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. 

Eugene M. Avrutin
Eugene M. Avrutin  |  Abstract
Now largely forgotten, the Velizh affair (1823-1835) was the longest ritual murder case in the modern world. Drawing on a newly discovered archive, this study reconstructs small town life in the Russian Empire; along the way, it explores neighborly encounters, law and daily life, and the complex motivations leading to the ritual murder charge. While scholars usually attribute the charge to antisemitism, this project offers an alternative explanation. By recreating the day-to-day world of Velizh, this study argues that tales of blood sacrifice proved remarkably contagious in the towns and villages of Eastern Europe because of their role in popular belief systems of the time and their ability to express the fears and preoccupations of a population that left no other written records.

Assistant Professor, History, University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign  -  The Velizh Affair: Ritual Murder in a Russian Border Town

Andrew W. Kahrl
Andrew W. Kahrl  |  Abstract
The sharp decline of black landownership in the twentieth century remains one of the most important—and least understood—chapters in modern American history. As they achieved monumental victories in the struggle for justice and equality, black Americans increasingly struggled to hold onto their land or build wealth through homeownership. While stories of real estate inequality are familiar and ongoing, the roots of inequality in property ownership run much deeper. This project uncovers the history of discriminatory assessment and collection of property taxes, examines the use of tax liens in the expropriation and redevelopment of black-owned land in appreciating real estate markets, and traces the evolution of legal practices and investment strategies that exploit economically distressed landowners.

Assistant Professor, History, Marquette University  -  Lien on Me: Race, Power, and the Property Tax in Twentieth-Century America

James R. Brennan
James R. Brennan  |  Abstract
This project uses a biographical method to examine the history of transnational political networks that comprised and unraveled postcolonial pan-Africanism, and created adherents of neo-liberalism. This project examines the life of Oscar Kambona (1928-97), Tanzania’s Foreign Minister and Chairman of the Organization of African Unity’s Africa Liberation Committee until he fled to exile in 1967, to tell two stories: first, how attempts by African states to extinguish political opposition created dangerous networks of political exiles across capital cities of Africa and Europe; and second, how the politics of liberalization that now predominate across the continent were first crafted as the language of opposition networks.

Assistant Professor, History, University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign  -  From Pan-Africanism to Neo-Liberalism: Oscar Kambona and the Networks of Nationalism and Exile

Susan J. Pearson
Susan J. Pearson  |  Abstract
Though birth registration and the government-issued birth certificate are ubiquitous and quotidian, in the United States they are also relatively recent phenomena. It was not until well into the twentieth century that all states finally recorded upwards of 90% of live births. This study details how a once-locally and unevenly-practiced form of recordkeeping became the most essential mechanism for recording and establishing individual identity. It tells its story through multi-layered archival research dating from the early republic through the 1940s, bringing together federal, state, and organizational archives to show how registration of birth is at the center of how states construct their citizens and apprehend their populations.

Assistant Professor, History, Northwestern University  -  Registering Birth: Population and Personhood in American History

Eric J. Bulson  |  Abstract
The little magazine, a literary and critical medium known for its coterie audiences, small size, and limited distribution, made modernism a global phenomenon. Any attempt to explain how the magazine made modernism global requires the intense examination of the ways it traveled, and did not, in so many transnational directions. This study examines rich archival holdings for information about the magazines’ readerships, production, and modes of distribution. It also closely examines form: it is precisely the form of the magazine where we can locate the uncomfortable tension between the local and the global, the nationally produced magazine and the imagined global community to which it is (and is not) connected.

Assistant Professor, English, Hobart and William Smith Colleges  -  Little Magazine, World Form

Jessica Rosenfeld
Jessica Rosenfeld  |  Abstract
This project examines the emotion of envy, especially in its medieval form, as one of the “seven deadly sins.” Envy posed difficulties for Christian writers who assumed that all earthly desire is oriented toward a pleasurable object. Envy—understood as a largely painful experience—demanded a different idea of human desire and action. Treatises on confession and literary works manifest the ways that medieval authors wrestled with the moral dilemmas posed by envy, offering a theory of desire that focuses on one’s relationship with others, rather than with pleasure per se. Medieval treatments of envy illuminate the Christian reception of classical ethics and offer useful ethical frameworks for modern treatments of emotion and desire.

