Charles A. Ryskamp Research Fellows

The Charles A. Ryskamp Research Fellowships, which ACLS offered from 2001 through 2015, provided advanced assistant professors and untenured associate professors in the humanities and related social sciences with time and resources to pursue their research under optimal conditions. The Ryskamp Fellowships particularly recognized those whose scholarly contributions have advanced their fields and who had well designed and carefully developed plans for new research.
Generously funded by The Andrew W. Mellon Foundation, these fellowships were named for Charles A. Ryskamp, literary scholar, distinguished library and museum director, and long-serving trustee of the Mellon Foundation.

Read more about this fellowship program.

Please note: affiliations shown are as of time of award. Please click on fellows' names for current information.

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Watch "Emerging Themes and Methods of Research: A Discussion with ACLS Fellows," an annual meeting session featuring recent ACLS fellows. 

Diana K. Davis
Diana K. Davis  |  Abstract
No other region on the planet, except, perhaps, the polar zones, has been more strongly defined by its environment than the Middle East. This project, based on archival and documentary research, elaborates the critical importance of colonial scientists, administrators, foresters, agricultural experts, settlers, and others in the construction of the standard environmental histories of the Arab Middle East from Egypt to Syria. It elucidates the fundamental errors in these narratives, shows how they changed over time, and examines the various uses to which they were put. In most cases, these conventional environmental narratives were constructed and used by British and French colonial powers to facilitate the domination of many states in the Middle East economically and politically, to justify the appropriation and extraction of resources (especially land), and to control local populations. This project offers a new understanding of the Middle East environment with direct contemporary policy applications.

Assistant Professor, Geography, University of Texas at Austin  -  Imperialism and Environmental History in the Middle East

Jennifer Lackey
Jennifer Lackey  |  Abstract
This project advances an entirely new theory of testimonial knowledge. Whereas the views dominant in the literature focus on the internal states of speakers—such as states of knowing and believing—the view developed in this project focuses instead on linguistic states of speakers—such as statements and other acts of communication. It is then demonstrated how this shift in focus has important consequences, not only by revealing essential connections between epistemology, philosophy of language, and linguistics, but also by explaining the possibility of testimonial knowledge of moral and aesthetic matters.

Assistant Professor, Philosophy, Northern Illinois University  -  Learning from Words: A Linguistic Approach to the Epistemology of Testimony

Cian Dorr
Cian Dorr  |  Abstract
This project investigates three central philosophical questions about quantum mechanics: (i) What kind of fundamental structure in reality could make true the sorts of descriptions of the world that quantum mechanics provides? (ii) What would such a world with that kind of fundamental structure have to be like to contain ordinary things like tables, trees, and people? (iii) What evidence would make it reasonable for us to believe that our world is like that? One conclusion is that we can account for the world of our ordinary experience in quantum-mechanical terms without having to believe in anything like the notorious "collapse of the wavefunction," or in "hidden variables," or in the currently popular theory of "branching universes."

Assistant Professor, Philosophy, University of Pittsburgh  -  Reality and Quantum Mechanics

Maurice S. Lee
Maurice S. Lee  |  Abstract
This book project shows how changing concepts of chance shape literary encounters with skepticism in the literature of Poe, Thoreau, Douglass, Melville, and Dickinson. Key contexts include intellectual advances (such as the rise of probability theory, social statistics, and evolution), as well as shifts in social practices involving chance (including insurance, gambling, medicine, and warfare). Nineteenth-century authors participate in these discourses, revealing the complex dynamics between literature, science, and culture.

Assistant Professor, English, Boston University  -  Chance, Skepticism, and Belief in Nineteenth-Century American Literature

Omnia El Shakry
Omnia El Shakry  |  Abstract
This project will challenge current understandings of Islam, secularism and modernity by tracing the development of discourses of self, society and subjectivity in twentieth century Egypt. Focusing on the writings of salafiyya (turn-of-the-century Islamic reformers) and liberal secular reformers in Egypt, I seek to map out the moral and psychological topography of modern selfhood. I ask how notions of selfhood were formed out of indigenous notions of ethical being and transformed with the increased translation of Western notions of liberal autonomous selfhood through social scientific disciplines such as psychology. I explore the epistemological and ethical frameworks within which these new social discourses were embedded, and their relationship to colonialist and nationalist ideologies.

Assistant Professor, History, University of California, Davis  -  Divine Governance: Islam, Modernity, and the Construction of Selfhood in Twentieth Century Egypt

Joseph P. Masco
Joseph P. Masco  |  Abstract
This research evaluates how contemporary American perceptions of threat are informed by the cultural legacies of the Cold War nuclear project. It is a genealogical study of American attitudes about global threat, as manifested in the evolution of the "weapons of mass destruction" discourse. It interrogates the nuclear present via: 1) new Cold War history museums; 2) analysis of recently declassified military nuclear films; 3) archival analysis of US civil defense and nuclear planning; and 4) interviews with contemporary defense intellectuals. By analyzing how the "war on terror" is informed by the Cold War "balance of terror," this study makes a vital contribution to our understanding of how nuclear fear has shaped American culture.

