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

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

Amber Brian, Associate Professor, Department of Spanish and Portuguese
Arts & Humanities Initiative Standard Grant 

Letters to the King: Networks of Imperialism and Sovereignty in Sixteenth-Century New Spain

I have requested funds to pursue archival research related to my second monograph, "Letters to the King: Networks of Imperialism and Sovereignty in Sixteenth-Century New Spain." This book project looks at questions of imperial authority, native sovereignty, and trans-oceanic communication in sixteenth-century epistolary correspondence between the king and his native vassals in Mexico, known then as New Spain. Writing in accordance with the generic expectations of humanist letter writing in the sixteenth-century Hispanic world, the authors of these letters were actively engaged with European discourses and modes of communication in their attempts to make claims on lands, positions, privileges, and titles. These letters also hint at networks of native communities that collaborated and consulted in order to gain knowledge of the necessary genres and discourses to negotiate by letter with the king. During the award period, I propose to conduct three research trips and with that new material make significant progress with my book manuscript.

Natalie Fixmer-Oraiz, Assistant Professor, Department of Communication Studies
Arts & Humanities Initiative Standard Grant 

New Grammars for Reproductive Justice

I will use the AHI Standard Grant as seed funding for my second book project, co-authored with my colleague Shuiyin Sharon Yam at the University of Kentucky and tentatively titled: New Grammars for Reproductive Justice. More specifically, the grant will be used to cover a significant portion of the expenses associated with professional transcription services.

Gendered language permeates reproductive politics, from the discourse surrounding birth to the rhetoric of motherhood and reproductive rights. Investments in feminized language are varied and various--they are often affective, political, and/or historically grounded in the lived experience of women specifically, as those frequently rendered responsible for gestating, birthing, and rearing children. Those who argue against centering neutral language in birth and reproductive justice work note why gender specificity matters—that the broader discourse of parenting strips the politics from reproductive history and obscures how cissexism and misogyny are central to reproductive violence. Still, the narrowness of gendered language in reproductive politics fails to capture gestational birth and parenting beyond the gender binary. My collaborator and I question the framing of this tension as a choice between either gender specificity or gender neutrality. We hope that those invested in reproductive justice might craft language that represents the rich diversity of gender in the context of pregnancy, birth, and parenting while retaining a clarity with regard to the histories of cissexism and misogyny that continue to shape reproductive politics.

New Grammars for Reproductive Justice centers this struggle to invent vocabularies both accurate and capacious. Through interviews with organizers from national reproductive justice organizations, community birthworkers, public intellectuals, and queer families, this book amplifies efforts to invent more inclusive language for reproductive justice while highlighting the material impacts and political stakes that language carries for women and queer families. This text, thus, invites the readers to consider how we might think beyond our current vocabularies.

This project stands to make an important contribution to scholarly and public life while enhancing my scholarly profile. The AHI Standard Grant would provide a critical source of support in the earliest stage of project development.

Colin Gordon, Professor, Department of History
Arts & Humanities Initiative Standard Grant 

Dividing the City: The Race-Restrictive Deed Covenant in St. Louis

“Dividing the City” leverages a unique resource, a detailed catalogue of restrictive deed covenant for the city of St. Louis, to examine the origins and diffusion of racial restrictions on the sale and occupancy of residential property, from 1850 to 1950. These restrictions, some of which were original to new subdivisions and some of which were assembled by petition in older neighborhoods, defined African-American occupancy as a “nuisance,” prohibited sales or leases to African-Americans, and became the driving force behind the stark segregation of northern and border cities over the first half of the twentieth century. The goals of this collaborative project (local partners include Legal Services of Eastern Missouri and the Equal Housing and Opportunity Council of Metropolitan St. Louis) are to assemble a public archive of these agreements (we have identified just over 800), map their spread across the City, and to develop public programming around this history. In turn, the archive will provide a rich resource for scholarly analysis of these agreements, the driving forces behind them, and their impact in both “restricted” and “unrestricted” neighborhoods. Following the lead of similar projects in Seattle and Minneapolis, we also hope to open a conversation about changing the law in Missouri, making it easier to strike restrictive language from both property records and the bylaws of homeowners’ associations.

