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. 

Katharine Breen
Katharine Breen  |  Abstract
Histories of allegory tend to find an ethical lesson in its decline: allegorical representation ultimately lost ground to mimesis because it was less able to represent the ordinary lives of ordinary people with seriousness and fidelity. In contrast, this project argues that in the period 1200-1500 allegory was a privileged mode of expanding access to ideas and texts that had previously been reserved for a clerical elite. Allegories in the later Middle Ages thus enabled new forms of literacy and, indeed, the rise of the vernacular. Allegory can even be said to constitute its own vernacular, in the sense that it furnished a symbolic language capable of defining a new, and newly inclusive, moral order.

Assistant Professor, English, Northwestern University  -  Engines of Thought: Allegory and Experimentation, 1200-1500

Kevin C. Karnes
Kevin C. Karnes  |  Abstract
This project challenges dominant understandings of Viennese aesthetic modernism by asserting Richard Wagner’s status as a preeminent intellectual father of the movement. It does this by examining an array of artistic responses to a vital yet forgotten strain of Wagner-inspired utopian discourse that permeated the city’s creative culture around 1900. Elucidating responses to Wagner's utopian visions registered by Mahler, Klimt, Schoenberg, Max Klinger, and founding members of the Vienna Secession, this study questions prevailing conceptions of Viennese society as dominated by a sense of cultural pessimism. It casts new light on celebrated works of art and music, and it substantially revises our understanding of Austro-German aesthetic culture in a famously productive and turbulent period.

Assistant Professor, Music, Emory University  -  Wagner, the Arts, and Utopian Visions in Fin-de-Siecle Vienna

Erica F. Brindley
Erica F. Brindley  |  Abstract
Standard histories suggest that the indigenous “Yue/Viet” peoples who inhabited China’s ancient southern frontier were successfully absorbed into the Chinese regimes to the north. This project critically re-examines the history and historiography of ethnic and culture change during 400 years of the first extensive colonial period, the Han, revealing the extent to which traditional accounts have failed to impart an adequate picture of identity and cross-cultural interactions in the region. By using both textual and archaeological data to trace Yue identity formation, voice, and agency, I present a new understanding of borderland history that upends theories of acculturation and Chinese dominance and provides insight into early, non-Western forms of colonialism.

Assistant Professor, History and Religious Studies, Pennsylvania State University  -  Who Were the Yue (Viet) and Where Did They Go? A Critical Approach to Ethnicity and Culture Change Along China's Ancient Southern Frontier, ~200 BCE - 200 CE

Eugenia Lean
Eugenia Lean  |  Abstract
In early twentieth-century China, soap was an object of public fascination that appeared in missionary translations of science writing, articles on how to produce cosmetics at home, and columns on health and beauty. Soap even emerged at the center of international disputes over trademark infringement. Drawing from the history of science, consumer culture studies, and postcolonialism, this work traces soap’s transition from object of colonial science to mass commodity to examine how the rise of a transnational commercial culture helped create desire for, as well as anxiety about, the modernity associated with modern science. It sheds light on the colonial transfer of technology, modern China's consumer culture, and China's role in shaping global law and commerce.

Associate Professor, East Asian Languages and Cultures, Columbia University  -  Global Soap, Local Desires: Transnational Circuits of Science and Commerce in Modern China

Elisabeth Camp
Elisabeth Camp  |  Abstract
This project is about our capacity to adopt “perspectives” in imagination, focusing on four distinct cases: perception, metaphor, fiction, and the constitution of self. A perspective alters how we think, rather than what we think about, by imposing an intuitive, holistic structure on a complex set of facts. Perspectives are often described metaphorically, in terms of “seeing something in a new light.” These shifts in perspective can make a significant practical difference to what we can do with information we already possess. Drawing on previously published work and discussions by philosophers, cognitive scientists, and linguists, this study articulates a more literal, detailed, and empirically grounded account of perspectives in human cognition.

Assistant Professor, Philosophy, University of Pennsylvania  -  Perspectival Imagination in Perception and Thought

Kate Masur
Kate Masur  |  Abstract
The project traces the history of African Americans' federal employment between 1863 and 1912. Drawing on research in black and white newspapers, the National Archives, and politicians’ personal papers, it follows three intertwined lines of inquiry. When and why did the US government employ African Americans in this period? What was the symbolic and cultural importance of African Americans’ federal employment, and how did it change over time? What did working for the federal government mean for black employees themselves? The resulting work reveals how black and white Americans grappled with African Americans’ emergence into citizenship and the polity; what partisanship meant to a minority group historically ill served by both major political parties; and how the Republican party sought, but ultimately failed, to become a bi-racial institution. In the broadest sense, this is a study of the legacies of slavery in American public life.

