About the Arts & Humanities Initiative (AHI) Program grant program
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March 2020 AHI Awardees
October 2019 AHI Awardees
March 2019 AHI Awardees

The Office of the Vice President for Research is proud to present the March 2019 Arts & Humanities Initiatives (AHI) Program Awardees:

Margaret Beck, Associate Professor, Department of Anthropology
Arts & Humanities Initiative Standard Grant
Making Sacred Things: Red Pottery and Pipestone in Native North America

AHI support is requested to study red pipestone use in Native North America, focusing on the AD 1050-1200 time period in the northeastern Great Plains (northwest Iowa and southeast South Dakota). This time period is just before the earliest appearance of calumet pipes, an integral part of the calumet ceremonies that used gift exchanges and fictive adoptive rituals to establish bonds between members of different tribes. This region is near several red pipestone sources in the Plains, including the quarries at Pipestone National Monument that are still considered sacred by Sioux and other Native groups. I suggest that before pipestone was used for calumet pipes, its historical trajectory included other sacred uses in the study area. Specifically, northeastern Plains potters may have mixed powdered pipestone with water to create a red slip for some ritual ceramic vessels. In this study, I will compare the red slips on ceramics to pipestone samples to determine if potters made red slips from pipestone debris. AHI funding would enable the necessary travel (three trips) and technical analyses (chemical and petrographic data).

Red denotes the sacred over thousands of years in Native North America, beginning with red ochre and hematite use by some of the earliest residents of the Great Plains (and the continent). In the nineteenth century, red pipestone from the Plains moved all over the eastern United States as pipes used in calumet ceremonies. This project embeds red pipestone use in the larger symbolic system in the northeastern Plains from which the calumet ceremony developed, seeking to physically connect categories of red religious objects. If these data support use of pipestone debris as slip material, it would represent a dramatic research breakthrough; if not, this work will still produce publishable data on pipestone source use and the production of red slips in the study area.

Anny Dominique Curtius, Associate Professor, Department of French and Italian
Arts & Humanities Initiative Standard Grant

Unshackling the Memory of Slavery: the Ecodialectics of Landscape and Seascape

I am applying for an AHI Standard Grant to conduct extensive research in the US, Guadeloupe and France that is crucial for the completion of my interdisciplinary book project titled, Unshackling the Memory of Slavery: the Ecodialectics of Landscape and Seascape Memorials. My book examines memorials grounded in and designed through water elements, seascape and landscape in the US, the Francophone and Anglophone Caribbean and Mauritius in the Indian Ocean. As a larger frame I also examine specific literary works because they interweave complex layers of memory, agency, and historical modalities in order to historicize and memorialize the fragmented voices of drowned African captives during the transoceanic slave trades.

In New York City, I will carry out research at the United Nations about the Ark of Return, a permanent memorial that sits on the grounds of the UN in honor of the victims of slavery and slave trades. In Guadeloupe, I will consult documents about the design of the Memorial ACTe dedicated to the history of slavery, conduct interviews with architects, and meet with archeologists and grassroots communities about a slave burial ground. The research at the Memorial to the Abolition of Slavery and the Regional Archives in Nantes, France will consist in examining archives as well as specific 18th century slave ships logbooks. At the UNESCO in Paris, I will study multimedia and public records that document the process of inscribing some of the sites I examine in my book, on the World Heritage List.

Informed by postcolonial ecocriticism, history, trauma and memory studies, post-critical museology, literary criticism, and cultural anthropology, my book ultimately argues that these multifaceted memory sites and texts which constitute intangible loci of resistance and suffering, encapsulate an entangled history, interrogate and challenge the traditional definition of memorials, museums and archives, and address the demands of diverse audiences claiming a sense of accountability.

