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2017 - 2018 dissertation fellows

debra burgess, history D. Burgess headshot

Project Title: Closer Connections: The Response of Immigrant Communities and their Members to Progressive Child-Saving Reforms, 1880-1930

My research focuses on the outreach of ethnic immigrant lay religious communities and their members to abandoned and orphaned children in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries in the U.S. At its core, my project will be grounded in US social history in conversation with political, religious, and immigration scholarship. My research examines the efforts of religiously-centered communities in three Midwestern cities to respond to the needs of their co-religionists in the areas of child welfare and child abandonment. My project examines the factors that influenced those who followed a path other than the orphan trains, the loose coalition of the Protestant-leaning child-saving efforts of the Progressive Era. From the mid-nineteenth century to the onset of the Great Depression, thousands of orphans and abandoned children were relocated in passenger rail cars (hence, “orphan trains”) from New York City and other east coast port cities to farms of the Midwest and Great Plains. These children were given room and board in a family setting and but were infrequently adopted into their “foster” families. Finally, my research assesses the response from the perspective of those who undertook volunteer eleemosynary roles with the institutions that provided for the day-to-day welfare, educational, and vocational training needs of these children.




kalasia daniels, sociology Kalasia Daniels headshot

Project Title: New Economy, Old Inequalities: Understanding Racial and Gender Groups’ Transition from School to Work

For the past 40 years, the United States (U.S.) economy has changed drastically. Starting in the 1970s, we have witnessed a sizeable manufacturing sector filled with secure paying jobs that required minimal amounts of education nearly vanish from the U.S. labor market. These once coveted manufacturing jobs have been replaced with insecure, low paying service sector jobs that offer minimal benefit to workers. In addition, we have also seen a boom dating back to the 1980s in information, technology, and computer science jobs that require higher levels of educational attainment for higher earnings. Surprisingly, this changing landscape of a largely service-oriented U.S. labor market has not deterred the youngest cohort of job seekers, millennials, from attaining higher levels of education. In comparison to older cohorts, millennials aged 25-34, have the highest level of post-secondary education, yet start off with lower earnings and experience smaller earnings growth over time. This presents a complex problem between the benefits of education and an unprecedented slow paced economy for millennials. My research will explore the educational, occupational and overall status attainment for millennials as they face the new economy. I hope to offer new ways to approach millennials’ education and earnings puzzle.




daniel paul, english & comparative literature daniel paul, english and comparative literature (headshot)

Project Title: The Rematerializer on Deck 13 is Broken Again

A postmodern science-fiction novel that combines tropes from the serial space adventure genre and those from the tradition of the workplace novel. The novel follows the exploits of the Starship “Excel”, specifically its below-deck office staff tasked with documenting the ship’s explorations. Instigating both formal and plotted collisions between the office and sci-fi worlds, the novel seeks to undermine the naturalism that we ascribe to office culture. Told with formal and tonal playfulness, the novel explores and deconstructs the boundaries between “big” and “small” narrative events, as well as between the present and future, asking “what do our visions of the future tell us about the present?”




katherine paul, german studies katherine paul, german studies

Project Title: Robert Wilson’s Faust I+II and the Berlin Theatre Scene Today

As one of the cultural capitals of Europe, the Berlin theatre scene has set a precedent for the standard, quality and impact of theatrical productions in the twentieth century. From Brecht’s early twentieth century theatre house producing some of the most poignant and important pieces, responsible for shaping theatre thereafter, to the latest post-modern, post-theatre, post-dramatic productions, Berlin remains a major source of innovative theatre. The current status of Berlin’s theatre world is a shifting one. Changes in the administrative bodies which governs it and the development of theatrical production styles which challenge our definition of theatre have been. This project focuses on Robert Wilson’s 2015 production Faust I+II as its centerpiece, based on Johann Wolfgang von Goethe’s Faust I and Faust II, and I use this production as the basis for my analysis of the current state of theatre in Berlin. I will investigate the impact of Wilson’s Postdramatic productions and their aesthetic appeal, which is in contrast to the emerging documentary style of theatre groups like Rimini Protokoll, who focus on the facts of scenarios instead of relying on a script. Important aspects of my analysis include a closer look at the tradition of theatre in Berlin, a discussion of Robert Wilson’s theatre, specifically his use of world literature, and an analysis of the historical background, emergence and importance of documentary theatre in Berlin.




abigail richard, mathematical sciences abigail richard, mathematical sciences (headshot)