Assistant Professor, History, Northwestern University  -  “In All Things American Citizens”: African Americans and Federal Employment in Post-Emancipation America

Brian DeLay
Brian DeLay  |  Abstract
In 1750 the whole of the western hemisphere was claimed by a few European empires but mostly dominated by native peoples. Over the next 150 years, new nation states came to exert power everywhere save the interior Amazon and Canada’s frozen north. The story of this re-creation of the Americas is nearly always told in fragments, broken into dozens of national or ethnic histories. Through a focus on the rapidly evolving global trade in firearms, this study pieces these stories together into a new, integrated narrative. By recovering the webs of an arms trade that both connected and profoundly influenced the hemisphere’s many struggles between empires, emerging states, and indigenous polities, it advances a new model for the emergence of the modern Americas.

Assistant Professor, History, University of California, Berkeley  -  Shoot the State: The Arms Trade and the Re-creation of the Americas, 1750-1914

Martin Nesvig
Martin Nesvig  |  Abstract
This project examines the religious hybridism of Michoacán, Mexico in the first century after Spanish-Indian contact. While recent scholarship has challenged the older “spiritual conquest” model, we still know relatively little about the ways that the Spanish laity and clergy in rural and remote areas understood the process by which not only missionaries strove to Christianize the Indian population but by which Spaniards were exposed to and adopted various Indian religious and cultural practices. Moreover, while recent ethnohistorical work challenges the assumptions about how Indians received Christianity, little work has been done on the form of the Catholicism that Spaniards imported to early Mexico and adapted in a new cultural context. This project examines the sociology of religion of Spaniards in multi-ethnic frontier region with weak centralized state and Church presence.

Assistant Professor, History, University of Miami  -  Hucksters, Orgies, Peyote, and the Devil: Frontier Religion in Colonial Michoacán

Katherine C. Engel
Katherine C. Engel  |  Abstract
“Breaking Ties” is a study of Protestant communities in the British Atlantic during the era of the American Revolution. That conflict came on the heels of a long era of internationalization within Protestantism, which had resulted in strong ties between coreligionists in Britain, America, and Europe. Many of these networks had deep institutional roots in the British Empire. The Revolution forced each of these religious communities—denominations as well as other groups—to reconsider its ties, both within and across communities and also to the wider idea of international Protestantism. This study investigates those reconsiderations, tracing the nature of international Protestant community and its relationship to political identity at the dawn of the modern era.

Assistant Professor, History, Texas A&M University  -  Breaking Ties: The Redefinition of Protestant Community during the American Revolution

Ekaterina Pravilova
Ekaterina Pravilova  |  Abstract
This project studies the development of property in Russia on the eve of its revolutions. It is also a study of the modernization of the Russian state, law, and culture, using the idea of property as a lens for the analysis of institutional and cultural transformation, revealing shifts and changes that might otherwise go unnoticed. Among these “unnoticed” shifts are such important developments as the transformation of the methods of political competition; the formation of the sphere of “public things” and new mechanisms governing public resources; and the strengthening of the power of professional organizations, in particular, their ability to exert control over private owners. It also analyzes the transition from the pre-revolutionary model of property to the Bolshevik nationalization and discusses to what extent Bolshevik nationalization constituted a rupture in the development of the concept and models that governed resources.

Assistant Professor, History, Princeton University  -  “Res publicae” in the Imperial State? Property and Power in the Russian Empire, 1860-1917

Eitan P. Fishbane
Eitan P. Fishbane  |  Abstract
This project seeks to develop a new approach to the Zohar—the masterpiece of Jewish mysticism. Long studied through the lens of the history of ideas, the Zohar has yet to be fully appreciated as an extraordinary literary document—as a text rich in lyrical and fictional creativity. In quest of these understudied literary voices, this project considers the use of dramatic and performative representation; the rhetoric of magical and mythic realism; and the dynamic interplay of narrative form and mystical exegesis. The work locates zoharic narrative with in the broader landscape of Iberian Jewish literature in this period to recover and construct a poetics of the Zohar.

Assistant Professor, Jewish Thought, Jewish Theological Seminary of America  -  Mystical Drama and Narrative Form: The Literary Craft of the Zohar

Gray Tuttle
Gray Tuttle  |  Abstract
Tibet was already a part of the global world in the early modern period, contrary to the claims of Tibetan nationalists and Chinese Communists, who describe Tibet as a tradition-bound society prior to 1950. Deploying Richard White’s concept of the “Middle Ground” in the context of two mature civilizations—Tibetan and Chinese—encountering one another, this project examines how the intellectual and economic centers of Tibet shifted east to Amdo, a Tibetan cultural region the size of France in northwestern China. This project focuses on three dramatic areas of growth that defined early modern Tibet: 1) the advent of mass monastic education, 2) the bureaucratization of reincarnate lamas’ charisma, and 3) the development of modern conceptions of geography that reshaped the way Tibet was imagined.

Assistant Professor, East Asian Languages and Cultures, Columbia University  -  Amdo Tibet, Middle Ground between Lhasa and Beijing: Early Modern Institutional and Intellectual Developments, 1578-1878