Charles A. Ryskamp Research Fellows

The Charles A. Ryskamp Research Fellowships, which ACLS offered from 2001 through 2015, provided advanced assistant professors and untenured associate professors in the humanities and related social sciences with time and resources to pursue their research under optimal conditions. The Ryskamp Fellowships particularly recognized those whose scholarly contributions have advanced their fields and who had well designed and carefully developed plans for new research.
Generously funded by The Andrew W. Mellon Foundation, these fellowships were named for Charles A. Ryskamp, literary scholar, distinguished library and museum director, and long-serving trustee of the Mellon Foundation.

Read more about this fellowship program.

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Watch "Emerging Themes and Methods of Research: A Discussion with ACLS Fellows," an annual meeting session featuring recent ACLS fellows. 

Edward G. Baring
Edward G. Baring  |  Abstract
Of all modern schools of thought, phenomenology has the greatest claim to the title “continental philosophy.” Restricted in the 1910s to a couple of centers in Germany, by the 1950s it had representatives all over Europe. This project examines the ways in which neo-scholastic networks facilitated that expansion. Once German neo-scholastics had identified phenomenology as an ally, they helped raise its prominence elsewhere, and the Church supported the publication of commentaries and translations around Europe. Catholic institutions even rescued Husserl's papers from Nazi Germany in 1938. Moreover, phenomenology became a two-way portal, leading many (like Edith Stein) to convert to Catholicism, while leading others (like Heidegger) away from their faith. In this way the relationship between neo-scholasticism and phenomenology had an impact far beyond Catholic circles and sheds light on the problems of secularization in intellectual and religious history.

Assistant Professor, History, Drew University  -  Phenomenology: The Making of a Continental Philosophy

Vera A. Keller
Vera A. Keller  |  Abstract
Cornelis Drebbel, a now neglected figure, has much to tell us about the origins of experimental science in early modern Europe. As an artist, wonderworker, inventor, alchemist and philosopher, Drebbel excited a transnational public. For over a century, he served as a model for the powers of human invention and discovery. He was written out of the story of science in part due to Enlightenment commitments to a sober, sanitized genealogy of modern reason. Recovering this now marginalized figure and understanding his once immense appeal can contribute to revising our account of the Scientific Revolution.

Assistant Professor, Robert D. Clark Honors College, University of Oregon  -  Cornelis Drebbel (1572-1633) and the Ambitions of Science

Jessica A. Boon
Jessica A. Boon  |  Abstract
During Castile’s transition from a pluralistic Middle Ages to a strongly Catholic Golden Age, devotions focused on Jesus’ suffering body (his Passion) became the nexus linking popular culture and high theology, written narrative and oral performance, men’s and women’s spirituality, and Jewish-Christian cultural divides. Spanish Passion provides the first intensive study of the place of body, especially the bodies of Jesus, Mary and the Jews, in Castilian religious experience during the early empire, drawing on methodologies from literary studies, material culture, gender studies, Jewish studies, history of science, and postcolonial theory. The early modern Castilian devotional imagination focused on a tortured son, a divinized virginal mother, and a stereotyped religious “other,” a triumvirate of marginalized, wounded bodies foundational to the complex gender and racial/religious constructs exported across the globe in the first half of the sixteenth century.

Assistant Professor, Religious Studies, University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill  -  Spanish Passion: Jesus, Mary, and the Jews in the Castilian Religious Imagination, 1480-1540

A. Azfar Moin
A. Azfar Moin  |  Abstract
Was the destruction of Muslim saint shrines as a rite of conquest in Iran and Central Asia a phenomenon comparable to the desecration of Hindu temples in war in India? With this question in mind, this project examines the changes in Muslim kingship in pre-modern Iran and Central Asia and compares it to developments in Indic kingship. After the thirteenth-century Mongol conquests, the enshrined saint replaced the caliph as the iconic sovereign in Iran and Central Asia. Consequently, Muslim kings attacked the shrines of their rivals’ patron saints. A focus on this ritual violence reveals how the protocols of violence and accommodation that governed these Muslim milieus became analogous to those enacted by Indic kings, who also sacked temples of rival sovereigns in times of war.

Assistant Professor, Religious Studies, University of Texas at Austin  -  Muslim Kingship and Ritual Violence in Pre-Modern Iran, Central Asia, and India

Nina Sun Eidsheim
Nina Sun Eidsheim  |  Abstract
This project is an interdisciplinary study of how attributes which might seem natural, such as the “voice” and its qualities, are actually socially produced. Drawing from African American studies, musicology, ethnomusicology, sound and voice studies, it critically examines how race is “measured” through sound, and how the authenticity of race and racial subjectivities is often located in vocal timbre. Moreover, it examines vocal icons from Marian Anderson, Billie Holiday, and Jimmy Scott to the vocal synthesis technology Vocaloid. Asking how vocal timbre is entrained and perceived through racialized listening processes, it adds dimensions to the field of identity politics, and addresses an understudied and undertheorized space of racial and ethnic performance and performativity. In doing so, it advances our knowledge of the cultural-historical formation of the timbral micropolitics of difference. More broadly, it contributes to a knowledge of the ways in which comprehending voice remains central to understanding human experience.

Assistant Professor, Musicology, University of California, Los Angeles  -  Measuring Race: Listening to Vocal Timbre and Vocality in African-American Music

Alisha Rankin
Alisha Rankin  |  Abstract
This project examines the significant role played by poison antidotes in the development of ideas about evaluating and testing drugs in the sixteenth and early seventeenth centuries. At a time in which new "wonder drugs" were flooding Europe from both local and foreign sources, patients and healers sought methods to choose among them. Poison antidotes were seen as uniquely testable, as one could establish deliberate trials in which a healthy subject was poisoned and then cured. These trials were done on both animals and, for a brief period, condemned criminals. The antidotes themselves were also subject to careful analysis. At the heart of these tests lay questions and concerns about authenticity, efficacy, and professional authority. They provide a new chapter to the history of experiment.