Brady G'Sell, Assistant Professor, Department of Gender, Women's and Sexuality Studies
Arts & Humanities Initiative Standard Grant 

Homemaking Abroad: Migrant Women's Experiences of the New South Africa

Just twenty-five years since apartheid ended, South Africa is presently experiencing a surge of xenophobic violence that is dividing the country and disrupting efforts to build a new nation distinct from its racist past. This September saw another wave of riots that left thousands of migrants with insecure futures. Such issues are not unique to South Africa amidst a worldwide trend of human displacement. Yet the country’s particular history and social context offer valuable insight into broader concerns. Drawing on humanities methods, my project builds an archive of migrant women’s experiences during these turbulent times. This archive will be vital to my scholarship on the intertwined processes of nation-building and family-making in South Africa. My urban fieldsite hosts many female migrants from other countries in the African continent, and their struggles over housing, jobs, and family-making are metonyms for global debates over belonging and entitlement. Though the imagined migrant in South Africa remains male, African migrant women face particular forms of gendered and racialized discrimination. Women I know have endured nighttime household raids or refusals of obstetric care and threats of sterilization that are eerily reminiscent of South Africa’s apartheid past. My project utilizes the expertise of cultural insiders to employ three methods—hearsay ethnography, native-language interviews, and documentary photography—that I could not undertake myself. By recording observations of casual conversations about migration, collecting narrative of migrant women themselves, and visually documenting women’s efforts to carve out places of belonging, the project will produce an invaluable archive of this critical moment in South Africa’s history. Data from this archive will inform my tenure book, enable the writing of a high-impact journal article, and launch my second project. By asking questions about how women migrants navigate the colliding forces of integration and exclusion in the post-apartheid era, my research will contribute to scholarship on the feminization of migration, South-South migrant flows, and import of the humanities to address complex social issues.

Michaela Hoenicke-Moore, Associate Professor, Department of History
Arts & Humanities Initiative Standard Grant 

The Varieties of American Patriotism: Americans Debate Their Country's Role in the World from the 'Good War' to Vietnam

How does our understanding of U.S. foreign policy debates change, if we take the people, that is citizen voices, into account? My primary-source-based study seeks to answer this question by investigating foreign policy views of ordinary Americans and situating them in the framework of official rhetoric, policies, and expert discourse. Broadening our conception of domestic conflict over military interventions and re-integrating citizen voices, brings underexposed and unsettling questions about the nature of American democracy and its compatibility with military globalism into clearer focus. It reveals wider and deeper contestations over issues long debated by foreign policy experts: what purpose and whose interests does U.S. foreign policy serve?

In order to capture the diversity of foreign policy-relevant views in civil society and to track how they changed over time, I analyze citizen responses in letters, interviews and memoirs, to three wars which the U.S. fought with a conscript army: World War Two, the Korean “police action” that turned the Cold War unexpectedly hot in Asia, and the war in Vietnam. All three conflicts were contested, though at different points in the cycle of mobilization, military campaigns, wartime media coverage, and aftermath. Each war coincided with profound changes at home, including race relations and gender norms, and resulted in partisan realignments on the question of the use of military force. Studying the corresponding foreign policy debates as well as the wars’ legacies in context, reveals the manifold interpretive associations among the good war, the forgotten war, and the quagmire: official lessons and analogies were often enabling, in contrast to personal experiences and memories which were more often cautionary.

Jennifer Janechek, Lecturer, Department of Rhetoric
Arts & Humanities Initiative Standard Grant 

'Digital Disability Studies' Advanced Research Consortium Node

I am applying for an Arts and Humanities Initiative Standard Grant to support my creation of an Advanced Research Consortium (ARC) “node” on Digital Disability Studies. These nodes are “period-specific and thematic digital research environments” created by digital humanists in conjunction with ARC staff at Texas A&M University (CDHR, 2019). Through negotiations with entities like JSTOR, ProQuest, and libraries, they aggregate primary and secondary sources on a specific research topic, as well as relevant digital humanities scholarship, the latter of which is selected, vetted, and developed further with help from the ARC node’s technical and editorial boards. These peer-reviewed resources are made available through a keyword-searchable website that greatly benefits the scholarly community.

Having been through a rigorous review process and approved by the ARC’s board of directors, my project, Digital Disability Studies (DigiDS), will provide the disability studies community with such an inclusive research environment, attesting to the richness and diversity of scholarship in this area, fostering the creation of new disciplinary knowledge by supporting digital humanists in their project development, and collaborating with accessibility specialists to be at the forefront of accessible collections design. Currently, there are only five ARC nodes in existence, as ARC is highly selective and the nodes are major undertakings typically carried out with the support of a team of research assistants. DigiDS joins the ranks of well-known research compendiums like NINES (hosted at the University of Virginia) and ModNets (hosted at Loyola University Chicago) and boasts a review board of the top scholars in the field of disability studies. With the support of an AHI Grant, I will be able to spend Summer 2020 focusing exclusively on the technical development of the DigiDS website, which requires a significant amount of training from the ARC team, consultation with the Digital Studio at the University of Iowa, programming and website design, research, metadata aggregation, and outreach and coordination with other collections. At the end of Summer 2020, DigiDS will have its basic infrastructure built and will be able to make a “soft launch.”

Nellie Kluz, Lecturer, Department of Cinematic Arts
Arts & Humanities Initiative Standard Grant 

J-1s in Wisconsin Dells: Creative Non-Fiction Film

My creative research project is a feature length (60-75 minute) non-fiction film focusing on the experiences of international students who come to the seasonal resort city of Wisconsin Dells, WI each summer as temporary service industry workers. J-1s enter US under the auspices of the J-1 visa Work and Travel program, which is administered by the State Department. Students come from countries including Turkey, Russia, Dominican Republic, Romania, Bulgaria, Jamaica, China, Thailand, Jordan, Kazakhstan, Spain and Mongolia.

