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2014-2015 Dissertation Fellows

Francis Cartieri, Philosophy

Project Title: Is Evolutionary Biology Possible? Overcoming the Limits of Integration

Evolutionary biologists are increasingly embracing the notion of “integration” as a novel strategy for tackling the most ambitious and socially critical issues in the life sciences of the 21st century (e.g. biodiversity loss, food stability, synthetic biology, etc.).  However, biologists have tended to systematically underestimate the extent and depth of empirical and conceptual conflicts between the diverse approaches relevant to those problems that are most in need of integrated, cross-disciplinary treatment. Worse, the most prevalent models of integrative research in biology reflect this systematic under-estimation. To remedy these issues, I provide an account of the limits that typify integrative approaches to evolutionary biology’s more complex, pragmatically weighty problems, and then develop a new model of integration (“Frontier Integration”) that is designed to overcome these limits.

Brittany Cowgill, History

Project Title: Rest Uneasy: Monitoring Sudden Infant Death Syndrome in Twentieth-Century America

Rest Uneasy takes Sudden Infant Death Syndrome (SIDS) as its subject of historical analysis. Tracing the diagnosis from its mid-century origins through the late-1900s, it investigates the processes by which SIDS became both a discrete medical enigma and a source of social anxiety in the U.S. This project explores parents’ and professionals’ contributions and reactions to shifting conceptions of unexplained infant mortality and analyzes their various, often conflicting, strategies to manage and prevent inexplicable infant deaths. It shows how contemporary ideologies about medicine, infant care, technology, and family shaped Americans’ attempts to identify, explain, and eradicate SIDS and reveals that the monitoring of babies, broadly conceived, was central to these developments

David Gomez-Cambrone, Romance Languages & Literatures

Project Title: In Search of Elysium: Spanish poetry of difference at the turn of the 21st century

At the tum of the 21st century, Spain's poetic literary field was embroiled in a cultural conflict between the centralized and hegemonic poets of experience and the marginalized and counterhegemonic poets of difference. As the immense influence of the poets of experience began to wane in the 1990s, the poets of difference emerged, seeking an innovative esthetic and a prized place in the legacy of contemporary Spanish poetry. By employing the theoretical frameworks of Pierre Bourdieu and Itamar Even-Zohar, this project endeavors to expose the social workings and mechanisms of the era in order prove the true literary value of the heterodox poets of difference through an analysis of the works of the Spanish poets Federico Gallego Ripoll, Juan Carlos Mestre and Concha Garcia.

Ciera Graham, Sociology

Project Title: African American students and black student campus organizations

Current sociological research shows both that black college students are confronted with racism on a daily basis on college campuses, and that white educational institutions are ideologically organized around white norms, making them fundamentally white institutional spaces. However, research on how black students navigate this environment and deploy resistance strategies is relatively under developed. To address this gap, this dissertation will explore how black students at predominately white rural and urban colleges perceive and utilize the black campus community (i.e. African American student organizations). Extant literature has highlighted how involvement in black campus organizations facilitates black students’ sense of belonging to their own racial group as well as to the larger institution. In this sense, it is useful to think of the black campus community as a space where strategies of resistance can be developed, employed and shared. However, we know less about how involvement in the black campus community is influenced by the larger environment in which the institution is situated. To address these questions, I will conduct forty in-depth face to face interviews with undergraduate black students at one urban predominately white college located in a racially diverse area, and one rural institution located in a predominately white and remote area in the state of Ohio. Moreover, the sample will be selected to ensure diversity in terms of major social identities, such as gender, class and sexuality. This will allow me to examine how students from different backgrounds experience the racial climate on campus differently, and hence, may perceive and use the black campus community in different ways.

Aaryn Green, Sociology

Project Title: Does popular network and cable television programming simultaneously promote colorblindness and nonwhite racial stereotypes and if so, how?

Sociological race scholars challenge the popular notion that people in society no longer “see race” and have argued that colorblindness allows for racial discrimination to persist. This study examines if and how television programming allows for stereotypical portrayals of racial minorities, albeit under the guise of racial acceptance and equality. Through content analysis of the most popular primetime TV programs, this study examines if and how television promotes colorblind discourse in mainstream programming while simultaneously promoting racial misrepresentations of nonwhites.

Alex Hogue, German Studies

Project Title: Dreaming of a Better Human, Or - Are We Still Just Conscious Machines?

Questions about the nature and structure of consciousness and embodied being have been at the forefront of cultural debates since the German idealists and romantic philosophers reacted against problematic elements of Enlightenment philosophy. This debate about whether consciousness or physical embodiment is most fundamental to human existence has developed over the last two centuries to fit the cultures of romanticism, modernism and now posthumanism, but the underlying questions remain the same. Informed by this debate is a body of narrative works and visual art that directly engage with these very questions through the construction of artificial humans and artificial intelligences. By imagining humanity’s Other, these works reflect in their various media cultural laboratories in which they are able to explore these questions further.


Maurice Lamb, Philosophy

Project Title: Characteristics of Non-reductive Explanations in Complex Dynamical Systems Research

Reductive approaches to scientific explanations assume that explanations are given by describing smaller components and interactions of phenomena. However, such approaches fail to account for explanations of phenomena consisting of many nonlinearly interacting components, as in complex dynamical systems research in physics, psychology, and biology. The structure of explanation in these contexts is only partially worked out by philosophers and physicists defending theories of emergence in complex dynamical systems research in physics. I argue that complex dynamic systems research in physics and other fields provides the basis for a philosophical account of scientific explanation that acknowledges the significance of scale and complexity as they are treated in modern scientific communities and across disciplines. This account does not presuppose either reduction or nonreduction.

