About the Arts & Humanities Initiative (AHI) Program grant program
Examples of successful proposals (HawkID required)

March 2019 AHI Awardees
October 2018 AHI Awardees
March 2018 AHI Awardees
September 2017 AHI Awardees
March 2017 AHI Awardees


The Office of the Vice President for Research is proud to present the March 2018 Arts & Humanities Initiatives (AHI) Program Awardees:


Robert Bork

Robert Bork, Professor, School of Art and Art History
Arts & Humanities Initiative Standard Grant
LIDAR Scanning and Analysis of Reims Cathedral

This project will involve the creation of a highly precise 3D model of Reims Cathedral, using LIDAR laser scanning technology, and the development and publication of detailed geometrical and archaeological analyses based on this model. Reims Cathedral, the coronation church of French kings, ranks as one of the most famous buildings in Europe, and it has attracted a great deal of scholarly attention, but fundamental questions about its design and its constructional history remain unresolved. Together with my doctoral student Rebecca Smith, I have been working in recent years to apply innovative tools of geometrical analysis to the cathedral, based on data that we have gathered in the field with a small laser scanner. This approach has allowed us to achieve a new understanding of the building’s overall plan, but the extension of our inquiry into a really comprehensive analysis of the cathedral’s design requires the modeling of its full 3D structure. Until recently, it would have been all but impossible to quickly develop such a model, but the spread of LIDAR technology is rapidly revolutionizing the field of archaeological and architectural surveying, making such modeling practical for the first time. In this project, therefore, I intend to travel to France with Rebecca Smith, and with Adam Skibbe, an expert on LIDAR scanning who serves on the staff of the UI Geographical and Sustainability Sciences program. In Europe, we will rendezvous with Pierre Hallot, another scanning expert who now works at the University of University of Liège, Belgium, and who formerly served as a postdoctoral research fellow at UI. Taking advantage of their expertise, and the advanced hardware that Hallot will provide, we will undertake a comprehensive LIDAR survey of Reims Cathedral, and a similar survey of Metz Cathedral, a closely related monument that deserves far more scholarly attention than it has received to date. After our team returns to the US, we will collaborate with the UI Digital Scholarship & Publishing Studio to make our digital models available to the worldwide scholarly community, while Rebecca Smith and I develop our study into a co-authored book on Reims Cathedral.

Nathan Platte, Associate Professor, Music
Arts & Humanities Initiative Standard Grant

The Sounds of Music in the Films of Robert Wise

This AHI grant will support trips to archives in California and New York to study the films of Robert Wise, a director whose films rely more on sound than sight to achieve a distinctive cinematic style. Wise is an attractive candidate for such scrutiny, as his entrée to filmmaking came through the soundtrack. In the 1930s, he edited sound effects and music for Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers’s musicals. From there, he graduated to the role of film editor, where he assembled Orson Welles’s Citizen Kane (1941). After his directorial debut with The Curse of the Cat People (1944), Wise went on to direct some of Hollywood’s most critically and financially successful films: The Day the Earth Stood Still (1951), West Side Story (1961), The Haunting (1963), The Sound of Music (1965), and Star Trek: The Motion Picture (1979), among others. This study will explore the diverse roles sound and music play across Wise’s eclectic output, which embraces science fiction, musicals, horror, and historic epics. Wise’s films regularly illuminate social problems specific to postwar America and use the soundtrack to undermine expectations and prompt fresh reflection on issues including racial prejudice, nuclear armament, and the death penalty. The archival research conducted with this AHI grant will result in a book proposal that illuminates music and musical sound in Robert Wise’s films, thereby building upon my previous work on filmmakers who have revolutionized film through collaborations with musicians and sound technicians. Although the book proposal is the central project this AHI grant will support, the expected impact is much broader. I will also deliver at least one research presentation from this archival work at a national conference, and I plan to share some of my findings with local audiences through a film screening and discussion held at the Iowa City Public Library, where I have given a film screening-talk before. This research will also be shared in my graduate seminars on film music and American music. Undergraduate students will learn of the civic and musical impulses directing Wise’s soundtracks in an annually offered “Introduction to Film Music” course.

Kyle Rector, Assistant Professor, Computer Science, Public Digital Arts Cluster
Arts & Humanities Initiative Major Project Grant

Designing Mobile Tasks for Sighted People to Improve Art Accessibility for Visually Impaired People

People who are visually impaired have a harder time visiting art museums than people who are sighted due to inaccessible audio guides and verbal descriptions. There are accessibility guidelines from Art Beyond Sight (ABS) for how to write accessible verbal descriptions for blind people, but these solutions are costly in terms of curatorial time and are adopted in only a few museums. There is related research in Human-Computer Interaction (HCI) including creating technology-based accessible experiences for blind people, and developing mobile technologies to gather sighted people’s reactions to artwork, however there is no research at this intersection. There is a knowledge gap in how to design technology-based tasks for sighted patrons to provide accessible descriptions of artwork for blind people. Our aims to address this problem are twofold: 1) we will identify how existing research in HCI does or does not fulfill the ABS accessibility guidelines, and 2) we will develop novel tasks and identify if they help sighted people compose accessible verbal descriptions. To take a feasible first step, we will conduct online studies with sighted people instead of instrumenting an existing museum space. For Aim 1, we will create surveys based on existing HCI research and have sighted people answer questions about paintings, including “write a short phrase reflecting on the piece,” or “compose a story based off of this painting.” We will have four docents assess the statements against the ABS accessibility guidelines. For Aim 2, we will develop novel tasks and proctor similar surveys with sighted people. We will have the same docents evaluate the novel statements to see if they fulfill more of the accessibility guidelines. In addition, we will have blind people rate sighted contributions from Aims 1 and 2 based on how informative they are. Our outcomes include design guidelines for mobile tasks for sighted patrons in the museum and a technology framework. In future research, we plan to test these mobile tasks in the museum setting. We plan to publish our results to a journal or Computer Science conference and submit to external grants relating to accessible technology (e.g. NSF Cyber-Human Systems).

