Wednesday, September 15, 2010

Summer Research Grants: The Results Are In

We announced here that we were able, through the generosity of a donor, to support modestly five of our dissertation writing graduate students over the summer (see also here). The experiment paid off well. Here's what they accomplished, in their own words.

Mike Smith

This summer, with the help of funding from MEMSI, I got a good start on my research for my  chapter on Mandeville and botanical vertu. I began by reading a wide variety of herbals (from Greek, Roman,
Arabic, and medieval sources), in order to get a grasp of the form,  conventions, and history of the herbal tradition. Yet, however hard I  tried to pin down the conventions of the herbal, I found that they  aren’t so self-contained. Treatises on the “virtues” and uses of plants  can be found alongside treatises on other subjects of natural history:  rocks and precious stones (lapidaries), animals, weather, and astrology (for example, the Vienna Dioscurides, a 6th Century manuscript celebrated for its illustrations of the plants described in Dioscurides’ De materia medica, also contains a substantial treatise on birds). I therefore had to adjust my understanding of herbals -- as well as the moments of
botanical vertu in Mandeville’s Travels -- as a component in a larger system, or “ecology,” of other
natural phenomena. This led me to ask more interesting questions about  the Travels and how it  participates in not only the tradition of herbals specifically but  natural history writing in general. From this research, a primary question emerged to help guide my chapter on Mandeville: What happens when we read Mandeville as a natural philosopher? How might this worldview “answer” to more constraining worldviews found in the Travels, such as Christianity? I also did some research on medieval European gardens and orchards and their place in culture. This research, along  with a re-reading of “Sir Orfeo,” has led me to begin with my chapter on the grafted tree in “Sir Orfeo,” instead of beginning with a chapter on Mandeville’s Travels. This summer research helped me sort through my ideas and dissertation plans in what is typically an off-period (because students aren’t typically funded for summer). It was a great kick-start to my dissertation and I’m now in the process of drafting my first chapter.

Jessica Frazier
The summer funding granted to the MEMSI PhD students afforded me the opportunity to conduct
sustained archival research into the correspondence and/or dissonance between early modern
fashion and “English” identity—an inquiry central not only to my ongoing dissertation project
but also to upcoming conference presentations. I benefited from the examination of three distinct
archives: the literary texts housed at the Folger Shakespeare Library (Washington, DC); the Tudor
and Stuart portrait exhibitions at the National Portrait Gallery (London, England); and the actual
sartorial collections at the Fashion Museum (Bath, England). All of these archives respectively
and distinctly furthered and complicated my approach to the engagement between fashion thing
and fashionable subject. Through my reading of Richard Hakluyt’s The principal navigations, voyages,
traffiques and discoveries of the English nation, made by sea or over-land, to the remote and farthest distant quartersof the earth (1598-1600) at the Folger Library, I began to develop a theorization of “trauell” that will provide the framework for much of my dissertation. Days spent at the National Portrait Gallery and the Fashion Museum not only materialized the fashion accessories that I hope to follow in my dissertation (diamonds, feathers, and lovelocks) but also brought me into contact with the past in a way that stirred questions about historicity itself. Indeed, I will present a paper at the 1st Biennial Meeting of the BABEL Working Group later this fall that examines the relationship between history and objective agency within the East/West paradigm of Philip Massinger’s The Renegado. My experiences of looking and reading over the past few months have undoubtedly shaped my thinking and writing about fashion in unexpected and provocative ways. And it has underscored for me the
compelling possibilities of the kinds of interdisciplinary conversations encouraged by MEMSI—
conversations between texts, between archives, and between colleagues across specialties.

Nedda Mehdizadeh
The research grant awarded by GWMEMSI this summer gave me the opportunity to progress significantly on my dissertation project. At the beginning of the summer, I had a personal goal to research the local archives in Washington, DC and to compose a working draft of the first chapter of my project by summer’s end, leaving the month of September to revise. It is precisely because of the support given by GWMEMSI that I was able to accomplish this goal. I spent each day at the Folger Shakespeare Library, turning its wonderful work environment into my personal office and its congenial atmosphere into a space in which I could share my developing ideas with scholars from around the world. I was also able to think ahead to the Babel Working Group conference this November and the Shakespeare Association of America conference April 2011, for which the research I conducted at the Folger Shakespeare Library will be significant. I am now making the final changes to my first chapter, and looking forward to beginning my second dissertation chapter this October.

Jennifer Wood
The generous fellowship allowed me to achieve a great deal this summer – even more, perhaps, than I set out to do! Because of the funding, I was able to travel into the city, and pay parking and metro fares in order to study at the Folger Shakespeare Library, where I began to research instances where western sound travels to the east. Most exciting was my reading of a document that is not easily accessible: the travel narrative of Thomas Dallam, an organ maker in Queen Elizabeth’s service who ventured to Istanbul to craft a huge clockwork organ as a gift from Elizabeth to Mehmed III. His narrative is singular because it presents a westerner’s encounter with the east and Dallam is allowed access to certain areas of close proximity to the “Grand Signoir” because his musical abilities so charmed Mehmed. I was also able to spend time this summer performing research for my data dumps (a four week process, where I write questions I’m interested in researching and thinking through as my dissertation proceeds, then answer these questions) and taking my field exams, on which I am happy to report that I earned a “high pass.” Through my data dumps, I was able to carefully consider both terms in my title “Sounding Otherness”, and began to think more broadly about what these “othernesses” might include. In addition to the otherness of Indian sound (indicating both “Indians” in the east, as well as those in the west), I began to encounter sounds of gender/sexuality, witchcraft, death, and divinity, which, like Indian sounds, are not necessarily locatable to certain places or bodies. While I have not yet consolidated these various sounds of otherness into chapter headings, I was excited to come across these sounds of otherness, in great part because of the fellowship which allowed me to focus on my research. This summer was really the first chance I have had to focus solely on my dissertation project, which I found more exciting and intriguing as the summer (and my reading) progressed. Again, I am so grateful for this fellowship which allowed me the ability to finally pursue my dissertation research and begin an academic journey through early modern sounds of otherness.

Lowell Duckert
I spent most of my early summer drafting the first chapter of my dissertation "Water Ralegh's Hydrography of Desire" at the Folger Shakespeare Library. After finishing my draft and sending it to my committee for revision, I began researching my second chapter on early modern travel narratives related to the Northwest Passage: this involved reading historical documents, contemporary theoretical works on the post-human and the philosophy of science, and also recent studies of glaciers and icy bodies. I'm interested in early modern perspectives on living ice, icescapes, and glaciers for what they may teach us about the coconstituitiveness of humans and nonhumans in the present, a process I'm (tentatively) calling ecocompositionality: like glaciers, how do we de/recompose with the physical world, create shared narratives, and process towards new futures? I wrote nearly half of the chapter during the rest of the summer. In addition, I co-organized a panel with Alf Siewers called "Nature Post-Catastophe" for the upcoming BABEL Working Group conference in Austin, TX this November. With Professor Siewer's assistance, I wrote our panel proposal and invited four panelists from across the country to take part. Without the generous amount of summer money, I would not have been able to achieve half as much!

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