Assistant Professor, History, Tufts University  -  The Poison Trials: Antidotes and Experiment in Early Modern Europe

Linford Fisher
Linford Fisher  |  Abstract
This book length project is an integrative, comparative study of Indian and African slavery in New England, Bermuda, Barbados, and Jamaica between 1600 and 1834. This study contributes substantially to the existing literature by considering Indian and African slavery together in each of these locales and bridging scholarship that often treats these these two histories in isolation. Along the way, it more fully integrates early New England slave trading practices into a wider Atlantic world context, emphasizing the forced motion and migration between Caribbean islands as well as between these islands and the mainlands. This project also investigates the spectrum of unfreedom in the early modern Atlantic world, suggesting that Indian slavery expands and challenges our current understanding of slavery and unfreedom.

Assistant Professor, History, Brown University  -  Land of the Unfree: Indians, Africans, and the World of Colonial Slavery

Ryan T. Skinner
Ryan T. Skinner  |  Abstract
This project examines the multicultural and racially mixed public culture of “Afro-Swedish” artists. Rooted in Sweden and routed through Africa and its diasporas, Afro-Swedish public culture reflects a growing African presence in Europe, the product of multiple patterns of movement and migration over the past five decades. Through ethnographic inquiry, this study explores understandings and expressions of Afro-Swedish identity in music, dance, theater, and verbal art. The research draws critical attention to the lives and works of artists who perform a sense of community while confronting endemic racism; who celebrate social pluralism against assumptions of cultural difference; and who, in performance, captivate Swedish audiences while resisting perceptions of exoticism and foreignness.

Assistant Professor, Music, and African American and African Studies, The Ohio State University  -  Race, Politics, and Performance in Afro-Swedish Public Culture

Leah N. Gordon
Leah N. Gordon  |  Abstract
An imprecisely defined but widely celebrated political ideal, “equal educational opportunity” has perplexed civil rights activists and social theorists and generated criticism from thinkers who deemed it an insufficient social goal. "Contesting Opportunity" provides a history of the sources and outcomes of debates over this concept in the twentieth century United States. The project focuses on arguments over the meanings of racial equality in education and associated questions about what types of social transformation schooling can produce. By asking who has championed and challenged the language of “equal educational opportunity,” why, and to what effect, this history contributes to scholarship on the relationship between race and class oppression, on critiques of American liberalism, on the cultural dynamics that rationalize inequality, and on the intersections of education and social welfare policy.

Assistant Professor, Education, Stanford University  -  Contesting Opportunity: "Equal Educational Opportunity" and its Alternatives in Twentieth Century American Social Thought

Rachel Greenwald Smith
Rachel Greenwald Smith  |  Abstract
This study is an inquiry into the fate of radical literary form in the late twentieth and early twenty-first centuries, a period that many scholars see as marked by increasing compromise between experimental and mainstream approaches to literature. It argues against this prevailing narrative, finding that contemporary literary works continue to be invested in undermining mainstream expectations, albeit in ways that might be difficult to recognize if we think that radical formal gestures always require the kind of sweeping rejection of convention associated with modern and postmodern experimentalism. Through readings of work by writers including Heidi Julavits, David Foster Wallace, Thomas Sayers Ellis, Rachel Kushner, Ben Lerner, and Percival Everett, and drawing from diverse fields of study including political theory, ecology, and biology, the project ultimately asks what the waning of an avant-garde impulse might mean for critical concepts of aesthetic change.

Assistant Professor, English, Saint Louis University  -  Compromise Aesthetics: Literature After Experimentalism

Mark Greif
Mark Greif  |  Abstract
This project concerns the twentieth and twenty-first century turn to moral consideration of the environment, animals, and pre-adult or pre-personal life (as children, fetuses, or human reproductive material). It undertakes a rhetorical and literary analysis of the languages in which radical reformers make moral appeals on behalf of previously unconsidered categories of beings. The rhetoric used in these three categories of reform activism (nature, animals, pre-persons) is compared across two distinct chronological episodes of ferment at the turn of the twentieth century (1870-1916) and the turn of the twenty-first (1970-2010). By studying the overlapping figures of thought and speech, this research excavates the shared philosophical underpinnings for movements usually studied separately.

Assistant Professor, Literary Studies, The New School  -  The Rhetorics of Nonhuman Morality, 1870 to 2010: Life, Beings, and World

Alicia W. Walker
Alicia W. Walker  |  Abstract
Byzantine Iconoclasm (ca. 726-843)—when the veneration of icons was officially banned in Orthodox worship—spurred extensive theological reflection on the corporeal versus spiritual nature of Christ and the saints. This project asks whether these religious debates also affected how the Byzantines thought about human bodies, especially those of women. Prior to Iconoclasm, women affiliated themselves with pagan goddesses in direct ways, for example, by wearing jewelry and clothing decorated with images of Athena or Aphrodite. Pagan female figures continued to appear in post-Iconoclastic works of art, however they were no longer depicted on objects directly associated with Christian women’s bodies. This project interrogates transformations in Byzantine conceptions of the female body and attitudes toward its adornment, asking how both Christian and Classical traditions contributed to the regulation of women’s corporeal morality and the formation of female selfhood in medieval Byzantium.

Assistant Professor, History of Art, Bryn Mawr College  -  Christian Bodies, Pagan Images: Women, Beauty, and Morality in Medieval Byzantium