Spring 2023 Graduate Research Fellows
Avary R. Taylor
BA in Classical and Near Eastern Archaeology from Bryn Mawr College
Biography: Avary R. Taylor is a doctoral candidate in the Department of Near Eastern Studies. His work focuses on the material agency of nonhuman forces in ancient Mesopotamia. His research interests further extend to queer theory, memory studies, spatial analyses, and reception history. He conducted his dissertation research in Iraq, London, and New York City with the support of fellowships from The Academic Research Institute of Iraq (TARII), the American Society of Overseas Research, and Johns Hopkins. Avary is currently a senior field excavator at al-Hiba, Iraq, and has excavated in Oman and the United Arab Emirates.
Dissertation: Avary’s dissertation, “Biographies of Things in the Northwest Palace,” investigates the affective capabilities of art objects in the Northwest Palace of the Neo-Assyrian king Ashurnasirpal II (883–859 BCE). By troubling the ontological distinctions that separate the human and the nonhuman and recognizing that existence is highly relational and constantly in process, the dissertation argues that a commemorative monument, the Banquet Stele, produced divergent experiences of time; that a corpus of feminine-gendered ivories defied the palace’s hyper-masculine spaces; and that clothing details engraved on wall reliefs offered the potential to politically thwart the king’s ideological art program. In addition, the dissertation’s anti-ontological premises challenge Western biases inherent in much ancient Near Eastern scholarship and explicitly contribute to the current and pressing efforts to decolonize and diversify the disciplines of Archaeology and Art History.
BA in Anthropology, Williams College
MA in Cultural Studies, Sabancı University
MA in Anthropology, Johns Hopkins University
Biography: Bürge Abiral is a Ph.D. candidate in the Department of Anthropology at Johns Hopkins University. Prior to joining the 2022-23 cohort of AGHI Fellows, Bürge was a 2021-2022 Student Fellow with the Ecological Design Collective and a 2020-21 Fellow with the Center for Medical Humanities and Social Medicine at JHU. She designed and taught two undergraduate courses, “Locavores, Vegans, Freegans: Lifestyle Activism from an Anthropological Perspective” in Spring 2021 with the support of a Dean’s Teaching Fellowship, and “Ecofeminist Debates: Gender and Sexuality Beyond the Global West” in Spring 2022 as a fellow of the Program for the Study of Women, Gender, and Sexuality. In addition to several fellowships at Hopkins, her research was supported by the National Science Foundation, the Society for the Anthropology of Europe, and the Council for European Studies.
Research synopsis: My dissertation follows secular and educated middle-class urbanites who aspire to live ecological lives amidst an oppressive political milieu in a time of massive urbanization in neoliberal Turkey. In response to growing health and environmental concerns, more and more white-collar professionals in urban areas are drawn to turning to more sustainable ways of living, consuming food grown without synthetic inputs, organizing in alternative food networks, and in some cases, moving to the countryside and taking up ecological farming as a livelihood. Conceptualizing this phenomenon both as an emerging agrarian imaginary and a social movement, I examine, on the one hand, daily consumption habits as acts of self-cultivation, while, on the other, scrutinizing various forms of collective action. My research relies on 18 months of ethnographic fieldwork conducted in urban and rural settings with food activists, ecological living enthusiasts, and farmers, crosscutting a variety of spaces, including consumer and producer cooperatives, meetings of organized groups, back-to-lander farms, open-air markets, and people’s homes and kitchens. Combining participant observation, semi-structured interviews, visual ethnography of social media accounts, and discourse analysis of texts circulating in these networks, I trace ethical deliberations to understand how imaginations of the good life (the question of how to live one’s life) intersect with and at times confound people’s visions of action and social change in relation to agro-ecological futures. I analyze how ordinary people put into practice alternative food and consumption systems through constant negotiations between their aspirations and the various constraints they face—personal, interpersonal, organizational, environmental, economic, and political. As people navigate these limitations to enact alternative futures, I argue that “ecological” as a referent always remains unsettled and is constantly mediated through complex human and non-human entanglements.
