Eight Students Awarded the 2016 Dissertation Year Fellowship
Thursday, April 14
The Graduate School of Arts and Sciences has selected the 2016 Dissertation Year Fellows. Eight students in English, History, Music Composition, Near Eastern and Judaic Studies, Politics and Sociology will receive the grant. The award provides a $36,000 stipend, a $2,000 research grant and a full credit toward the Brandeis Health Insurance option for students writing dissertations in the humanities or humanistic social sciences.
The Dissertation Year Fellowship is sponsored by the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation, whose mission is to "strengthen, promote, and, where necessary, defend the contributions of the humanities and the arts to human flourishing and to the well-being of diverse and democratic societies." They support "exemplary institutions of higher education and culture as they renew and provide access to an invaluable heritage of ambitious, path-breaking work."
"The Mellon Foundation’s generosity has supported some of Brandeis’ most talented and ambitious PhD candidates," says Eric Chasalow, Dean of the Graduate School of Arts and Sciences. "We are sincerely grateful for the Foundation's support over the past six years. This initiative has proven to be essential, changing the way we mentor graduate students at Brandeis and I am glad that it will provide another cohort of students the security they need to complete their degrees on time and to do their very best work."
Read more about the 2016 Dissertation Year Fellows below:
Event Horizons: Genre and Form in Contemporary Historical Fiction and Documentary Film
Recent novels about Hurricane Katrina, the Rosenberg trial, the Weather Underground, and Charles Lindbergh’s transatlantic flight show how certain events in American history continue to exhibit a “gravity” that deforms narratives of national identity in the historical novel. Reading these novels against documentary film, a medium equally invested in the concept of decisive events, this project shows how the “gravitational pull” of such events is not limited to print or fiction, but spreads across a diverse media environment. And engaging with a rationalist philosophy that has sought to escape the distorting effects of these kinds of historical singularities, I expose some functional similarities between literary form and mathematical formalization as tropes that help us conceptualize how the event’s “gravity” shapes our knowledge of the past.
Clair DahmCommunity Corrections: Prisoner Reentry and Nonprofit Governance in St. Louis, 1929-1975
My dissertation examines the postwar resurgence and 1970’s decline of the rehabilitative ideal in the United States. In so doing, it addresses three key questions. First, why, after decades of tepid commitment to Progressive Era notions of reform and rehabilitation, was there a sudden surge in support for community treatment in the wake of WWII? Second, why, at the height of community-treatment implementation and investment in the 1970s, was its underlying principle—the rehabilitative ideal—politically and popularly abandoned? Third, how did these dramatic swings in policy and investment influence the on-the-ground experience of reentry? To answer these questions, my dissertation focuses on the central role non-governmental organizations played in the development and execution of rehabilitative programs, and their dynamic interaction with federal, state, and local officials and policies. I argue that, in Missouri, non-governmental reformers were the driving force behind the resurgence of rehabilitative policies in the 1950s and 1960s, but that the very nature of their reforms, and their reliance on external funding, ultimately limited the efficacy and longevity of their efforts. By tracing the lived impact of these shifts in rehabilitative policy at the local level in St. Louis, this project analyzes the impact of race, inequality, and states’ circumscription of felons’ rights, on an ex-offenders’ ability to successfully reintegrate into society.
Identity, Class and City Structure: A Study of Public Spaces in Tehran
My dissertation is a sociological analysis of how public spaces are used and understood by citizens of Tehran, the capital city of Iran. Through a detailed study of social relations in a number of public spaces, this project discusses how geographical conditions of cities shape social and cultural understandings of class, social and economic status, and socio-cultural coexistence and conflict. Tehran’s socio-spatial structure, in which location has long corresponded to economic wealth and social status, provides an interesting case to explore a number of interrelated questions. I study the ways in which people in Tehran use and understand city-level public spaces, how often they cross the invisible boundaries of class in their use of urban spaces, and how the emergence of new public spaces and new means of transportation, which allow greater access to more parts of the city, change social uses of public spaces. I discuss how these developments transform the ways in which social groups interact and imagine themselves and each other. My interest is particularly in city-level public spaces –i.e. those spaces that function beyond neighborhoods and draw people from outside the immediate community– and how they mediate social relations and group interactions. Through exploring the lived experiences of citizens in large-scale urban public spaces and using a mixed methods approach – including onsite observations, qualitative survey data, interviews, and textual analysis– my dissertation seeks to understand social relations as they relate to both the realities of urban life and perceived understandings of socioeconomic class and social change in the context of urban public spaces.
