Dissertation: "Grasping for the Mask: German Visions of a Chemical Modernity, 1915 - 1938"
Certified Spring 2019
Peter Thompson is a PhD Candidate studying Modern German History at the University of Illinois. His research interests lie at the intersection of German intellectual history and the history of science and technology at the turn of the twentieth century. His dissertation project, “Grasping for the Mask: German Visions of Chemical Modernity, 1915-1938” argues that the gas mask, while often seen as a purely protective technological artifact, proved to exacerbate fears of possible chemical warfare among Germans in the 1920s and 30s. Not only did daily interwar encounters with the mask visibly present the possibility of aero-chemical attack, but the object itself became a symbol of the very nature of German futurity.
From 1915 to 1938, a select group of German scientists and engineers who referred to themselves as gas specialists insisted that chemical weapons were not an existential threat to soldiers or civilians. Based on their firsthand experience in World War I and their later scientific experiments, they argued that poison gas could not achieve sufficient density to blanket entire urban centers, and that a properly applied gas mask was effective protection against most chemical weapons. These men believed that technologically-augmented, self-disciplined Germans could live, if not thrive, in a world permeated by poison gas. Thus, they envisioned a “chemical modernity” in which daily life would be defined by the constant concern for the chemical construction of the environment.
In conversation with theories of technology from Langdon Winner, Bruno Latour, Martin Heidegger, Günther Anders, and Jacques Ellul, the dissertation narrates the contestations over this vision of the future and the ways in which the gas specialists’ calls for gas mask distribution aligned with the Nazis’ appeal to a protected and disciplined Third Reich that extended into each German household. By revealing the extent to which a seemingly benign 20th century technology (the gas mask) maintained its own violent politics and existed within a perversely self-justifying technological order, the project underscores the ways in which technological objects exert agency on human history.
Dissertation: "Encircling the Sun: A Political Ecology of Solar Development in India"
Certified Spring 2019
My dissertation is a comparative study examining the social power behind two solar parks in semi-arid India. Specifically, I examine processes of state-making, dispossession, social differentiation and resistance to solar development in Gujarat and Andhra Pradesh. Post-Paris Agreement, India is developing solar parks at a breakneck pace to mitigate climate change. Given the massive space required to develop such large-scale energy infrastructures, the state acquires vast stretches of marginal public land and smallholders land. Farmers alienated from the means of production are not hired by the solar park, leading to a partial proletarianization of the peasantry. Enclosure of public ‘wastelands’ to develop the solar parks have also dispossessed resource-dependent women of access to firewood and grazing lands, (re)producing intersectional subject positions. The solar park’s discourses of ‘gender positive’ project design and outcomes, combined with female empowerment pledges by institutions associated with the solar parks, harken back to earlier problematic paradigms of gender and development. Resistance to the solar parks takes many forms, including resistance against expulsion, resistance around the terms of incorporation, discursive resistance and resistance through embodied affectivities. Indisputably, a swift transition to renewable energy generation in India is necessary to stave off the worst climate-related impacts. However, the urgency of low-carbon transitions in the Anthropocene must not reproduce underdevelopment through green grabbing. As the Government of India develops more solar parks in the drylands to profitably mitigate climate change and generate much-needed renewable energy, dispossessed peasants shouldn’t be left in the dark.
Rico Kleinstein Chenyek
Dissertation: "Mediating Alterity: Transitive Indianness in U.S. Non-Normative Medicine"
Certified Summer 2018
My research is firmly committed to medical humanities and social sciences, a field of critical inquiry dedicated to persistent reflexivity in medicine. As a communications and media studies scholar, my method and major focus of study takes shape as social and cultural studies of medicine wherein medicine is understood as a scientific and technological phenomenon. My research is further influenced by and committed to critical indigenous, race, ethnic, and gender studies whereby I consider the ways medicine in culture and society shape and are shaped by notions of indigeneity, latinidad, and gender. In the case of my dissertation, this led me to thinking about medicine’s mediation of indigeneity as alterity in relation to U.S. multiculturalism and gender at the site of what I call “non-normative medicine.” I center my examination around the institutionalization of non-normative medicine within the U.S. government, specifically the establishment of the Office of Alternative Medicine at the National Institutes of Health in 1991. I argue that the event depended heavily on a depoliticized cultural signification of Indianness to construct non-normative medicine as multiculturally inclusive, as evidenced by the appointment of a Mohawk physician and health administrator as the founding director who popular media at the time racialized and gendered as a “medicine man.” I follow with an examination of the years following his premature resignation, wherein Indianness became obscured, and latinidad and other forms of flattened gendered and racialized difference proved more effective in substantiating non-normative medicine’s multicultural brand.