Assistant Professor, English, Washington University in St. Louis  -  Envying thy Neighbor: Pleasure, Identity, and Gender in Late Medieval Literature

Allison Busch
Allison Busch  |  Abstract
This project on Hindi historical literature, which flourished at regional Indian courts operating within the power shadow of the Mughal dynasty (sixteenth-eighteenth centuries), explores an important form of precolonial historical practice in South Asia to determine what these texts tell us about local Indian ways of being historical, and of being political, prior to colonial modernity. The study opens up entirely new domains of inquiry for Hindi literary studies and at the same time contributes regional Indian perspectives to the field of Mughal history, which has been dominated by imperial Persian and exogenous European sources.

Associate Professor, Middle Eastern, South Asian, and African Studies, Columbia University  -  The Poetry of History: Region and Empire in Early Modern Hindi Literature

Samira Sheikh
Samira Sheikh  |  Abstract
The Hindu sect of Vaishnavism achieved remarkable success under the Mughals, one of the greatest early modern Muslim empires, especially in the western province of Gujarat. This project investigates how the values of Vaishnava merchants became the cultural norm in Mughal Gujarat. Characterised by vegetarianism and personal frugality, Vaishnava values became a signal of cohesion and upward mobility for other groups too. While Gujarati trade has been widely studied, changes in religion and caste have scarcely been explored. The merchant-Vaishnava ideology has had a lasting effect on Gujarat's politics, including on Gandhi; while it grew in times of Muslim political control, it later became the fount of an Islamophobic politics that dominates Gujarat today.

Assistant Professor, History, Vanderbilt University  -  Economies of Conversion: Vaishnavism and Religious Change in Early Modern Gujarat, Western India, 1650-1800

Jimena Canales
Jimena Canales  |  Abstract
In the Spring of 1922, two of the most important thinkers of that era met for the first time. Their meeting, which had been planned as a cordial and scholarly discussion, was anything but that. The physicist Albert Einstein and the philosopher Henri Bergson clashed during their face-to-face encounter, each defending opposing, even irreconcilable, ways of understanding time. This study revisits their debate to illuminate an essential piece of twenthieth-century European history. The confrontation between the two men is a missing piece in a puzzle that helps us understand many other important intellectual divisions in science and philosophy.

Associate Professor, History of Science, Harvard University  -  Einstein against Bergson: Think Twice

Bradford Skow
Bradford Skow  |  Abstract
"We are all carried into the future by the relentless flow of time." This is a deep truth about the human condition. But just what truth is it? Is the "flow of time" an objective phenomenon, a process that involves time itself? Or is it merely a subjective phenomenon? This project provides a comprehensive defense of the claim that there is no "objective" flow of time. In making this argument, it examines whether and to what extent contemporary physics favors the claim that there is no objective flow of time; it says something about why, if there is no objective flow of time, there nevertheless seems to be; and it addresses questions about what attitudes each of us should have toward his past and his future if there is no objective flow of time.

Associate Professor, Linguistics and Philosophy, Massachusetts Institute of Technology  -  The Passage of Time

Jessica L. Goldberg
Jessica L. Goldberg  |  Abstract
The geography of the medieval world is not our geography. Recent work defined by seas and oceans at best replaces one modern spatial construct, the nation, by imposing another, while concrete regionality is scarcely examined. This study uses mercantile records to explore region as a practical problem, to see geography as experienced by those whose profession made them use and consider the connections between places. It compares Genoese and Geniza merchants, whose activities intersected across the eleventh and twelfth centuries, and whose records are the richest medieval sources. The project uncovers the complex interplay of business practice, geography, infrastructures, political control, and definitions of community that created practical and imaginative regions for medieval traders.

Assistant Professor, History, University of Pennsylvania  -  Geographies of Trade and Conceptions of Economic Space: Comparing Genoese and Geniza Merchants in the Twelfth Century

Laura Wittman
Laura Wittman  |  Abstract
This book is the first cultural history of near-death experiences in the twentieth-century West, and it puts literary rewritings of the Biblical Lazarus story—by major authors such as Gabriele d’Annunzio, Luigi Pirandello, Graham Greene, Miguel de Unamuno, D. H. Lawrence, J. L. Borges, Georges Bataille, and André Malraux—in the double context of popular versions of coming back to life in testimonies, fiction, and film, and of evolving neuroscientific investigation. Countering disillusionment with how institutions (medical, religious, or political) handle death, central to these stories is the desire to put the individual in charge of his or her own dying, yet at the same time to assert that death is a common journey, in which others have preceded us.

Assistant Professor, French and Italian, Stanford University  -  Lazarus’ Silence: Near-Death Experiences in Fiction, Science, and Popular Culture