Mihailis Diamantis, Associate Professor, College of Law
Arts & Humanities Initiative Standard Grant

Collective and Individual Responsibility Attribution

Individual and corporate “people” are responsible subjects. Our committed social and legal practices treat them as though they can be responsible for the things they do. We blame and praise, punish and reward, both individuals and corporations alike. This project builds on previous work of the PI to better understand the sociopsychological mechanisms by which we judge when individuals and corporations are responsible for what they have done, and how the two mechanisms relate to one another. These mechanisms are of deep philosophical and practical interest. Philosophically, they go to the heart of our understanding of ourselves as individual agents, and the nature of our responsibility for the behavior of collective agents (corporations, nations, educational institutions, etc.) of which we are a part. Practically, they are of immediate significance for criminal law. The perennial and still unresolved challenge in corporate criminal law is to understand when a “person” (the corporation), who can act only through other people (its employees), should be held to account. Current legal doctrines are simple, but they are also misguided as measured by sound policy and what we know of how people ordinarily gauge corporate responsibility.

Utilizing survey methods and Amazon's Mechanical Turk, this project will explore the relationship between responsibility attribution and the character of the person being assessed. It will also ask how attributions of responsibility for past acts follow agents through time. Lastly, it will look to whether features of the person making the assessment, such as their socio-economic class or their personal understanding of their own responsibility, influence their responsibility attributions to others. Depending on the nature of the results, each set of surveys will provide data for a specific legal proposal or philosophical theory, published as an article in an appropriate scholarly venue.

John Finamore, Professor, Department of Classics 
Arts & Humanities Initiative Standard Grant

Proclus' Commentary on Plato's Republic

I am proposing in Fall 2019 to travel in October and November to the American School of Classical Studies in Athens (ASCSA) to work on two related projects: (1) to complete the second of a three-volume set of books, creating a translation (with introduction and notes) of the 5th-Century A.D. philosopher Proclus’ commentary to the Republic of Plato and (2) to gather evidence in Athens about the importance of the physical location of Proclus’ school within the city. For the translation I will be making use of the ASCSA’s excellent library, which has all the necessary books and will provide a study carrel for me. For the research into the significance of the Platonic Academy’s location in the 5th and 6th Centuries A.D., I will avail myself of the ASCSA’s assistance in gaining access to the specific sites necessary for my research: the archeological finds of the House of Proclus (in the Acropolis Museum), the remains of the 6th-Century House of Damascius (a later head of the Platonic Academy), the site and findings at the precinct of the healing god Asclepius on the hillside of the Acropolis, and the better-preserved site of the sanctuary of Asclepius in nearby Epidaurus. During my stay in Athens I expect to complete a first draft of Proclus’ essay on books 9 and 10 of Plato’s Republic (80 pages of Greek) and to write the section of the book’s introduction that deals with the religious importance of the location of Proclus’ school near the Acropolis and the healing sanctuary of Asclepius. I expect in Spring 2020 to submit the translation of Proclus’ text to Cambridge University Press, who will be publishing it, and also to present my findings about the significance of the physical location of the Academy in the 5th and 6th Centuries at the 2020 annual conference of the International Society for Neoplatonic studies.

Kendall Heitzman, Assistant Professor, Department of Asian and Slavic Languages and Literatures
Arts & Humanities Initiative Standard Grant
Japanese Writers in Iowa, 1957 to 1982

I am proposing to research materials produced by and related to Japanese writers who were in residence at the University of Iowa between 1957 and 1982 as part of the International Writing Program or as affiliates of the Iowa Writers’ Workshop. I will use major archives in Japan to find materials unavailable in the United States, and I will work together with surviving writers and scholars or their families to develop a literary history of the time period and to find rare items published in small print runs, trade magazines, and other relatively inaccessible venues. This project will result in a journal article, additions to a permanent library website detailing these writers’ connections to Iowa, and additions to a collection of materials to be preserved for posterity by Special Collections in the University of Iowa Main Library.