Assistant Professor, Anthropology, University of Chicago  -  The Nuclear Present: Constituting the "WMD" in the War on Terror

Katherine E. Hoffman
Katherine E. Hoffman  |  Abstract
French native policies in the Protectorate of Morocco (1912-1956) were debated, implemented, and reversed in part according to experiences in Algeria and West Africa. Policy was anchored in a distinction between two ethnolinguistic groups—Arab and Berber—with the former threatening and the latter potentially accommodating French interests. This project traces the development of native policy and its application in the rural customary courts that frustrated French attempts to dichotomize the Muslim population. It investigates French language ideologies—meaning beliefs about the inherent nature of language freighted with their political interests—to situate colonial administration in a comparative, global perspective.

Assistant Professor, Anthropology, Northwestern University  -  Mirror of the Soul: Language, Islam, and Law in French Native Policy of Morocco (1912-1956)

Barbara Gail Montero
Barbara Gail Montero  |  Abstract
Proprioception is the sense by which we acquire information about the positions and movements of our own bodies, via receptors in the joints, tendons, ligaments, muscles, and skin. Sometimes referred to as our "secret sixth sense," it is a relatively unexplored area of research among both philosophers and neuroscientists. This project provides an account of proprioception and illustrates its relevance to both the performance of highly skilled actions and our perception of such actions by others. In particular, it illustrates the importance of conscious proprioception in the performance and appreciation of skilled movements, such as those performed by dancers, other artists, and athletes.

Assistant Professor, Philosophy, City University of New York, The Graduate Center  -  Proprioception and the Poetry of Motion: The Role of Bodily Awareness in Art and Action

Yonglin Jiang
Yonglin Jiang  |  Abstract
This project explores the dynamic process of negotiating justice during the last century of Ming dynasty China (1368-1644). Drawing on a large body of little-explored late-Ming local court records, it examines how justice was constructed in local adjudication and how justice construction reflected and facilitated social change. This study argues that as creating actors, magistrates and litigants together defined their socio-legal situations and created "situated justice"—a "fair" yet unpredictable and particularistic ruling. During the process of justice construction, while law enforcement in local communities both defended the dynastic order and facilitated social change, changing society also invested the dynastic legal system with new meanings.

Assistant Professor, History, Oklahoma State University  -  Negotiating Justice: Local Adjudication and Social Change in Late Imperial China

Sianne Ngai
Sianne Ngai  |  Abstract
This project reexamines American poetry after 1945 through the lens of everyday aesthetic concepts. Though "cute," "zany," and "interesting" are common to the vocabulary we use to describe contemporary aesthetic experiences, these concepts have remained marginal to aesthetic theory for two main reasons: first, in owing their origins to commodity culture rather than nature or fine art; second, in being based on affects more ambivalent or weaker in intensity than the unequivocal feelings of pleasure and displeasure that ground the beautiful and sublime. Through readings of a wide range of authors, this study argues that minor aesthetic concepts are crucial for understanding American poetry as a genre increasingly preoccupied with its own cultural "minorness" in an era of high-tech media spectacle.

Assistant Professor, English and American Literature, Stanford University  -  Poetry in the Expanded Field

Amalia Deborah Kessler
Amalia Deborah Kessler  |  Abstract
This project recovers the history of a forgotten American legal tradition: equity. While scholars have recognized that the early United States inherited the English distinction between law and equity, they have fundamentally misconstrued the latter. Pursuant to a longstanding narrative of American exceptionalism, adversarialism has been identified as a defining feature of American legal culture. It has thus been wrongly assumed that equity procedure was essentially adversarial. By undertaking the first comprehensive study of the origins and demise of American equity, this study historicizes—and thereby problematizes—the established narrative of American exceptionalism and elucidates how American culture came to be imbued with the sense that due process and adversarial process are synonymous.

Associate Professor, Law School and History, Stanford University  -  American Exceptionalism and the Forgotten Tradition of Equity, 1814-1912

Eva M. von Dassow
Eva M. von Dassow  |  Abstract
This study investigates ancient Near Eastern concepts of freedom and rights. These are conventionally identified as Western values, first conceived in ancient Greece, where ideas of individual and political liberty were born from the struggle against Persian imperial expansion in the fifth century BCE. But the convention of attributing liberty and rights to Greece and the West, while identifying slavery and tyranny with the Orient, originates in ancient Greek ideology rather than in objective historical inquiry. Recent work in ancient Near Eastern history, including my own research on social classes, reveals that theories of personal and political rights and liberty were operative in Near Eastern societies long before democracy emerged in classical Greece.

Assistant Professor, Classical and Near Eastern Studies, University of Minnesota, Twin Cities  -  Freedom and Rights in the Ancient Near East