Rico Kleinstein Chenyek received their PhD in Communications and Media from the Institute of Communications Research at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign. Their major focus of study is in the social and cultural studies of science, medicine, and technology, with graduate minors in American Indian & Indigenous Studies, Latina/Latino Studies, and Gender & Women’s Studies. Rico’s dissertation, “Mediating Alterity: Transitive Indianness in U.S. Non-Normative Medicine,” is a comprehensive cultural study of the U.S. institutionalization of non-normative medicine at the National Institutes of Health that centralizes the politics of (indigenous) alterity. Rico received a BA in Chicana/o & Latina/o studies from Pomona College in 2011 and is now at the University of Illinois College of Medicine at Chicago completing their MD/PhD training.
Benjamin D. Bascom
Dissertation: “Feeling Singular: Masculinity and Desire in the Early Republic, 1786–1822”
Certified Spring 2017
Intellectually, I’m intrigued by the cultural logics of failure; specifically, how social conventions seek to elide the messiness and disarray of everyday life. My dissertation, “Feeling Singular: Masculinity and Desire in the Early Republic, 1786–1822,” centers on this problem through examining the paradoxical nature of masculine self-promotion in the early United States. Before the nineteenth-century valorization of self-reliance, men who appeared too unduly attached to their own singularity were perceived as outsiders. Bringing these figures into the center of early national culture, my project draws on a queer studies approach that uncovers how their fraught private desires shaped a public masculinity increasingly at odds with the disinterested norms of republican public culture. To that end, I assemble an archive of understudied life writings by men who sought to make themselves into important citizens but failed to attain the representative status of a Benjamin Franklin or a George Washington. These figures include a struggling working-class mechanic (John Fitch, 1743–1798), an itinerant peddler and preacher (Jonathan Plummer, 1761–1819), an emancipated slave and blind Revolutionary War veteran (Jeffrey Brace, 1742–1827), and finally a reclusive stonecutter known as “the Pennsylvania Hermit” (William “Amos” Wilson, 1762–1821). Despite leaving behind copious manuscripts and printed autobiographies, they dwindled instead into cultural insignificance, rendered visible only as leftover archival remnants, the detritus of various forms of failure.
Dissertation: "Science, Politics, and Soul-Making: The Romantic Encounter with Climate Change"
Certified Spring 2017
Michael Verderame defended his dissertation, "Science, Politics, and Soul-Making: The Romantic Encounter with Climate Change," under the direction of Gillen Wood, in May 2017. The dissertation explores the treatment of weather and climate in British literature and culture of the long nineteeth century.
The Romantic movement in British literature coincided with new breakthroughs in meteorology and climatology, allowing scientists for the first time to understand the earth’s weather as a global, interactive system, as well as to begin to trace the possible influence of human civilization upon the climate system. The end of the Little Ice Age, the acceleration of anthropogenic global warming resulting from the Industrial Revolution, and a series of volcanic eruptions causing major shocks to the global climate system all provided reference points for Romantic writers such as William Cowper, Percy Shelley, John Keats, and John Ruskin, to challenge and rethink the relationship between humans and their climate in ways that offer insightful directions for coping with our contemporary climate emergency.