Xining Li, Mathematical Sciences

Project Title: Preservation of bounded geometry under metric transformations

Calculus in metric measure spaces (sets where one can talk about metric or distances between points, and measures, or sizes, of subsets) is now an integral part of mathematical analysis. For a useful theory of calculus on such spaces, the metric and measure on the set must have certain geometric properties, called doubling and Poincare inequalities. Thus it is of great interest to identify spaces that have these geometric properties. In my dissertation, I study deformations of spaces, called sphericalization (wrapping the space into a spherical object), flattening (unwrapping), uniformization (squeezing the volume at large scales), and hyperbolization (exponentially enlarging volume at large scales) with the aim of seeing whether these deformations preserve the geometric properties of interest.

Jireh Loreaux, Mathematical Sciences

Project Title: Diagonals of Idempotents

A square matrix is a two-dimensional array of numbers with equally many rows and columns, however, this number may be either finite or infinite. The diagonal of a matrix is the sequence of numbers starting with the top left entry and proceeding diagonally to the bottom right entry. An idempotent matrix is one which is unchanged when multiplied by itself. The purpose of this project is to investigate and attempt to characterize the possible diagonals of infinite idempotent matrices. This has been done for finite idempotent matrices by Giol, et al. in 2011 [GKL+11]. It has also been done for certain infinite idempotent matrices that satisfy a symmetry condition known as being self-adjoint by Kadison in 2002 [Kad02a],[Kad02b]. As Giol, et al. show, this investigation has applications to frame theory and signal processing.

Robert Nestheide, Political Science

Project Title: Primary Energy Resource Transitions and Great Power Grand Strategy: Exploring the American and British Navies’ Transition from Coal to Oil

The significant role of energy security in state grand strategy is widely acknowledged. However transitions by states militaries from one energy source to another are understudied. Many scholars and scientists have noted the likely future transition from fossil fuels to other, more sustainable, resources. In order to prepare for and manage future likely transitions, it is important that we examine past transitions. This dissertation seeks to understand the impact of such transitions by studying the shift of the U.S. and British navies from coal to oil for fueling their fleets between 1904 and 1918. I hypothesize that this transition shifted state perspectives, policies and grand strategy and thus lead to increased competition between the two powers over control of the newly prioritized energy resource.

Rachel Steiger-Meister, English & Comparative Literature

Project Title: Sea's Edge (a novel)

Sea’s Edge, my creative dissertation, is a young adult fantasy novel that takes place in Ireland at the end of the nineteenth century. The novel follows the story of Fíona, a young woman from the Aran Islands, who falls in love with a visiting young scholar, Agnes. Fíona and her community’s subsistence way of life is vastly different from Agnes’s privileged upbringing in Dublin. The novel explores what it means to love across differences in class, education, language, and worldview. The setting—Fíona’s windswept, rocky island where the supernatural figures of Irish folk belief are made real—emphasizes the power and wonder of the natural world. With its focus on romantic love between young women and traditional island life, Sea’s Edge will be a unique contribution to young adult literature.

Brian Trapp, English & Comparative Literature

Project Title: Michael and Sal

My dissertation-in-progress is a novel titled Michael and Sal-a serio-comic coming of-age story that follows a set of twins: Sal, who has severe cerebral palsy and mental disabilities, and Michael, the "normal one," who struggles with survivor's guilt. The novel challenges common disability narratives of compensation and sentimentality, drawing on the modes of the interior novel and the comic novel to tell a unique, domestic family story. Written in a tonally nimble style that vacillates between comedy and tragedy, Michael and Sal extends and problematizes debates in disability studies.

Aileen Wang, Political Science

Project Title: The Pursuit of Soft Power: A Case Study of Chinese and American Nationalism

American and Chinese nationalistic sentiments are commonly thought to induce (or at least exacerbate) tensions in Sino-American relations. Increasing US-China competition is now widely considered to be one of the central characteristics of contemporary world politics. Concerns among international observers about the implications of resurgent Chinese nationalism have been particularly pronounced recently. Current diplomatic troubles especially as inflamed by maritime confrontations in the Pacific are especially troubling not just to the US but also among China‘s East Asian neighbors. However, in the past, analysts have devoted attention primarily to ―hard power‖ competition between the US and China. The relative lack of attention to ―soft power‖ competition between the US and China presents a gap in the study of world politics. This dissertation aims to address this gap.

Emily Wyatt, German Studies

Project Title: Berlin's Image(s): Art Exhibitions in Berlin's Transitional Architecture, 1989-2013

Berlin’s post-1989 reconstruction has stimulated rich visual cultural research investigating how architecture performs national identity. My research contributes to this field with an examination of art exhibitions in architectural spaces that were reconfigured or dismantled in the aftermath of Berlin’s reunification, examining how artworks in these spaces perform unified German identity. I further explore how these exhibitions synthesize reflection on the historical significance visually evoked by these spaces and the sense of newness implied by their transitional status. I argue that the spaces chosen for art exhibitions are a critical component in the performance of an image of the German capital (and by extension, the German nation) that acknowledges the past but at the same time allows unified Germany to create a future-centered visual identity.

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