Project Title: Approximations of Quasihyperbolic Distance

The aim of this project is to understand quasihyperbolic geometry. Quasihyperbolic geometry has been studied extensively since it was first introduced and has proven useful in a wide range of areas such as quasiconformal mappings, complex analysis, function theory, geometric topology, partial differential equations, group theory, and dynamics. However, quasihyperbolic distance can be challenging to compute in general spaces. Consequently, it is worthwhile to have a mechanism that allows us to approximate quasihyperbolic distance in general spaces via quasihyperbolic distance in “simpler” spaces. I, along with my advisor, do this for proper domains in Euclidean space via spaces that have only finitely many boundary points. In addition to constructing such an approximation for quasihyperbolic distance, we also prove approximations for two other non-Euclidean distances: the Ferrand distances and the KulkarniPinkall-Thurston distances. Further, we establish an analogous result in more general non-Euclidean spaces. In the process of completing this investigation, we were led to study quasihyperbolic isometries (i.e., maps which preserve quasihyperbolic distance). We characterize quasihyperbolic isometries for Euclidean space of dimension three and higher. We seek to extend these results to two-dimensional Euclidean space and also plan to study patterns in the location of maximal points of metric ratios.




Guilherme Sanches de Oliveira headshotguilherme sanches de oliveira, philosophy

Project Title: Scientific Modeling without Representationalism

Much of scientific knowledge comes from indirect forms of investigation. Rather than directly intervening upon the various phenomena they are interested in, scientists very often build and manipulate models such as mathematical equations, robotic agents, and computer simulations. But how is it possible to gain knowledge of some phenomenon by experimenting with a model? How can we, for example, learn about climate change by running a computer simulation, or learn about animal biology and behavior through building robots? The customary philosophical approach to scientific modeling is to assume that models are epistemically useful because they represent the target phenomena. My dissertation draws from embodied cognitive science and ecological psychology to provide an alternative account. Instead of relying on representationalist assumptions, I explain the epistemic worth of model-based science in terms of the action possibilities (“affordances”) of models. This framework dissolves the abstract philosophical problem of representation, replacing it with the empirical question of how humans utilize spatiotemporally-extended cognitive resources to solve problems.




beau sauley, economics 

Beau Sauley headshot

Project Title: Incorporating Spatial Heterogeneity into Regression Discontinuity

This research will incorporate spatial dependence with regression discontinuity, a heavily utilized econometric tool. Spatial dependence is the idea that the actions of one entity effect the actions of the other entities nearby. Regression discontinuity attempts to find a causal relationship in data by only keeping data near a cutoff point and assuming individuals near the cutoff were randomly given a treatment. Due to the structure of the weight matrix when estimating a spatially dependent regression, the combination of the two popular techniques has not been done before.




kristina teater, political science (headshot)

kristina m. teater, political science 

Project Title: Transnational Advocacy Networks as a Response to Religious Restrictions: A Comparative Study of the Christian Minorities in India and Malaysia

Religious minorities in different regions of the world face governmental restrictions on religious practice and belief. Despite constitutional guarantees, these minority groups face restrictions such as anti-conversion laws, limits to proselytization, and regulations on places of worship. In response, religious minorities turn to transnational advocacy networks. Similar to social movements, these networks emerge out of their commitment to norms, common ideas, and shared values. Bolstered by new technologies, they ‘frame’ debates, leverage states, and utilize non-state actors to bring about change. While transnational advocacy networks advocate for religious minorities in many regions, insufficient analysis has been conducted on how religious minorities access their services, especially in different contexts. In my dissertation, I conduct a comparative analysis of Christian minorities in India and Malaysia. Using multiple methods including interviews and original survey research, I explore how these groups use transnational advocacy networks in response to restrictions and what factors influence their use. I focus my research between 2000-2017 and analyze three distinct Christian NGOs and their use of transnational advocacy networks in cases and events related to the protection of majority sensibilities, limits to proselytization, and anti-conversion laws.




crystal whetstone, political science

Crystal Whetstone

Project Title: Advancing Women’s Political Participation in Wartime Environments through Political Motherhood: A Comparative Study of Women’s Maternal Peace Activism in Argentina and Sri Lanka

Armed conflicts can have contradictory effects on women. While devastating, wars can also open spaces for transformations in gender dynamics. Most analyses that examine changes sparked by war focus on women’s involvement in fighting, women’s entrance into the workforce and women’s peace activism. Instead, I explore how opportunities to advance women’s rights in warzones are tied to the political organizing of activists mobilized by their identities as mothers, through a concept called political motherhood. During the Argentinian Dirty War (1976-1983) and Sri Lankan Civil War (1983-2009), activists with the Madres of the Plaza de Mayo and the Mothers’ Front, respectively, organized for peace and protested the state’s human rights abuses. While the Madres of the Plaza de Mayo’s use of political motherhood proved successful in increasing women’s long-term political participation, it failed in the case of the Mothers’ Front. Through a comparative case study of these two groups, this dissertation investigates the conditions under which political motherhood can successfully increase women’s long-term involvement in the political sphere, which I define as a maternal groups’ ability to last beyond a 10-year period and increase impact in areas such as women in government and women in civil society.



past dissertation fellows

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