With increasing urgency, climate scientists and environmentalists are warning us about the dire need to radically change how we use energy, the ways we grow and distribute food, and many other activities. They’ve described a future in which our planet is increasingly unlivable. But, beyond imagining a world devastated by unchecked greenhouse gas emissions, how might we go about imagining more desirable futures? What resources can we call upon to help us not only avoid disaster but craft a better world? Fellow Joni Adamson, professor of English and director of the Environmental Humanities Initiative at Arizona State University, is working on just these questions.
Aristotle’s thinking on a variety of topics has influenced western philosophy for over two millennia. His writings on ethics, in particular—emphasizing human character and ethical psychology—continue to shape contemporary ideas about personal virtue and moral agency. Fellow Audrey Anton, however, has emphasized the importance of understanding the role that vice plays in Aristotle’s philosophy.
In the opening lines of his most famous poem, “To Althea, From Prison,” Richard Lovelace writes, “Stone walls do not a prison make, nor iron bars a cage...” This line expresses a thought common among imprisoned writers across time—that regardless of the conditions of their imprisonment, the human spirit and the poetic imagination cannot be constrained. Fellow Andrea Brady, however, suggests that the relationship between our poetic traditions and bondage has not been adequately explored in prior scholarly work.
Founded by freed slaves in the early nineteenth century, the candomblé temple Casa Branca in Salvador, Bahia, was the first Afro-Brazilian place of worship in Brazil. But despite its religious and historic significance, the story of Casa Branca’s origins has remained the stuff of oral traditions until the recent discovery of written documents by Fellow Lisa Earl Castillo. Castillo is working on a new book which situates the temple and its founders within the greater social history of Brazil and as a place that offers special insight into the lives of freed and enslaved individuals on either side of the Atlantic.
Since at least the early years of the twentieth century, scholars have taken an interest in the artistic and intellectual productions of so-called “outsiders,” or individuals whose unconventional perspectives and aesthetic expression have often been assumed to result from serious mental illness. These artistic creations and written works are generally defined by idiosyncratic characteristics; they can seem to be obscure, obsessive, inconsistent, and even disconnected from reality itself. Matt ffytche believes that these aesthetic objects—and the ways that “outsider” artists have been classified—deserve to be reconsidered.
Monuments commemorating historical figures, events, and regimes can be found nearly everywhere, yet we often barely notice them. At other times, though, the histories they represent can inflame passions and the monuments themselves become contentious flashpoints for their communities. Fellow Mia Fuller, associate professor of Italian Studies at the University of California, Berkeley, is a cultural anthropologist who has focused much of her scholarly work on Italy, particularly the rise of fascism in the early twentieth century and its legacies which still remain.
When we think of slavery in the Americas, most of us generally think of people from Africa and their descendants who were enslaved and transported across the Atlantic to provide labor for the plantation economies of the New World. But recently, historians have begun to reassess the significance of other forms of slavery in the Americas—specifically the enslavement of millions of indigenous people in the Caribbean and beyond. Fellow Rebecca Goetz, associate professor of history at New York University, is working to recover the history of indigenous slavery as it was practiced by competing colonial powers in the Caribbean and exploring the relationship between the enslavement of native peoples and the development of chattel slavery across the Western Hemisphere.
In the popular imagination, computers are not only superior to humans in speed and accuracy, but they do their work free from prejudice, treating users equally without regard to race or gender. Fellow Mar Hicks, associate professor of history at Illinois Institute of Technology, is helping complicate our understanding of how computers shape our world as she works this year on a new book exploring how technological systems in Great Britain continue to perpetuate social inequalities.
Poets have long used ekphrasis—the vivid description of a piece of visual art—as a way of exploring the deep complexity of representation, the relationship between the artist and her art, and to make legible things which may otherwise seem inexpressible. Fellow Meta DuEwa Jones is herself a poet and a scholar of poetry at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, where she is an associate professor of English. She is currently working on a new project exploring the relationship between African American poets and visual artists and the ways that their works speak to one another.
Traditionally, accounts of the scientific advances of the Renaissance have focused on the contributions of famous individuals like Copernicus whose theories about heavenly bodies radically altered how we understood the arrangement of the universe and our place in it. Increasingly, though, historians have noted striking parallels between the work of figures like Copernicus and their contemporaries in the Islamic world though they’ve not been able to fully explain how these similarities arose. Fellow Robert Morrison, professor of religion at Bowdoin College, has been working to trace the connections between these thinkers.