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. 

Ulka Anjaria
Ulka Anjaria  |  Abstract
"The Unfinished Bridge: Realism and Futurity in India" is a study of contemporary literature and popular culture in India, and its relation to what many are calling today’s “neoliberal” age. Although it is tempting to read new trends in literature and film as merely reflecting the embourgeoisement of the Indian public sphere, this project shows how literature and cultural production since around 2000 is in fact engaged with social concerns, even as works largely eschew traditional paradigms for narrativizing these concerns, such as socialism or class warfare. What we see instead is a collective struggle to forge a vocabulary with which to represent political injustice outside of these deterministic narratives – a struggle that generates new and often surprising aesthetic forms.

Assistant Professor, English, Brandeis University  -  The Unfinished Bridge: Realism and Futurity in India

Sonal Khullar
Sonal Khullar  |  Abstract
This project identifies collaboration as a hallmark of contemporary art in South Asia and a critical response to globalization since the 1990s. Through close analysis of artists and artworks from India, Pakistan, and Sri Lanka, it contributes to a growing art historical literature on contemporary art, which has focused on Western sites and figures. It examines connections and disjunctions between art produced in the nation-states of South Asia relative to each other and to the West, engaging research in anthropology, geography, and political theory on transnational networks, intercultural exchange, and regional hegemonies. It analyzes how artists have responded to conflicts—defined along religious, ethnic, caste, linguistic, classed, and gendered lines—over place by embracing a collaborative practice of art that engages and departs from existing models of site-specificity and social activism. These collaborative practices offer new perspectives on the constitution of artistic identity, political authority, and art worlds.

Assistant Professor, School of Art + Art History + Design, University of Washington  -  The Art of Dislocation: Conflict and Collaboration in Contemporary Art from South Asia

Kornel Chang
Kornel Chang  |  Abstract
Largely forgotten, Korea received the occupation that was originally designed and intended for Japan. In 1945, hundreds of US military experts, trained in public health, medicine, engineering, and the law, were ordered to re-locate their operations to southern Korea. There, they were expected to apply their expertise to transform a former colony into a modern nation. This project tells the story of US military technocrats, their transfer from Japan, the Philippines, and the United States, and their role in the unplanned occupation of Korea. In doing so, it re-examines the occupation of Korea as a laboratory for US postwar nation-building strategies, where expert officials experimented and honed methods for managing the aspirations of a former colonized people while arresting the spread of communism in Asia.

Assistant Professor, History, Rutgers University-Newark  -  Occupying Knowledge: Expertise, Technocracy, and Decolonization in the US Occupation of Korea

Miriam Kingsberg Kadia
Miriam Kingsberg Kadia  |  Abstract
This project investigates Japan’s midwar generation (senchūha), which dominated public life from the 1930s to the 1970s. Like (West) Germany’s so-called 1945 generation, the senchūha matured under empire, went to war in the early 1940s, transformed Japan into a peaceful, prosperous democratic, nation-state after defeat, and lost influence in the student movement of 1968. Unlike the '45ers, however, the senchūha have never been examined collectively. Through social scientists, particularly the prominent ethnologist, cultural anthropologist, and archaeologist Izumi Seiichi (1915-1970), this study captures the public voice of the midwar cohort and suggests a common genealogy of postwar reckoning and rebuilding in the former Axis powers. It also explores the history of anthropology as a site and method for developing the new field of global history.

Assistant Professor, History, University of Colorado, Boulder  -  Japan's Midwar Generation: Anthropologists and Nation in the Twentieth Century

Mhoze Chikowero
Mhoze Chikowero  |  Abstract
This project argues that rather than represent the insuperable power of western science, technology and expertise or symbolize the onset of "modernity," the introduction of British colonial radio broadcasting to Africans in Zambia, Zimbabwe and Malawi heralded an unparalleled crisis in European efforts to construct African colonial subjectivity. In the hands of African organic intellectuals hired to run WWII and post-war "anti-Communist" broadcasts, radio cracked European certitudes and exposed the nervous condition of colonial authority. The technology demonstrated the capacity of Africans to subvert and repurpose instruments of colonial power. Deploying their linguistic skills and cultural capital, the African broadcasters ran broadcasts that cunningly countered official ideology, thus turning a tool of imperial and colonial state-making into a means of self-liberation.

