2022 Graduate Student Grants

The Mandel Center for the Humanities supports graduate student writing and research through a number of funding opportunities.

Meet the winners of the 2022-23 dissertation research grants

Medha Asthana, Department of Anthropology

"Daughter Dearest: North Indian Domesticities, Gendered Expectations, and Queer Worldmaking"

headshot of medha asthamaMy doctoral research explores queer North Indian women's relationships with natal (biological) kin, especially mothers, in and beyond the domestic space. I ask how and why middle- and upper-class families and mothers in Delhi and Uttar Pradesh shape the gender, sexuality and personhood of LGBTQI+ daughters.

Through methods of ethnographic fieldwork (participant observation and interviews), I will seek to answer how queer North Indian women and those socialized as women negotiate their nonnormative identities in daily interactions with natal kin while situated within gendered, sexualized, and cultural norms that expect compulsory heterosexuality, marriage, and reproduction. Through preliminary interviews, I have found that the same systems that daughters may see as controlling or oppressive may be, in mothers' eyes, systems of generational care to ensure stability and a respectable future.

For this reason, I also seek to interview mothers about how they relate to their daughters to gain a holistic view of natal kin relations. By including mothers as interlocuters and centering intimate intra-family dynamics, I aim to push queer studies beyond a limited scope of only studying queer individuals who are necessarily estranged from or misunderstood by their natal kin.

Rima Farah, Department of History

"The Predicament of the National Identity of Christians in Israel: 1980-2014"

headshot of Rima FarahThis research delves into manifestations of national identity among Arabic-speaking Christians between 1980-2014 in Israel. Christians live in an Arab society with a Muslim majority and in a Jewish state.

This study explores the national identity crisis of Christian citizens, due to the absence of Israeli nationalism, marked by the Jewish national and religious identity of the state, and the Islamicization of Arab society in Israel and the region in the last four decades. I discuss the development of the various identities that Christians have adopted to accommodate their social and political activism within the dominant Islamic and Jewish national structures in Israel.

Sarah Beth Gable, Department of History

"Policing the Revolution: Massachusetts Communities and the Committees of Correspondence, Inspection, and Safety, 1773-83"

headshot of Sarah Beth GableMy dissertation explores the Revolutionary process in rural Massachusetts as directed by the Committees of Correspondence, Inspection, and Safety. Their repressive control of communities resulted in a form of forced consensus that was critical to the Revolution’s success.

I argue that these Committees acted as the main drivers of the Revolutionary cause. They applied an increasingly vague definition of loyalty to manufacture community consent through fear and intimidation. Deputized to seek out loyalists under the auspices of maintaining community security, these committees asserted almost universal control over rural towns and counties. They set the terms for community membership, appropriate political discourse, and allegiance to the Patriot cause. While some members of these committees were intimately involved with both stable and emerging power structures in Massachusetts, such as the Town Meeting and the Provincial Congress (later General Court), their authority as members of these Committees superseded those power structures.

The Committees of Correspondence, Inspection and Safety served as both a de facto police force and a judicial body, exercising power to detain, confiscate, and punish community members deemed a threat to the Revolution. They did so with very little direct instruction from the central legislative bodies in Massachusetts. Their methods involved "trials" held in taverns, improvised confinement spaces, property seizure, intimidation, and surveillance. These committees leveraged networks of gossip, community discord, and fear to consolidate community allegiance. By effectively criminalizing dissent, the Committees ensured community compliance.

Rachel Guaderrama, Department of Sociology

"At the Borders of Love and Labor: Burmese Women and Cross-Border Marriages in Rural China"

headshot of Rachel GuaderramaMy research explores cross-border marriages between Burmese women and Chinese men in rural regions of China through the lens of Robinson's racial capitalism and Marxist-feminist theories of social reproduction. Marriage markets and bride-buying have been prevalent in China for over a thousand years and continue to persist today, but under different circumstances.

Since the implementation of the One Child Policy in 1980, China has experienced an increased shortage of women that has led to a bride drain and marriage squeeze in several underdeveloped regions. Rural men have been most affected as they struggle to find and to afford paying a bride price for potential wives. As a result, more and more women from bordering countries have become both attractive and affordable partners for these single men and their families. In particular, women from Myanmar are considered the "cheapest bride" due to their darker skin tone and low socio-economic status.

The aim of this project is to explore the relationship between race, gender, and class in cross-border marriages and how this affects division of labor according to sex. To begin answering these questions, I will be conducting ethnographic fieldwork including participant observations and semi-structured interviews with individuals and ethnic women organizations at the Myanmar-China border and the Myanmar-Thailand border.

Sophie Katz, Department of Anthropology

"Death Work: Nursing Perspectives on the Challenge of Dying"

headshot of Sophie KatzThis research will explore the perspectives of nurses and other non-physician health care workers regarding death and dying in the United States. It will primarily focus on the complicated dying process in the hospital and how end-of-life care conversations transpire, but it will also consider emerging options for death and postmortem care outside of the institutional setting.

Nurses can provide particular insight into the realities of dying in the hospital, as they are present for conversations with patients, families and doctors, both together and separately. Nurses are crucial both in communicating patient wishes to doctors and in ensuring that patients fully understand their conditions. This ethnographic work will primarily take place in the Southeastern United States and will be supplemented by the researcher's work with religious older adults in the same region and training as both an RN and death doula.