Michael completed a graduate minor in Gender and Women's Studies, and also holds an M.S. in Library and Information Science from the University of Illinois and a J.D. from Tulane Law School. His writing has appeared in the Modern American Poetry Site, the AAUP Journal of Academic Freedom, Studies in Romanticism, Interdisciplinary Studies in Literature and the Environment, College Literature, Eighteenth-Century Theory and Interpretation, Green Theory and Praxis, Kritik, Romanticism and Victorianism on the Net, and Climate Change: An Encyclopedia of Climate and History (ABC-Clio). He teaches and writes in Chicago, where he lives with his wife Dena and their newborn son Nathan.
Elizabeth E. Tavares, English
Dissertation: "Acts of Imagination: Curating the Early Elizabethan Repertories, 1582–1594"
Certified Spring 2016
Due in part to a background in classical music, I am generally interested in ensembles and the performance event. The thing I find most interesting about the English theatre industry before William Shakespeare is how playgoers decided which play to attend on a given afternoon. This had a lot to do with how playing companies managed audience expectations through the repertory system, cultivating distinctive house styles rooted in rapid technical innovation and the ability to respond to their cultural moment.
Focusing on the 1580s, the period with the greatest number of companies at work in early modern England, "Acts of Imagination" demonstrates the different ways in which these house styles were marked. Some of the stories that get uncovered include the strategy of coordinating blocking and trumpet calls to underscore political factionalism in the Lord Pembroke's plays, as well as the cosmetic techniques to light bodies on fire as part of the vision of Mediterranean diplomacy represented by the Lord Strange's company. Encompassing studies of four major troupes, each chapter underscores the fact that it was repetition, revision, and collaboration rather than novelty that produced financial success in this theatrical marketplace.
Attending to the collective process that was the Elizabethan theatre industry, my dissertation shows the ways in which dramaturgical innovation and literary production were mutually constitutive drivers, as well as how the Elizabethan theatre industry became the engine from which an oeuvre like Shakespeare's and the cult of authorship evolved.
For more information on this and other projects, please visit this website.
Sarah West, Spanish
Dissertation: "Haunted Narratives: Shadows of the Southeastern Caste Wars in Mexican Literature, 1840-1958"
Certified Spring 2015
Sarah's dissertation, "Haunted Narratives: Shadows of the Southeastern Caste Wars in Mexican Literature, 1840-1958," examines how creole intellectuals struggled to represent a grouping of indigenous rebellions known as the Caste Wars and their consequences in the Mexican Southeast during the nineteenth and twentieth century. While these nineteenth-century uprisings lack the historical prominence of other Mexican rebellions and revolutions, this project demonstrates that the Caste Wars posed a very real threat to landowner power in Yucatán and Chiapas that resonated even on the national scale. While the central corpus of novels, political essays, and literary magazines often appear to have little to do with these wars, this dissertation works through their rhetorical strategies of silencing and disavowal to trace the underlying and often veiled apparitions of race wars. This project begins with examples of some of Mexico's earliest literary productions by Justo Sierra O'Reilly and Eligio Ancona, works that could not yet address the Caste War threat directly and concludes with the literature of post-revolutionary Mexico as authors such as Rosario Castellanos and Ermilo Abreu Gómez strategically reconfigure nineteenth-century creole/ladino accounts of the Caste Wars and recontextualize them within the traumas of the Mexican Revolution and newly defined discourses of nationalism and indigeneity. Because Mexico's literary criticism tends to approach literary analysis from the epistemic locus of the Mexican center, this research offers an alternative reading of canonical texts that takes into account the Southeast's peripheral and often precarious relationship to the nation's metropole. "Haunted Narratives" also offers a fresh perspective on the discourses of Indianness that takes into account the inextricable link between the aesthetics of race and the politics of space.
Diana Jaher, Theatre
Dissertation: "'Painting with Faces': The Casting Director in American Theatre, Cinema, and Television"
Certified Fall 2013
For several years, I worked as a professional dramaturg/literary manager and casting director in New York and Los Angeles. This experience inspired my dissertation, "'Painting with Faces': The Casting Director in American Theatre, Cinema, and Television." Written under the direction of Valleri J. Hohman (Theatre) and José B. Capino (Cinema Studies), this interdisciplinary project examines issues of gender and the material conditions of labor in theatre, film, and television production.