Assistant Professor, History, University of California, Santa Barbara  -  Tool of Empire, Technology of Self-Liberation: Colonial Radio Broadcasting to Africans in Zambia, Zimbabwe, and Malawi, 1920s-1980

Sarah E. McGrath
Sarah E. McGrath  |  Abstract
This project is an exploration of moral knowledge: its possibility, its sources, and its characteristic vulnerabilities. The project defends the view that we do not arrive at moral knowledge by any distinctive methods of reasoning or special cognitive faculties; rather, what moral knowledge we have is a product of our general purpose methods and faculties. In support of this view, it offers a detailed examination and defense of our ability to acquire moral knowledge via two channels whose capacity to deliver it has often been denied: (i) direct observation and (ii) deference to others. Special attention is given to the place of intellectual humility in the moral domain, and to the role that this virtue plays in the achievement of moral insight.

Assistant Professor, Philosophy, Princeton University  -  Moral Knowledge and Intellectual Humility

Jonathan P. Conant
Jonathan P. Conant  |  Abstract
This project examines the “ends of empire” in the 8th-9th century in both geographical and ontological terms and considers how the two informed one another. It rethinks early medieval perceptions of the nature, aims, and responsibilities of empire in light of contemporary interactions across religious, cultural, and linguistic boundaries in early medieval Europe and the Mediterranean. Far from being of peripheral concern, ties to the Islamic, pagan, and wider Christian worlds were central to the Carolingians’ understanding and exercise of imperial power. In the early Middle Ages, empire was no longer simply a matter of territorial control; it was a question of ideological authority, even across political boundaries, above all within the scattered communities of the Christian faithful.

Assistant Professor, History, Brown University  -  The Carolingians and the Ends of Empire, c. 795-840

Michael Ralph
Michael Ralph  |  Abstract
Because slaves were categorized as property, historians have systematically overlooked how protocols for insuring enslaved workers have shaped the US life insurance industry. Between the time that the slave trade to the United States was outlawed in 1808 and slavery was abolished in 1865, slave life insurance was a crucial element of industrial insurance, a key feature of slave shipping, and a central element of credit networks throughout the agrarian south. My research demonstrates how strategies for profiting from the monetary value of a human life continued to flourish—and in some sectors to proliferate—even as the demise of legalized slavery rendered explicit efforts to monetize human beings not simply unsavory but illegal.

Assistant Professor, Social and Cultural Analysis, New York University  -  The Monetary Value of a Human Life

Jacob S. Dorman
Jacob S. Dorman  |  Abstract
While there are extensive literatures on enslaved African Muslims and 20th-century American Black Muslim movements, this project explores new ground by documenting the prevalence of Orientalist representations of Muslims, Arabs, and Moors in 19th-century American popular culture in forms such as sheet music, circus performances, minstrelsy and magic. African Americans not only consumed these images, but they helped to create them. For some, Orientalist scholarship and performance informed their critique of white supremacy and directly led to Black Nationalist and Black Muslim movements. By establishing the link between performance, religion, and politics, this study shows their interrelation and contends that religious ideas can spread in carnivalesque spaces, without being inauthentic.

Assistant Professor, History and American Studies, University of Kansas  -  Black Orientalism: Representing Islam in American Popular Culture and African American Religion

Karl Schafer
Karl Schafer  |  Abstract
The nature and status of moral truths within the natural world is a source of perennial philosophical concern. This project develops an account of the nature of morality, drawing upon the work of historical figures such as Hume and Kant. In doing so, it argues that morality is best understood as grounded in a substantive and non-trivial conception of reason with a broadly Kantian shape. Such a conception of morality holds out the promise of explaining the place of morality in the natural world, by helping us to understand the manner in which the truth about morality has an essential connection with our faculties of moral thought, without thereby condemning us to radical moral relativism.