B.A. in History, University of Arizona
Biography: Emily J. Clark is a PhD Candidate with the Department of the History of Medicine at Johns Hopkins University. She specializes in the study of reproduction and sexuality in the seventeenth- and eighteenth-century Atlantic World, with a particular focus on issues of gender, class, and race in early America. She holds a B.A. in History from the University of Arizona. Prior to joining the 2022-2023 cohort of AGHI fellows, Emily was a 2021-2022 Dissertation Fellow with the McNeil Center for Early American Studies, and a 2021-2022 Women’s Studies Fellow with the Institute for Citizens and Scholars. Her research has been supported with additional fellowships from the Omohundro Institute of Early American History & Culture, and the New England Regional Fellowship Consortium.
Dissertation: Titled “Perilous Intimacies: Laboring Women and Reproduction in Colonial New England,” her dissertation explores the intimate and reproductive lives of laboring women in the New England colonies, 1630-1780. These include poor white women, indentured servants, women of color, both Black and Native American, free and enslaved, who were essential to the fabric of early America but were dispossessed of social and legal authority over their bodies and their labors. Through close readings of court records, popular print, and poor relief records, she argues that the bodies and behaviors of free and unfree laboring women were the locus for significant cultural negotiation of the bounds of “proper” womanhood, sexuality, as well as developing notions of race. It is in poor, enslaved, and dispossessed women’s interactions with patriarchal authorities, as well as with other women who acted as class and racial superiors, that we see evidence of oppression and resistance as they challenged or reinforced dominant narratives.
M.A. in Italian, English, and German Language and Literature from the University of Würzburg, Germany
Biography: As a PhD Candidate in the Department of Modern Languages and Literatures, Almut has concentrated on theories of reading and writing, German modernism, German Jewish literature and culture (with a particular interest in Margarete Susman) as well as theories of authorship and aesthetics. She has taught German as a foreign language from the beginning to the advanced levels and has been a visiting scholar at the Universities of Bonn, Marburg, and Cologne. With the support of the American Friends of Marbach, she pursued archival research at the German Literature Archive (DLA) Marbach. Previously, she held a position as Visiting DAAD Language Assistant at the University of Washington and completed a two-year teacher certification for the subjects German, Italian, and English at the middle and high school levels in Germany. During her master’s program, she studied with a Bilateral Education Agreement Scholarship at the University of Padova, Italy. Her master’s thesis was devoted to the connections between encoded emotions and forms of modern subjectivity in Dante’s Vita Nova.
Dissertation: My dissertation, “Lese-Zeichen: Scenes and Signs of Obstructed Reading in Austrian German Fiction around 1900,” focuses on material and processual aspects of discontinuous reading in Arthur Schnitzler, Rainer Maria Rilke, and Stefan Zweig’s prose with particular attention to how these texts reflect on reading as an artform itself and a delicate cultural practice. Challenging the assumption that reading is a stable, noise-immune competency once we acquire literacy, the project examines literary representations of ruptured reading.
Rather than instrumentalizing reading as a goal-oriented form of decipherment (ultimately linked to an authorcentric view of literature), my study investigates reading as a process-oriented practice prone to interruptions and interference. I examine obstructions, malfunctions, and technical or physical failures that highlight different aspects of the complex process of decoding texts from two distinctive perspectives. On the one hand, my analyses of interrupted scenes of reading center on the literary representation of wavering readers who find themselves at the intersection of their actual world and the potentialities of a fictional world in the form of a text in front of them. On the other hand, I explore interruptions and obstacles caused by publication formats (such as serial installments) and artistic realizations (of book covers or bookmarks) that shape the actual readers’ perception of the text. The aesthetics of reading as a cultural practice and a craft or art are determined by both the poetic function of liminal reader figures and the haptic and visual aspects of the written text. While obstructed readings may appear as yet another phenomenon typical of modernist discontinuities, I argue that the representation of renunciative readers drives a poetics of reading that relies on bodily sensation, self-observation, materiality, creativity, and space (mental, cultural, or physical).