Alfred Martin, Assistant Professor, Department of Communication Studies
Arts & Humanities Initiative Standard Grant
Failing While Black

Failing While Black is a book-length study of the history of black-cast failures across film and television. Bound within both the politics and the burden of representation placed upon black media, it argues that studying media texts with primarily black casts is productive to understand the machinations of the media industries and reveal: 1) how black failures are used to “course correct” for future black-cast media production and 2) how single black media failures are used to explain Hollywood’s disengagement from producing black-cast content. In the first case, black-cast media is further refined to try to create content more in line with consumer expectations. In the second case, it leads to the assimilation of blackness into otherwise white media worlds, which has the effect of catering to white media tastes with black consumers as a tertiary market segment.

Completing the manuscript requires three phases. If awarded, an Arts and Humanities Initiative small grant will support the research phase of the project. Travel costs include spending roughly a week in each of three archives, The New York Public Library, The Motown Museum and The University of Los Angeles California film and television archives as well as conducting interviews with media industry executives (see the Project Narrative for more details). The second stage will include synthesizing the research and refining the research questions of the project. In the final phase I will write, edit and prepare the manuscript for final submission to a university press.

Failing While Black will move studies of blackness within media forward by suggesting that examining images for their “positive” or “negative” attributes is no longer enough. In order to understand black media images, we must understand the discursive strategies that undergird its production and precarity within Hollywood. By productively engaging with scholarship from media studies, communication studies, African American/Black studies media industry studies, and media reception studies, this book brings together bodies of research and moves the conversation about representation within media forward. In this way, the implications of the book are both scholarly and popular in that conversations about race and representation occur within both spheres.

Luis Martin-Estudillo, Associate Professor, Department of Spanish and Portuguese
Arts & Humanities Initiative Standard Grant
Goya and the Mystery of Reading

Some of Francisco de Goya’s most influential artworks show very different types of readers—from aristocrats to animals—whose attitudes toward texts are often perplexing for spectators today. This project seeks to provide a historically and theoretically informed interpretation of these reading scenes, which appeared at a critical juncture in the development of Western culture. During Goya’s lifetime (1746-1828) the mutation from “intensive” to “extensive” reading practices stirred intense debates which the Spanish artist engaged creatively. An analysis of select oil paintings, drawings, engravings, lithographs and writings indicates that his interest in reading went well beyond a mere recognition of the increasing social relevance of this phenomenon. This study draws on contributions from several disciplines (including philosophy, art history, literary studies, book history, and history of medicine) to explain this abundant portion of Goya’s production. The resulting book, tentatively titled Goya and the Mystery of Reading, will also improve our understanding of how the way we encounter written and visual texts has developed since then. This project requires research at the archives of the San Fernando Royal Academy of Fine Arts in Madrid (an institution which Goya himself directed) and Spain’s National Library. I will carry out the archival research in Fall of 2019. I plan to submit a complete manuscript of about 90,000 words to a North American university press in early 2021.

John McKerley, Research Associate, Department of UI Labor Center
Arts & Humanities Initiative Standard Grant
Indexing the Iowa Labor History Oral Project

“Indexing the Iowa Labor History Oral Project” is an effort to turn one of the University of Iowa’s most extensive, long-standing oral history projects into a unified, accessible, digital collection and to combine it with a comprehensive and fine-grained reference resource. If successful, the project is poised to make the Iowa Labor History Oral Project (ILHOP)—already a nationally recognized collection in labor and Midwestern history—into one of the most important scholarly resources in those fields. Requested funding will support a half-time graduate research assistant for the summer of 2019 to make critical contributions to this ongoing, collaborative transcription and indexing project. In 2018, the University of Iowa Labor Center won a two-year, $193,000 grant from the National Endowment for the Humanities (NEH) to transcribe and index oral history interviews from ILHOP, an over forty-year-old oral history collaboration between the Iowa labor movement, University of Iowa, and the State Historical Society of Iowa (SHSI). In accordance with the NEH grant, a vendor (Rev.com) will transcribe approximately 350 digitized and born-digital audio recordings. Concomitantly, project staff will audit, edit, and index those transcripts and integrate new transcript-level indexes into an expandable ILHOP Digital Index. The digital index will build on a 2003 published index to approximately 750 previously transcribed, analog ILHOP interviews, all of which are now digitized and accessible to the public through the UI Digital Library.