Nayoung Kim, Department of English

"A Sensory Map of Transpacific Ecologies: Contemporary Literary Visions"

headshot of Nayoung KimMy dissertation project is a public-facing book review and essay blog on contemporary Anglophone novels on and from the places surrounding the Pacific Ocean. This project is dedicated to the following, interrelated issues: environmentalism, literary visions across the Pacific, and the expansion of readership in North America and East and Southeast Asia.

Environmental degradations are global. At the same time, they are corporeal and intimate, affecting individual bodies of humans, non-humans and things. How do the subtle and seemingly trivial sensorial engagements with the physical world speak to the larger realities of migration and the repercussions of colonialism and global capitalism and vice versa?

This project explores how transpacific literature offers distinctive insights on this multi-scale question. I hope this blog space will generate conversation among readers on both sides of the Pacific on the transpacific environmental visions whose relevance to contemporary reality is ever high.

Joey Low, Department of History

"The Local Political Economy of Social Control in the Early Modern China-Vietnam Borderlands"

headshot of Joey LowThis dissertation examines transregional society in the early modern China-Vietnam borderlands. It questions how the local political economy of social control changed among inhabitants during periods of state intervention and multi-state civil war between the 16th and 18th centuries.

Previous interpretations of borderland politics and society in this area remain static or state-centered. This study will improve upon the scholarship by analyzing how local autonomies and state activism or retreat meshed with the development of local social control in a periphery of competing warlord states. The source base for this topic is quite rich, despite paltry unedited archives, allowing me to incorporate Chinese, Vietnamese, European and indigenous voices.

Finally, this project will assess the place of the experience of the China-Vietnam borderland peoples in the Great Divergence debate, with careful attention to how underdevelopment and local politics are intertwined.

Alaa Murad, Department of History

"Telling Tales: Rewriting the Islamic Past Through Popular History"

headshot of Houman OliaeiIn 1890s Ottoman Syria and Egypt, at the height of the cultural movement referred to as the Arab Awakening (nahda), the historical fiction of Jurji Zaydan ignited a series of public debates around the writing of Islamic history in the form of a popular novel.

Zaydan, a Syrian émigré in Cairo from an Orthodox Christian background, had made a name for himself as a writer, historian and a prominent man of letters. The increasing popularity of his Islamic novels in Arabic and their widely read translations were disruptive not least because of his own confessional background. Often dismissed today in favor of the "high" literature attributed to the nahda, these novels were extremely influential and accessible works that challenged the place of Islamic history in scholarship, the authority of religious scholars and leaders, and the conventions around the study, interpretation and writing of the past.

Zaydan's historical novels provided a didactic space through which he was able to negotiate new social and political boundaries for non-Muslims within a Muslim-majority polity and against the backdrop of European cultural and political hegemony. Zaydan's reinvention of the Islamic past in his novels shaped the historical consciousness of his generation and the public discourse around the making of history and, by extension, the making of a modern nation.

My dissertation is a study of Jurji Zaydan's historical novels and the ways in which their production of the Islamic past promoted new frameworks for non-sectarian social and political change in 19th-century Egypt, Ottoman Syria and beyond.

Gowthaman Ranganathan, Department of Anthropology

"Tamil Queerness in Jaffna"

headshot of Gowthaman RanganathanMy research studies experiences of Tamil queerness in Jaffna, Sri Lanka, where Tamil identity is deep-rooted and queer politics are emergent. I am interested in the convergence of queer social movements in Chennai, in Southern India, and Jaffna, two Tamil cities, which creates a transnational solidarity in South Asia.

The queer ways of being Tamil (Queer Tamilness) and the Tamil ways of being queer (Tamil Queerness) are the focus of my project. Some of the questions my research asks include: How is Tamil Queerness experienced in Jaffna? What is gained and lost in the transnational solidarity and movement of ideas between Chennai and Jaffna? How is Tamil Queerness experienced affectively along with its inflections of caste, gender, region, class and religion?

Susann Vaeth, Department of History

"Liberated Schools and Occupied Europe: Teaching the War in Primary and Secondary Schools in Northern and Western Europe, 1945-2000"

Susann VaethMy dissertation project asks how and why World War II and Holocaust lessons for primary and secondary schools have changed from 1945 until 2000 in the previously occupied countries of Denmark, France and Norway.

To answer this question, I am looking at how the war has been remembered and discussed through newspapers and educational materials, and what questions and policies governmental leaders have posed and demanded from history education. This is important because history education has served (and still does) as a place of propagating national myths, but also reinventing and reassessing identities and educational philosophies. The dynamic field of education captures the political sphere in a way that turns students and events into matters of national security and investment in the future.

Hui Wen, Department of Anthropology

"Supplements of Care: Fashioning Self-Eldercare in a Care Vacuum Amid Historical Discontinuity"

Hui WenThis dissertation explores how urban seniors in China actively participate in the supplements market as a form of self-care during a historical juncture when traditional family support systems are receding and once-promised state subsidies are limited. Behind this care vacuum is a confluence of several factors including the One Child Policy (1980-2015), urbanization and rural-to-urban migration, and the looming pension crisis at the state level.

As a result, the local supplements market has stepped in and gained huge success over the past fifteen years. Maintaining frugality shaped in a socialist economy as a valuable trait, many senior urbanites in China make an exception for lavish health products. Meanwhile, the elders are not afraid to reveal their emotional dependency and vulnerability in relation to supplements and their salespeople. They crave love and care from others, even though this desire may sometimes drag them into a hoax or scam.

Based in an ethnographic methodology involving participant observation, semi-structured interviews and archival research in several cities in China, this project explores the mentality of growing old, forms of self-care and the human drive to create meaningful lives in an unfamiliar world.