"'Painting with Faces'" challenges the auteur theory by claiming that casting directors, predominantly women and rarely credited with substantial contributions to the production process, participate fully in creative and financial decisions. They do so through their control over auditions, input into hiring, and ability to attract talent. Industry scholars and practitioners often characterize casting as clerical, rather than creative, work – a gendered hierarchy of labor traceable to women's days as secretaries in the Broadway production offices and classical Hollywood studios. By examining archived production materials and interviewing well-known casting directors, however, I argue for their status as decision-makers by providing case studies of casting personnel who discovered future stars, effected crucial casting choices, and/or attached high-profile actors to unfinanced plays and films, facilitating these projects' completion. In the process, I analyze how casting directors talk about their work and performance, and theorize some taxonomies -- face, voice, ethnicity, and gender -- upon which most casting decisions are based.
Dan Colson, English
Dissertation: "Writing against Democracy: Anarchist Literature and the Aporia of Representation, 1880-1930"
Certified Spring 2012
Dan Colson completed his doctoral work in the Department of English in Spring 2012. His dissertation, "Writing against Democracy: Anarchist Literature and the Aporia of Representation, 1880-1930," argues that, while anarchism posed a significant threat to American democracy during this period, it never materialized as a sustained political movement or literary tradition. "Writing against Democracy" explains this absence, suggesting that the nation's representational logic foreclosed upon anarchism while leaving an archive of anti-government "texts"—a residual challenge to American democracy. This anarchist literature, then, reveals the problem of anarchism: the paradox of challenging representative governance through representational aesthetic forms. Since joining Emporia State University's Department of English, Modern Language, and Journalism the Fall of 2012, Dan has continued his research on the wide-ranging impact anarchism had on American literature and culture from the Civil War to WWII. His published work has appeared in Radical Teacher, Studies in American Naturalism, Philip Roth Studies, and the AAUP Journal of Academic Freedom, amongst other journals.
Sally Perret, Spanish, Italian & Portuguese
Dissertation: "The National Award in Narrative Literature and the Role of Art in Democratic Spain (1977-2011)"
Certified Spring 2012
Sally Perret's dissertation studies a selection of novels that have won the Spanish National Award in Narrative Literature (1977-2011)—a prize that is sponsored by the Spanish state. Drawing from theorists such as Etienne Balibar, Roberto Esposito and Jacques Rancière, her project examines how the National Award, as a label, has been used to reinforce particular ideas of the Spanish nation, of art and of the citizen's role in democratic Spain. By surveying the evolution of the rules that have governed the prize throughout the democratic period, the types of works that are distinguished by it and the way these texts are received in and out of Spain, the project emphasizes the role the award has played in the creation of "national cohesion" and therefore in maintaining a specific idea of Spain and of Spanish literature in the democratic period. The project also demonstrates how, as one of the more visible literary prizes in the country, the National Award likewise serves to promote a specific idea of literature as a "high art" worthy of praise. It maintains that it is because literature is viewed as a distinct and prestigious world that the idea of a multicultural yet cohesive national literary canon can be sustained. Finally, the project also explores the role the National Award plays in promoting democratic values, in general, and active citizenship, in particular. It claims that, in addition to being a practice that benefits the state, the National Award also has the potential to be a platform from which to discuss a wide variety of social issues, thus providing citizens the opportunity to help shape the way the nation is perceived. In all, the dissertation argues that the National Award in Narrative Literature can be read as a powerful metaphor of the limitations and possibilities that nearly thirty-five years of democracy has brought to Spain.