Leslie Schwalm

Leslie Schwalm, Professor, History
Arts & Humanities Initiative Standard Grant

Racial Knowledge: Medicine and Science in the Civil War Era

Racial Knowledge: Medicine and Science in the Civil War Era explores how northern white medical professionals used the circumstances of the Civil War to advance the notions of racial science and medicine through the examination and investigation of African American soldiers, the living and the dead. I am requesting support for a two-week research trip to the National Archives (Washington, D.C.) in June 2018. In the course of analyzing my research and drafting my book, three new questions have arisen that require additional research in order for me to fully understand the treatment of black bodies during the U.S. Civil War. During the proposed research trip, I will ascertain the military structure and context under which autopsies and burials of black soldiers occurred, questions which no other historian has asked--or answered.

Katherine Tachau, Professor, History
Arts & Humanities Initiative Standard Grant

Experimental Use of Digital Multispectral Imaging to Read Erased Text in a Medieval Manuscript

I am seeking funding for a digital Multispectral imaging (MSI) experiment with capturing enhanced images of the final illuminated page of an early thirteenth-century parchment manuscript in Vienna (Wien ÖNB Codex 1179). The primary purpose of making images of folio 246r is to read a nearly erased dedication, which may allow me to identify which King of France was the intended recipient, and thus date the book. An expert team will perform the experiment over two work days in the manuscript collection of the Austrian National Library (ÖNB) in Vienna. The team will use a fully integrated imaging system that includes a Phase One 60 mp camera; cool, narrowband LED lighting to create an image cube from specific wavelengths along the spectrum from ultra-violet through infra-red; optical filters to capture fluorescence; and taylored software to control the camera and LED lights, and to capture, digitally process, and analyze the resulting spectral images. These will then be uploaded after the first day to the cloud for me to provide feedback from the USA while the manuscript is inaccessible overnight in Vienna, so that the team can make necessary adjustments on their second day in Vienna. If successful, this experiment will confirm or disconfirm my hypothesis from other evidence in the manuscript as to the identity of Capetian ruler depicted as its recipient. Before publishing our results in my nearly complete book manuscript, however, I plan to publish the results quickly in an article. I want thereby to encourage other Medievalists to conceive projects for which MSI could be crucial in posing and answering new questions about surviving manuscripts. Furthermore, regardless of whether words become legible, the images and their data, which we will make freely available on the internet, will contain information about the chemical composition of the materials making up this manuscript, including parchment, inks, pigments, binding agents, gesso, and gold leaf. Such data are interesting to historians and essential for conservators treating not just the Vienna codex of our experiment, but also any late medieval Parisian manuscript in any collection, including ours at the University of Iowa Libraries.

Elizabeth Yale, Lecturer, History
Arts & Humanities Initiative Standard Grant
Women's Roles in the Creation, Application, and Transmission of Astronomical and Mathematical Knowledge in Early Modern Britain

I propose to undertake archival research to study the life and work of Margaret Flamsteed (c. 1670-1730), the wife of John Flamsteed, first British Astronomer Royal at the British Royal Observatory in Greenwich, England. Before her husband’s death, Margaret Flamsteed participated in the work of the observatory and founded and administered a girls’ charity school; as a widow, she communicated science to the public by publishing her husband’s celestial atlas and preserving astronomical data collected at the Observatory during his tenure as Astronomer Royal. Given Margaret Flamsteed’s role in generating, preserving, and communicating the observatory’s data, this project offers an opportunity to explore the role that women played in developing and communicating scientific and mathematical knowledge in Enlightenment Europe. Furthermore, it allows us to explore how they deployed their knowledge in every day life and in the public interest. Margaret founded and kept accounts for the Greenwich Blue Coat Girl’s School, a charity school for young women. The school’s records illuminate how eighteenth-century women used mathematical skills to advance women’s educational and economic prospects.


This story stretches beyond the observatory itself, raising important questions about how scientific research is funded: who pays, and who owns the results? Flamsteed’s astronomical data, the foundation for navigation at sea, were critically important to British commerce and British imperial expansion, and the observatory was partly publicly funded. Yet Flamsteed paid out of pocket for his assistants’ salaries and his astronomical instruments. After his death, when Margaret departed the Observatory, she took with her the Observatory’s papers and records (valuable astronomical data), considering them her property. Why did Margaret value it, and how did she use it? How did it pass back into public hands? What can this story tell us about the role of science in public life in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries? To address these questions, I propose to examine relevant archival records now held at Cambridge University and the UK Public Record Office. The product of this research would be disseminated in the book I am currently researching and writing on gender, science, and archives in early modern Europe.