Hebrew Scholarship on Islam: 1884-1950
Since the creation of the State of Israel in 1948, the Jewish State, for reasons that range from security needs to cultural interest, has produced masses of scholarship on Islam and Arabs more generally. Yet, the question of Hebrew literature on Islam, by learned Jews in Ottoman through mandatory Palestine, has received surprisingly little attention. My dissertation investigates Hebrew scholarship on Islam produced in late Ottoman through mandatory Palestine, and into the early years of the State of Israel, based on a close reading and comprehensive analysis of scholarly works published between 1880s and 1950s. An analysis of these works illustrates how the processes of the construction of Jewish national culture, the settlement in Palestine, the Jewish encounter with the Orient and its indigenous population, and political developments are reflected in Hebrew writings on Arabo-Islamic civilization.
Understanding the Mighty Empire: China Studies and the Construction of Liberal Consensus, 1928-1980
My dissertation, titled Understanding the Mighty Empire: Chinese Area Studies and the Construction of Liberal Consensus, examines the fate of liberalism in mid-20th century American thought through the lens of academic China scholarship. Over the course of the 20th century, liberalism underwent constant transformation as it endured infighting over core values, threats from anticommunist conservatives, and economic crisis. As a recently constructed discipline on the periphery of the liberal establishment, China scholarship served as a canary in the coalmine for these challenges. Periodic attacks on China experts were microcosms of more general disagreements between liberals over how the US should conduct its foreign relations, respond to popular opinion, and balance its high ideals with pragmatic responses to conflict at home and abroad. Liberal China experts weathered these challenges through their adaptability, capacity for forging broad coalitions, and articulation of a vision that promoted domestic growth while expanding American influence in Asia.
Intimate Scripts in the Early 20th-Century Black Transnational Romance Novel
I argue that black novelists turned to the romance as a literary form that allowed them to anticipate futures in which global expressions of black culture are seen as constitutive of early 20th-century modernity. Marked by desires for thriving black community despite extensive and prominent racist ideas that render black communities particularly vulnerable, these novels confront the challenge of representing unthinkable futurity in the present. They do this by staging successful and failed intimate encounters between characters and thus illuminate the genre’s prominent tension between reproducing and overcoming the past. As characters’ interactions reinforce and disrupt familiar social scripts of racial difference, the novels offer critiques of notions of liberal personhood that exclude diasporic subjects and serve as impasses to realizing radical and utopic futures.
Theory: Cast a Butterfly in Iron: Harmonic Sorcery and the Failed Transcendence of Scriabin’s “Netherstar” Sonata
Composition: "Down the Deep Stair" for soprano and string quartet
My dissertation calls for a reconsideration of the development of Russian composer Alexander Scriabin (1872-1915). Deploying techniques from Schenkerian analysis, theories of Russian octatonicism, and theoretical tools from philosophy and literary criticism, I argue that Scriabin’s 6th Piano Sonata, the only work he superstitiously refused to perform in public, resulted from profound tensions between his spiritual-Symbolist ideals and his compositional technique, and that it profoundly changed the course of his work to follow.
My creative work Down the Deep Stair will set a text freely developed from late fragments of Samuel Beckett. Its aesthetic will combine several recent trends in my music toward the importance of physical theatre and stage lighting, economy of material, and density of timbre inspired by both extreme metal and Korean traditional music.
My dissertation is about medicalization, the process by which moral or social problems get redefined as medical problems. ADHD diagnoses, for example, are instances of medicalization. I believe this process raises political questions which can only be answered by citizens exchanging ethical claims about objective values. Yet much of the social science literature on medicalization leads us to confuse it with a process which can resolve political questions by removing them from the realm of ethical discourse between citizens and relegating them to realms of expert discourse on the one hand, or private expression on the other. The consequences of this confusion for political practice are serious, because medicalization has such far-reaching implications, and because the process is so rapidly expanding. But medicalization properly understood is also an opportunity to strengthen political practice. The dissertation aims to help recover this potential by defending the thesis that what is at stake in medicalization is not just the distribution of resources or the configuration of authority, but the showing of respect for fellow citizens as fallible sources of ethical claims about what is objectively good and bad for us.