John Claborn, English
Dissertation: "Ecology of the Color Line: Race and Nature in American Literature, 1895-1941"
Certified Fall 2011
John Claborn defended his dissertation, "Ecology of the Color Line: Race and Nature in American Literature, 1895-1941" in Fall 2011. His project contributes to recent scholarly trends in understanding African-American writing as politically and aesthetically pluralist. Employing methods of environmental historicism, archival research, and intersectional analysis, "Ecology of the Color Line" argues not only that intertwining racial and ecological problems erupted along the color line, but also that these problems play a crucial role in our thinking about race and politics in twentieth-century American literature. The dissertation thus reimagines many literary genres and critical disputes traditionally focalized through problematics of race and politics: the Washington—Du Bois debates on racial uplift, 1920s New Negro aesthetic, the Great Migration narrative, black radicalism, and proletarian literature. His project also opens up new perspectives on African-American literary history by recovering such marginalized texts as Booker T. Washington’s Working with the Hands, Colonel Charles Young’s 1903 report on Sequoia National Forest, and Effie Lee Newsome’s anti-eugenics writings for children. Claborn’s work has been published or is forthcoming in The Blackwell Encyclopedia of Literary and Cultural Theory, Modern Fiction Studies, ISLE, The Oxford Handbook of Ecocriticism, English Language Notes, and the Unit for Criticism’s blog Kritik.
Carl Lehnen, English
Dissertation: "Sex, Aesthetics, and Modernity in the British Romance of Italy, 1870-1914"
Certified Spring 2011
Carl Lehnen's dissertation argues that late Victorian and Edwardian writers—particularly Walter Pater, J. A. Symonds, Vernon Lee, and E.M. Forster—used narratives about travel to Italy in order to articulate non-normative sexualities in terms of the foreign, the anachronistic, and the southern. These texts attempt to make sense of same-sex desires at a time before a notion of sexual identity rooted in sexual object choice could be taken for granted. In the absence of a widely accepted model for the forms of desire and social collectivity they imagined, these writers turned to the foreign in pursuit of new ways of being in the world. In articulating sexuality in terms of Italy, they drew on and revised a range of nineteenth-century discourses about travel, culture, history, and art that were linked to discourses of race and evolutionism. Anchoring my analysis in the categories of space, sexuality, and genre, I illuminate the relations between politics and form and contend that the intra-European distinction between north and south structured Victorian discourses of history, sexuality, and aesthetics.
Patrick W. Berry, English and the Center for Writing Studies
Dissertation: "Beyond Hope: Rhetorics of Mobility, Possibility, and Literacy"
Certified Spring 2011
Patrick W. Berry completed his doctoral work in the Center for Writing Studies and Department of English. In the fall of 2011, he will be joining Syracuse University as Assistant Professor of Writing and Rhetoric. His research focuses on a central question: What can literacy really do? In composition and rhetoric, the answer to this question has alternated between hopeful and critical stances that are tied to competing understandings of what literacy is and how it works in the world. Focusing specifically on teachers’ and theorists’ beliefs in the power of literacy to provide economic, personal, and social advancement, his dissertation, “Beyond Hope: Rhetorics of Mobility, Possibility, and Literacy,” demonstrates how hopeful and critical positions on the transformative possibilities of literacy are not incommensurable, as some researchers suggest. He argues that a rhetoric of possibility, balancing modest hope and reasonable critique, is fundamental to imagining an approach to literacy education. To find evidence of this rhetoric, he examines the theories of literacy espoused by a select group of academics and teachers in light of the personal narratives of literacy they have published or otherwise shared. While the theories in question arrange hope and critique in clear hierarchies, the underlying personal literacy narratives situate these theories in balanced codependence. His published work has appeared in Kairos: A Journal of Rhetoric, Technology, and Pedagogy (2007) and, more recently, in the coauthored chapters of Ubiquitous Learning (2009) and Technological Ecologies & Sustainability (2009). Additional information can be found athttp://patrickberry.com.
Ana Vivancos, Comparative and World Literature
Dissertation: "Failure to Deliver: Transitional Masculinities in Late and Post Francoist Film (1960-1980)"
Certified Spring 2010
Ana Vivancos is currently Assistant Professor at the University of Georgia. She defended her dissertation in May, 2010. Her thesis studies the evolution of the masculine roles in Spanish popular cinema during the period that includes the last years of Franco’s dictatorship and the subsequent transition to democracy. Based upon insights drawn from Film studies methodologies such as Star and Genre studies, as well as from Cultural studies, she argues that this process reflects the anxiety and self-perceptions of Spaniards as well as the relation between gender and ideas of the nation. Upon awakening from a 40 year stagnant period of patriarchal traditionalism, Spanish society needed to come to terms with the paradigms of new urban, industrialized and late capitalistic modes in a comparatively short period of time, and the fast transformation of masculine roles in mainstream film is one of the main witness of its consequences. Ideas of masculinity and its relation to the nation become central in cultural products of the period, and most particularly in popular cinema. A whole plethora of new men (a group that included sex-crazed workers, angst-ridden middle-class professionals, homosexual politicians or even man-to-women transexuals) substitute the traditional hegemonic masculinity on the screen. The various conflicts they get involved in, included in generic films as different as sexy comedies or political melodramas, betray their anxiety and their arduous fight to retain at least part of the controlling power that characterized the masculine position in traditional Spanish culture.
