have been creatively adjusted to conduct part of this work through online platforms.

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Andrea Stevens, English
“Racial Masquerade and the Caroline Court, 1625-1649”

I’m currently writing a monograph about a set of English court performances and plays, associated with the court of Queen Henrietta Maria, that stage racial transformations as part of the drama: typically, plays involving a character’s temporary assumption of an ‘African’ disguise. Specifically, I’ll be using this fellowship support to visit Oxford’s Bodleian library to examine the "Rawlinson" MS of Arthur Wilson’s tragicomedy The Inconstant Lady (MS. Rawl. Poet 128; no digital copy exists). The Inconstant Lady was a King’s Men play, and we know it was performed at least once in 1630 at Hampton Court. The Rawlinson MS includes revisions in the author’s hand specifying that a disguise device involves race: a principal character’s secondary persona is named as "Zanga the Moor" in this MS, rather than "Gratus the Citizen," as he appears elsewhere. Although he doesn’t address the significance of this change of disguise, R. C. Bald suggests that the "Rawlinson MS" was revised for performance; Paul Werstine, in an article on "Post-Theory Problems in Shakespeare Editing," puts pressure on this assumption while also noting features of the MS that mark it as a "presentation copy." My primary concern: for what reason was this blackface disguise added (or clarified)—was the change made explicitly for performance at court? Much remains to be said on the topic of this under-studied play, and one of the chapters of Racial Disguise will specifically engage with the Rawlinson MS’s relationship to theatrical performance as well as, more generally, with the intertextual and intertheatrical relationships among the set of plays of racial disguise I study throughout the book.

HRI-Ragdale Residential Creative Fellow

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Nisi Sturgis, Theatre

While at Ragdale, Professor Sturgis will develop a project that seeks to fuse two of Shakespeare’s plays that focus on youth, rebellion, first love and polarization within a community into a single, long-form theatrical experience. Each part of the event will be a stand-alone two-hour production but could also be seen as a larger single-evening event. Both Romeo and Juliet and The Two Gentlemen of Verona take place in a fictionalized version of Verona, Italy. In this new work, THE VERONA PLAYS, Sturgis will use that location as a way to explore the way personal betrayals and prejudices can have an impact that extends past our own time into future generations. The first part will focus primarily on The Two Gentlemen of Verona, and Part Two will look at the characters from Romeo and Juliet as descendants of those in Part One, all the while exploring parallel themes like forgiveness, old wounds and generational grief patterning.

Research Clusters

The HRI Research Clusters initiative enables faculty and graduate students in the humanities and arts from the Urbana campus to develop questions or subjects of inquiry that require or would be enhanced by collaborative work.

View the current list of HRI Research Clusters.