J-1s provide ample cheap labor, and often spend their majority of days working at multiple low-wage jobs with little time for travel and exploration. Students are vulnerable to labor exploitation in terms of unpaid overtime hours, sexual harassment at work, and other unsafe and/or undesirable conditions.

The goal of this project is to create a detailed documentary portrait of J-1 students, a complex, nuanced and formally innovative film that focuses on the sensory details of J-1's lives in the unfamiliar and somewhat bewildering environment of Wisconsin Dells. I aim to generate interest in and empathy for young temporary migrants who come to the US, communicating that these young migrants form an integral element of resort ecosystems like the Dells, and deserve consideration and labor protections.

I will seek out specialized and general audiences for this project, at self-organized screenings intended for the J-1 community, film festivals, cinemas and online screening platforms.

Louise Seamster, Assistant Professor, Department of Sociology and Criminology
Arts & Humanities Initiative Major Project Grant 

Poison Pen: Tracing The Digital Paper Trail of the Flint Water Crisis

I am seeking Arts and Humanities Initiative Major Grant funding to collaborate with the Digital Scholarship and Publishing Studio to organize and interpret a public email archive from the Flint Water Crisis using “digital ethnography,” and to create an online database for public access to the data. In early 2016, Michigan’s Governor Snyder released a million-page public archive of emails relating to the Flint crisis between state agencies—but in unsearchable form. We need to know more about Michigan’s role in the crisis: about the decisions made by unelected state-appointed “emergency managers” given total control of the city (and most other black-governed cities in the state), decisions approved by Michigan’s Department of Environmental Quality. But initial analysis of the email archive shows these state actors excluded and derided Flint advocates and elected officials as they strategized ways to delegitimize Flint residents’ testimony about their water quality, redirect press, and defend bad water-testing techniques.

My multi-method ethnographic research employs digital humanities methodology for archiving, classifying, interpreting and annotating the archive. This project consists of two parallel tracks: multiple academic publications analyzing the dataset, and a searchable website repository for the dataset, which will also ultimately have interactive features incorporating my research visualizations and allowing contributions to the project from the public. A 2019-2020 AHI grant will support prototype of a website and initial data analysis and larger grant applications, and facilitate undergraduate analysis in an Applied Research class taught 2020-2021.

The impact of the larger project comes at multiple levels. First, we will better understand the causes and responses to the Flint Water Crisis, particularly how it was shaped by state-level bureaucracy. Second, the project will render crucial public data more accessible to the public and model effective dissemination, an increasing concern as data proliferates. Finally, my academic work will help shape debates in the fields of urban politics, policy, environmental justice, and financialization as I use Flint’s case to reframe how we think about black and white governance in cities.

Travis Vogan, Associate Professor, Department of Journalism and Mass Communication
Arts & Humanities Initiative Standard Grant 

LeRoy Neiman: Populist Artist and Pariah

LeRoy Neiman (1921-2012) was arguably the most famous and wealthiest artist of the twentieth century. He cut an unmistakable figure that included a jet-black handlebar mustache, long cigar dangling from his teeth, loud suits, and eye-catching female assistants. Neiman paired this image with an accessible artistic approach that displayed colorful scenes of leisure, sporting events, and celebrities. Moreover, his work circulated in spaces outside of the museums where art stereotypically lives. His art appeared in Playboy; showed up on TV to complement sports coverage; and was sold as prints in malls and gift shops. Neiman’s accessibility, commercial success, and popularity combined to inform his nearly comprehensive dismissal by art critics, academics, and other cultural gatekeepers. The fact that Neiman has received little scholarly attention despite his outsize status demonstrates the power of such discourses to expel artists who do not abide by established norms. But this book project posits that we can learn just as much about these norms—and the culture they help to create—from studying those artists that have been condemned as we can from studying those that have been canonized.

LeRoy Neiman: Populist Artist and Pariah will trace Neiman’s life story and use it to explore the attitudes that inform which artists, activities, and artifacts are deemed respectable and which attract excoriation over time and in certain contexts. It will combine archival research, interviews with those who knew and worked with Neiman, and analysis of his work to explore how Neiman became a popular artist, how critics responded to his output, and how he struggled to balance his efforts to acquire money and fame with a quest to achieve respectability. In doing so, it will consider how Neiman’s participation in various popular settings simultaneously drew adoration from mainstream audiences and scorn from the art establishment. The debates Neiman sparked help to probe popular culture’s conflicted relationship to art. More specifically, they illustrate a previously unexamined nexus of art, sport, media, and commerce that this interdisciplinary book project will bring into focus.