Gautum Basu Thakur, Comparative and World Literature
Dissertation: "Scripting Anxiety/Scripting Identity: Indian Muntiny, History, and the Colonial Imaginary, 1857-1911"
Certified Fall 2009
Gautum Basu Thakur is currently Assistant Professor at Boise State. Scripting Anxiety/Scripting Identity examines the impact of the 1857 Indian Mutiny on British and Indian cultural consciousness and collective memory. I focus on anxious articulations about material objects, racial and sexual identities, and religion to argue that these are symptomatic of a greater problem in mutiny narratives. Namely, the failure to situate the event, write or define it, in context of grand narratives. I show anxieties about objects, identities, and religion can be read from two corresponding directions. First, as discursively representing the dangers posed by the rebellion to political hegemony and established symbolic systems. And, second, as symptomatic of desires for reclaiming authority and re-constituting sovereign subjectivities. My task has been one of accentuating the tension between these two, suggesting their responsibility in the construction of the event’s affective dispensations in the Anglo-Indian mindscape, and finally, presenting a hypothetical theorization on the relationship between subaltern insurgency and colonialism. This dissertation is the centerpiece of an active research agenda that looks at, first, representations of the Mutiny in “postcolonial” British and Indian writings in comparison to colonial narratives; and, second, how anxiety-ridden articulations about the Mutiny map onto present-day transnational concerns over “homeland” insecurities as manifested in literature, film, and new media.
John Cho, Anthropology
Dissertation: "Precarious Lives: Korean Gay Men and the Internet in Neoliberal and Neo-familial South Korea"
Certified Fall 2009
My dissertation engages with the Unit’s 2010 theme of “bios” by examining the contradictory effects of South Korea’s neofamilism and neoliberalism on Korean gay men. While declining birth rates have provoked anxiety about the future of the nation and revalorized the family as the foundational unit of the nation (resulting in what I term “neofamilism”), extensive economic reforms have earned the country the approval of global organizations like the International Monetary Fund but left the lives of its citizens increasingly precarious. Based on twenty-four months of ethnographic field research in Seoul, South Korea, I argue that Korean gay men stand at the crossroads of these contradictory changes. As single men without their own families, Korean gay men often have more time and money to spend on themselves. Without the emotional bond or financial security of their own families, however, they often have to keep developing themselves bodily, financially, and educationally in order to attract partners and remain employed. This seeming contradiction of both having more money for themselves and lacking security—especially in their old age, in not having their own families—thus raises the question of “Where does security—social, emotional, and financial—come from during the era of biopolitics and extensive neoliberal restructuring?”
Sonja Wandelt, Comparative & World Literature
Certified Spring 2009
Bartholomew Brinkman, English
Dissertation: "The Cult of Collecting and the Making of Modernism."
Christina Stanciu, English
Dissertation: "The Makings and Unmakings of Americans: Indians and Immigrants in American Literature and Culture, 1880-1924"
Linda Vigdor, Educational Psychology
Dissertation: "An Intersectional Reading of Gender & Technology"
Humberto Garcia, Assistant Professor, Vanderbilt
Melissa Free, English
Dissertation: "Elsewhere England: Southern Africa, British Identity, and the Authorial Informant, 1883-1914"
Ted Gournelos, Institute for Communications Research
Dissertation: "The Tao of South Park: Dissonant Visual Culture and Emergent Political Ontologies"