2019-2020 AGHI Fellows
BA in Comparative Literature, Yale University
Victoria Fanti is a PhD candidate in the Department of German and Romance Languages and Literature. Prior to her PhD, she obtained her BA in Comparative Literature at Yale University.
My dissertation investigates what I call the ‘new killer queens’ of Italian Renaissance tragedy; that is, murderous noblewomen who enlarge the roster of homicidal women found in the classical genre. Such characters experience a remarkable (and as-yet undocumented) proliferation across 15th- and 16th-century Italian tragedy, which inaugurated the broader European movement after the medieval lacuna. They also provide the earliest Renaissance incarnations – to date almost entirely neglected – of a character that has garnered significant attention in other tragic traditions. I demonstrate how the new killer queen in Italian Renaissance tragedy expresses genealogical anxieties bound to the peninsula’s fragmented political landscape. Inverting the literary-political symbolism of Lucretia’s chaste suicide, they exemplify the threat posed by women – politically essential to forge alliances and birth heirs – who might sully the purity of dynastic lines by staining, or ‘polluting,’ their own chastity, thereby condemning their progeny and begetting political chaos. My work remains in constant dialogue with other disciplines, including gender studies, classics, reception studies, history, and anthropology.
MA in English Literature, Johns Hopkins University
Joel Childers is a PhD candidate in the Department of English. Before arriving at Hopkins, he completed his MA in English Literature at Claremont Graduate University and his BA in English Literature at the University of Arizona.
Joel’s dissertation, entitled “Ideas of Poetry: The History of Aesthetics in a Global Age, 1760-1830,” considers how studies of the origins and significance of poetry as an immanently natural discourse enabled new forms of human scientific knowledge, including “sociology,” “anthropology,” and “ethnography.” Such forms of knowledge, organized under the conceptual aegis of “philosophical history,” were oriented toward understanding and explaining the fact of human social and racial difference. Yet rather than take poetry as one object of study among others, “Ideas of Poetry” argues that these branches of an incipient “human science”—or what today we would call the “humanities”— found in poetry a privileged means of achieving historical, philosophical, and political knowledge.
MA in Art History, Tufts University
Orsolya Mednyanszky is a PhD candidate in the Department of History of Art. Before arriving at Johns Hopkins, she completed an MA in Art History at Tufts University and a BA in Art History at Eötvös Loránd University.
My dissertation examines a group of late medieval manuscripts, featuring a programmatic meditative text along Christological image cycles. These codices, titled Leben Jesu, provide us with the unique opportunity to examine the mechanism of meditation and the role of devotional images in it, thus to revisit our fundamental notions of devotional art. Copied and used in reformed convents in the region stretching from the Moselle valley to Swabia between 1440 and 1506, the Leben Jesu manuscripts were a core piece of fifteenth-century observance, advancing a form of pious meditation aimed at the moral reform of homo interior by imitating Christ as an exemplar of virtues. The moral-ethical meditational program of this text, a technique that had its roots in ancient Stoic praxis, also offer a new paradigm to understand late medieval art in face of previous scholarship’s dominant narrative, the mystical-anagogical Passion devotion. When examined against late medieval anthropological theories (i.e., notions of memory and imagination), the Leben Jesu’s text and images reveal the sophisticated mechanism underwent in this meditation. These manuscripts show us how the late medieval viewer-reader employed an image cycle of Jesus’s life and Passion to manipulate her emotions and visualization in an ethical devotional regimen.
MA in History, The Johns Hopkins University
Morgan Shahan is a doctoral candidate in the Department of History. Before arriving at Johns Hopkins, she completed a BA in History at the University of California, Berkeley. Her current research focuses on the intersection of understandings of risk and rehabilitation with carceral practice in the United States. An article based on this research is forthcoming in the Journal of the Gilded Age and Progressive Era. Morgan has taught on the history of incarceration in the United States and is the recipient of the History Department’s inaugural Toby Ditz Prize for outstanding teaching by a graduate student instructor for her course “Caged America: Policing, Confinement, and Criminality in the ‘Land of the Free.’”
My dissertation, “Freedom Under Contract: Parole, Risk, and the Making of the Carceral State, 1895-1939,” uses Illinois as a case study to explore the extension of carceral power into free society with the passage of parole and indeterminate sentencing laws. From its beginnings, the diffuse and immediately controversial institution of parole forced prison officials, social reformers, and former prisoners to fight for their interests both within the criminal justice system and outside of official political channels. In the Progressive Era, the state relied on private individuals, businesses, and voluntary organizations to conduct much of the actual work involved in maintaining a supervisory network in cities and towns across Illinois. The parole board determined release dates for prisoners based largely on its members’ ‘hunches’—often swayed by classist and racist assumptions or an inmate’s political connections. But as the twentieth century progressed, a new actuarial prediction process allowed the board to justify its decisions scientifically. For all of the justice system’s effort to pivot toward reliance on empirical evidence, however, the parole system still hinged on older assumptions about who was worthy and who was not. To tell this story, the project uses a synthetic approach that integrates labor history, urban history, and the history of state and local politics to demonstrate how actuarial calculations of risk got wedded to notions of race, class, and the provision of social services. My work advances our understanding of how inequality in the American criminal justice system is rooted not only in older exploitative practices stemming from slavery and the workhouse, but also in the ways in which racism, classism, and sexism were bound up with prison reform and scientific management. As I pursue this argument, I engage with the relationships between mercy and politics, moralistic judgment and scientific expertise, and reform ideals and penal practice.
BA in the History, University of Texas-Austin
Jishnu Guha-Majumdar is a PhD candidate in the Department of Political Science at Johns Hopkins University. Jishnu previously completed his BA at the University of Texas-Austin.
My dissertation, American Captivity: Carceral Humanism and Inter-species Politics, examines the political import of connections between systems of captivity for humans and for other animals in the United States. It re-describes American civil society in terms of “carceral humanism,” a regime of power and person-hood in which systems of inter-species captivity and ideals of humanity co-produce each other. American democracy will continue to reproduce systems of captivity should this underlying carceral humanism remain unaddressed. Attention to the interplay between captive “sub-humans” and non-humans advances debates over the limits of human rights for democratic and liberatory politics by exploring inter-species rather than humanist models of emancipation.