Assistant Professor, Philosophy, University of Pittsburgh  -  Rationalism, Kantian Constructivism, and the Nature of Morality

Raphael B. Folsom
Raphael B. Folsom  |  Abstract
"Mestizo Empire" proposes a new history of the Chichimecha War. This late 16th-century conflict pitted indigenous nomads against a coalition of Spanish conquistadors and sedentary imperial Indians from central Mexico. The war began with a Spanish attempt to secure the roads between central Mexico and the great northern silver mines of Zacatecas and Guanajuato. But the conflict would have a profound impact on a broader array of institutions and ideologies than its origins might suggest. Beyond securing a steady supply of silver to finance Spanish imperialism abroad, the Chichimeca War played a central role in legitimizing and institutionalizing the government of New Spain, and in forging bonds between Spaniards and the native peoples of central Mexico. By exploring the long-range impact on Mexican culture and society, "Mestizo Empire" locates the origins of Mexican ideologies of race in the struggle for the northern frontier.

Assistant Professor, History, University of Oklahoma  -  Mestizo Empire: The Chichimeca War and the Making of Mexico, 1540-1610

Phillip John Usher
Phillip John Usher  |  Abstract
Focusing on the plays written by France’s first career tragedian, Robert Garnier, this project examines the mediatic and political transformation of French theater during the Wars of Religion (1562-98). Moving beyond the fact of representation (Garnier’s plays quite evidently depict violence) to plumb the depths of its function, the project contends that in the midst of many other contemporary cultural productions that, like modern televisual and Internet images, “cloned terror” and thus quite literally perpetuated violence, the plays of Robert Garnier deploy new strategies of representation that eschew such complicity with the violence they stage. "Violent Theater" thus explores how Garnier, perhaps like a modern war photographer, questioned his medium in order to respond to violence.

Assistant Professor, French, Barnard College  -  Violent Theater and Peaceful Politics? Robert Garnier and the French Wars of Religion

Stephanie Malia Hom
Stephanie Malia Hom  |  Abstract
This is a study of how mobility forges an unsettling connection between Italy's neglected colonial past and the politics of its present. As a key colonial concern and key organizing principle of our time, mobility intensifies disparities between those who move by choice and those moved by force. This project combines ethnographic research with critical historiography to show how mobility articulates limits of inclusion and exclusion in contemporary Italy and Italian colonial Libya (1911-1943) among five linked sites: carceral island, colonial exhibition, concentration camp, agricultural village, and migrant detention centre. It addresses the understudied phenomenon of contemporary European imperialisms and re-imagines analyses of empire by sharpening our understanding of its mobile foundations.

Assistant Professor, Modern Languages, Literatures, and Linguistics, University of Oklahoma  -  The Empire Between: Mobility, Colonialism, and Space in Italy and Libya

Louise E. Walker
Louise E. Walker  |  Abstract
This project analyzes conflicts over default, bankruptcy, and usury in modern Mexico. It examines how middle-class people navigated the changing moral and legal frameworks for borrowing and lending money in colonial courts like the Inquisition, in the chambers of 19th century judges, and in today’s Credit Bureau. Through analysis of legal theory, courtroom conflicts, and cultural understandings, it studies the everyday experiences and theoretical concepts that shaped the emergence of capitalism from the mid-1700s to the present. This long-term approach unearths the continuities, changes, and recurrences in the history of private property rights, moral economies, liberal economics, and the economic lives of middle-class people.

Assistant Professor, History, Northeastern University  -  Economic Woes: Debt and the Ethics of Capitalism in Modern Mexico