Mandel Faculty Grants 2023

Our Mandel Faculty Grants reflect both research and public-facing projects in the humanities and social sciences. We are pleased to support the work of the following grant winners:

Meet Our 2023 Faculty Grant Winners

Patricia Alvarez Astacio, Department of Anthropology, Public Humanities/Community Engagement


"Backside" is a feature documentary that explores the daily life and expertise of the underrecognized migrant workers behind the Kentucky Derby. Following a racing season from beginning to end, this observational film exalts immigrant labor and highlights a prevalent web of class, labor and wealth in the United States.

Developed through over two years of ethnographic research, "Backside" is anchored in the life of three backside workers: Cristóbal, a Mexican groom; Harold, one of the last African American grooms; and Bertila, who hails from Guatemala and is one of the few women grooms. Stemming from a history of slave labor, grooms were primarily African American until the '80s when the workforce shifted to Latinx migrants.

Grooms care for some of the most expensive horses in the world. While owners cover the many costs for the horses' upkeep, with trainers and jockeys who push the animals to run faster, it's the grooms who ultimately care for them. With years of experience and often deep relationships built with the animals, the grooms observe variations in their horse's state of mind and are the first to find physical injuries, while being careful to not get hurt in the process.

Grooms, in particular, are injured regularly by being bitten, kicked or stepped on by the 1,000-pound animals. While working as trainer, assistant trainer, exercise rider or jockey are the most desirable jobs, their work rests on the labor of the workers and horses; without either, there would be no Kentucky Derby. Grooming requires as much skill as these desirable jobs, yet is the most demanding and least paid position. These roles create a clear class, race and linguistic hierarchy that leaves grooms on the bottom rung of the social scale.

Along with a supporting cast of characters: hotwalkers, exercise riders, jockeys, trainers and assistant trainers, the audience is brought into the lives of those who have sustained the Kentucky Derby — the most famous horse race in the world and an emblem of the American South. By exploring the barns of the Kentucky Derby, an event representative of affluent white southern culture, "Backside" patiently reveals the intertwined nature between racialized labor, immigration and domestic animals.

Charlie Goudge, Department of Anthropology, Public Humanities/Community Engagement

"Gamble Heritage Monitoring and Resilience: Developing Simplified Multimodal Photogrammetry Monitoring Techniques as A Novel Tool for Community and Heritage Asset Resilience Building Against Climate Change"

Historical structures and archaeological sites are fragile and often unstable resources increasingly subjected to an unremitting spectrum of environmental hazards. In the wake of recent hurricanes, floods and wildfires, newly applied resilience frameworks have provided structure to studies of cultural heritage vulnerability and heritage resilience. However, recent work demonstrates that in order to develop heritage resilience, and before regular maintenance and conservation can occur (if that is indeed at all possible given funding constraints), it is increasingly vital that heritage professionals develop an augmented understanding of the effects environmental impacts and events have on archaeological resources over time.

In response, the Gamble Heritage Monitoring and Resilience Project has focused on building engaged approaches incorporating innovative and sustainable multi-temporal technologies for cultural heritage monitoring using 3D-photogrammetry operated by community collaborators to build site feature models demonstrating the contemporaneous state of the heritage structure. The definitive goal of this project is to observe heritage degradation, but also to create and sustain mutually beneficial partnerships with local community volunteers and organizations implementing supportive community-engaged inspection strategies designed to increase heritage asset resilience and aid community resilience against climate change.

Tom King, Department of English, Public Humanities/Community Engagement

"Urban Pastoral"

What of the pastoral mode can be salvaged for imagining newly creative tactics of slowed time, intensive space and degrowth/wellness economics?

In this project, I aim to transform my ongoing research and teaching on the literary and performative mode of pastoral into a community-engaged, arts-and creativity-centered practice promoting inclusion and belonging, welcoming migrant communities displaced by the climate emergency, and rebuilding relations to built and natural environments as an important strategy for mitigating climate emissions, by imagining together forms of sociality committed to degrowth. (In a degrowth or wellness economy, community value is measured, not in traditional terms of economic development, but in terms of wellness, with an emphasis on reducing consumption and waste, fostering circularity and relational goods, and promoting environmental justice.)

The project would be based in the city of Somerville, where I have lived for over 20 years and which states its commitments to community-engaged, progressive values and its status as a sanctuary city. Somerville thereby can provide a laboratory for developing tools to be offered to other communities.

I seek funding for an exploratory phase of what I hope will be a long-term process of rebuilding relational goods and ecosystems in the city of Somerville. Funding would support working with community members and organizations to imagine a structure for facilitating the creation of new, place-based knowledge through both analysis and creativity.

Amy Singer, Department of History, Faculty Research Grant

"Ottoman Diasporas in New England (ODNE)"

From the 1870s to the 1920s, millions of people worldwide moved as economic migrants and refugees from war and violence. Tens of thousands came from the Ottoman Empire and ex-Ottoman lands to "America,” with its promises of security, economic riches and religious freedom. Newcomers included Armenians, Greeks, Jews, Lebanese, Levantines, Syrians, Turks and others. Many of these former Ottoman subjects originally arrived through the port of Boston and spread out to form a diverse Ottoman diasporic population across the region.

While individual communities have been studied, little attention has been given to the connections among this immigrant demographic through their shared experiences as former Ottoman subjects now residing in the U.S. In part, this is due to the circumstances of their departures, which ranged from violent expulsion to well-organized migration. The over-arching goal of ODNE is to create connections between Ottoman studies, a vast field seemingly remote in time and space, and the students, scholars and local communities of New England.

In its first stage during the coming year, ODNE focuses on: source and scholarship discovery and cataloging; community identification, mapping and connections; student engagement through a History Lab course in which students join in building the project; and a summary workshop of research and cultural presentations by and for the scholar, student and community stakeholders in the project.