Kembrew McLeod, Professor, Department of Communication Studies
Arts & Humanities Initiative Standard Grant
A Bohemian American Family

I am requesting AHI funding to pay for transcriptions and travel to conduct oral history interviews and archival research for A Bohemian American Family: Tracing a History of Twentieth Century Underground Culture Through Twisted Familial Roots. This book project is structured around the political, cultural, and artistic activities of a single extended family throughout the twentieth century. In doing so, it doubles as a history of American countercultures during that period, and their connections to mainstream media—something that serves as the book’s central theme. As a media scholar who has written several books on a variety of subcultural groups and individuals, A Bohemian American Family will help me continue to build a body of work that examines how marginalized cultural traditions can infiltrate the cultural center. It also will challenge many assumptions within subcultural studies that view the underground and the mainstream as existing within two separate, mutually exclusive spheres (when in fact they have existed within a dialectical relationship).

A Bohemian American Family begins in New York City’s Lower East Side neighborhood during the early 1900s with a Jewish labor organizer named Abraham Rosenberg (who served as the president of the International Ladies’ Garment Workers Union from 1908 through 1914, during a time of great social upheaval), and the book concludes with the emergence of his great-grandson, Beck, the Grammy-winning alternative rock musician who rose to fame in the 1990s. Along the way, it documents Greenwich Village bohemia of the 1940s and 1950s and other New York scenes that Beck’s grandfather Al Hansen, grandmother Audrey Ostlin Hansen, and mother Bibbe Hansen were involved in during the 1950s and 1960s. This includes Beat literature, Happenings and early performance art, underground film and off-off-Broadway theater, the Fluxus art movement, and Andy Warhol’s Factory scene, to name a few. During the 1970s, the book’s focus shifts to Los Angeles, where key members of the family relocated (or were born) and also made connections with a diverse range of West Coast culture. In short, AHI funding will allow me to research and begin writing a groundbreaking book about art, commerce, and countercultures.

Katherine Tachau, Professor, Department of History
Arts & Humanities Major Conference Grant
Digging Without Digging: Revealing Manuscripts through Enhanced Images

My steering committee and I are proposing a five-day, interdisciplinary Workshop at the University of Iowa during Spring 2020, for students and faculty at the University of Iowa and elsewhere, to exchange collaboratively research perspectives, expertise, and actual training in the application of two digital imaging technologies – “Virtual Unwrapping” with x-ray tomography (VU) and multispectral imaging (MSI) – to the study of otherwise unreadable pre-modern manuscripts or portions of manuscripts. Initially developed for aerospace and bio-medical sciences, x-ray tomography and MSI are now being applied by cultural preservation pioneers to such material artifacts as ancient and medieval manuscripts. The promise of these technologies is to provide non-destructive means for bringing entirely new evidence to view from damaged manuscripts, but making their use widespread, effective, and safe for these cultural artifacts requires close and ongoing collaboration which we plan to accelerate at UI and elsewhere via the proposed Workshop. We are designing it for specific groups of current and future specialists who protect, provide access to, and work intimately with manuscripts: book conservators; librarians with responsibilities for ancient and medieval manuscripts or expertise in digital humanities; paleographers and codicologists; international leaders in the digital preservation of manuscripts; and computer scientists and engineers who have developed or wish to envision the leading technology and software for VU and MSI of manuscripts.

Our Steering Committee is a new collaboration between professionals in the UI Libraries and faculty in traditional humanities disciplines who have experimented with VU and MSI. We expect to raise additional funds to match AHI expenditures 2:1. By bringing together faculty, staff, and students from UI, the Big Ten Academic Alliance, Newberry Library, and elsewhere for five days, we expect to catalyze collaborative use of VU and MSI manuscript studies in the Big Ten Academic Alliance, and to position the University of Iowa as a long-term, preeminent academic source of collaborative innovation in this field.

At Workshop’s end we will solicit participant evaluations and initiate future collaboration. We plan, too, to provide resources for specialists beyond attendees, by creating and hosting as Open Access two white papers with linked videos.