MA in Sociology, Johns Hopkins University
BA in Social Sciences, Vassar College
Biography: Rishi Awatramani is a PhD candidate in the Sociology Department at Johns Hopkins University. He is also a 2022-23 Russell Sage Dissertation Research Grantee. Rishi’s research and teaching are in the fields of race, labor, political economy, and social movements. His research agenda focuses on the ways in which macroscale political and economic forces shape and are shaped by social movements and social unrest, and how changes to these macro-forces condition the capacity of local actors to shape collective action in historically specific ways. Prior to attending Johns Hopkins University, Rishi worked as a labor and community organizer in California and Virginia.
Project: My dissertation examines the ways in which race and class politics are linked in a majority-Latino deindustrialized, former steel-producing neighborhood in Chicago. Furthermore, it seeks to explain how these links are shaped by pressures of urban development in the context of the contemporary neoliberal crisis. My research compares two moments across 40 years of an unfolding pattern of race-class articulation, and shows the ways in which global patterns of capitalist development in that time have fractured many of the local institutions through which working-class residents developed shared ethnic and racial political inclinations – specifically taverns, ethnic associations, church parishes, local unions, and the ward-level political machine that provided access to patronage jobs and services. These changes have brought about competition between local actors – including teachers, police, and young activists – to shape the terrain of racial politics among the neighborhood’s working-classes. By focusing specifically on how the salience of neighborhood-level civil society institutions is shaped by urban development processes and broader global forces, this dissertation seeks to identify the changing material bases for these competing actors to articulate race and class politics in two moments with contrasting economic, political, and ideological conditions.
Interdisciplinary Humanistic Studies (IHS) Students
BA, Trinity University
Political Science, Social Theory, and Black Studies
Biography: Pyar Seth is a PhD student in the Interdisciplinary Humanistic Studies Program working at the nexus of Anthropology and Political Science. Broadly, he does work on the history of Black thought, hip hop, medical humanities, policing, racial violence, and social suffering. Pyar is also a Robert Wood Johnson Health Policy Research Scholar and current research associate to both the Black Beyond Data Project and the Paul Robeson Research Center.
Project: As described by Calvin Warren (2018), there is an urgency and exhaustion in the dissemination of the phrase Black Lives Matter — a restlessness with the continued experience of anti-Black dismemberment, torture, and fatality. Within a society in which Blackness is often reduced to production (racial capitalism), there is a need to prioritize rest, namely because Black people never seem able to. From adolescence through modern adult life, Black communities exist in the purview of the state as a target of repression. And so, one portion of my research focuses on the relationship between political infrastructure and health, namely how the health and well-being of Black communities is reconfigured via institutional intervention and state violence. Another is devoted to understanding how we can humanize the medical practice for Black communities through Black Studies and a recollection of the history of Black thought.
BA, Nanjing University
Chinese Language and Literature
Biography: Shengshuang holds a bachelor’s degree in Chinese Language and Literature from Nanjing University, and she received her master’s degree in Comparative Literature from Renmin University of China. In 2019 she was accepted into the German section at the Department of Modern Languages and Literatures at Johns Hopkins University. Currently, she is studying in the Interdisciplinary Humanistic Studies Program to combine her interests in German studies and Sinology.
Project: Her research focuses on the influences of German literature and philosophy on Chinese modernity, especially on Chinese intellectual and political movements in the 20th century. Shengshuang also continues her investigations on the contemporary German writer W. G. Sebald, especially the theme of repetition in his works.
BA, Occidental College
Comparative Studies in Literature and Culture
Biography: Marshall Meyer is a PhD candidate in Interdisciplinary Humanistic Studies at Johns Hopkins University, working between the departments of Comparative Thought and Literature and Modern Languages and Literatures. He received his bachelor’s degree in Comparative Studies in Literature and Culture at Occidental College, where he wrote a thesis on the reception of Greek tragedy by key German idealist philosophers. His research interests include psychoanalysis, particularly the Ljubljana Lacanian School and transcendental materialism; German idealism, particularly Hegel; Marxist theory; twentieth-century European philosophy and theory; contemporary literature, film/television, and popular music; and current topics in aesthetic theory, such as autonomy, form, and critique.
Project; Marshall situates his work as part of an ongoing effort, inaugurated more than thirty years ago by Slavoj Žižek and members of his circle, to read the German idealist canon through the lens of Lacanian psychoanalysis (and vice versa). At the same time, he remains keenly interested in the many new practices of reading that have proliferated in the humanities in the twenty-first century, and it is the aim of his research to bring these two concerns into dialogue. How would Lacan or Hegel, with their shared emphasis on the subject’s mediation, respond to a trending practice like postcritique, with its belief in an immediate relationship between reader and text? And are the thinkers just mentioned only good for critiquing existing practices of reading, or is there sufficient material in their work to advance a positive theory of aesthetics? These are among the questions that occupy him.
BA Università Cattolica del Sacro Cuore Milan, Italy
MA New York University
Biography: Tatiana’s research has mostly focused on Italian Renaissance Literature. Specifically, before coming to Johns Hopkins, their work explored the relationship between political structures and language. Specifically, it analyzed the ways in which politics shaped the development of the Italian language in the debates taking place in Italy in the 15th and 19th centuries.
Project: Through the Interdisciplinary Humanistic Studies Program Tatiana is bridging Italian Studies with Classics. Their projects aims at exploring the Italian Renaissance via Neo-Latin literature by posing questions of gender and identity through the lens of language. They hope that by working with Transgender Studies theory they will be able to shed new light and reading of cultural production in the Italian Early Modern period.
John Lafe Shannon
BA, Sociology, Saint Xavier University
MA, Middle Eastern Studies, University of Chicago
Biography: John is a PhD student in the Interdisciplinary Humanistic Studies Program, working between Near Eastern Studies and Earth and Planetary Sciences. He holds degrees in Sociology from Saint Xavier University and Middle Eastern Studies from the University of Chicago. His research interests are the archaeology of Arabia, geoarchaeology, and the archaeology of trade and exchange.
Project: John’s research focuses on chlorite vessels that were carved by the peoples of Arabia and Iran during the Bronze and Iron Ages. Despite their ubiquity in the archaeological records of civilizations surrounding the Persian/Arabian Gulf, it remains unknown where the stone for these vessels originated. By linking chlorite vessels to geological sources, John seeks to extrapolate the trade networks within which these vessels were produced and distributed.
Rui Zhe Goh
BA in Philosophy, Yale-NUS College
Biography: Rui Zhe is a PhD candidate in Interdisciplinary Humanistic Studies, working at the intersection between philosophy of mind and perception science. He is fascinated by the temporal nature of experience, and his research explores how the human mind segments the continuous flow of perceptual input into the discrete events that we experience.
Project: In daily life, there are moments in which we seem to hear silence, such as when we listen to the quiet night, or when an exhilarating orchestral performance ends abruptly. However, these experiences of silence are puzzling because they seem to be characterized by the absence of sound—what could we possibly be hearing, if not sound? In his current project, Rui Zhe uses empirical and philosophical tools to investigate the nature of silence perception. To date, he has discovered empirical evidence showing that the auditory system segments moments of silence into discrete perceptual events. Building on these experimental findings, Rui Zhe is now exploring the possibility that experiences of silence are the result of the auditory system segmenting empty periods of time into discrete units. In the words of the playwright Tom Stoppard, silence may be “the sound of time passing”.