Each year a specific yet broad area of research is pursued by the Center. UWM faculty, and faculty from other UW-System schools and beyond, are selected to participate as Fellows. Lectures, seminars, conferences, and colloquia are coordinated around the year's research theme. The focus of our research in 2013-2014 is "Humanities Futures."
For the 2014-15 academic year, UWM Fellows are joined by post-doctoral Provost Fellow Gloria Kim (PhD, Visual and Cultural Studies, University of Rochester) and UW System Fellow Mark Vareschi (English, UW-Madison).
The Center also hosts faculty from other countries who come to us with Fulbright or ACLS Fellowships, or support from their own institutions. Typically, the Center provides these International Fellows of the Center, as they are designated, with an office in the Center along with the other Center Fellows and as much research assistance, including library privileges, as possible.
For 2014-15, the Center is hosting Andrew W. Kahrl (History, African American and African Studies, University of Virginia), who is here on a Charles A. Ryskamp Research Fellowship through the American Council of Learned Societies (ACLS), and José Carlos Messias Santos Franco, a PhD student from the Graduate School of Communication, Universidade Federal do Rio de Janeiro, Brasil, who is here on a Fulbright scholarship.
The 2014-15 Fellows
“The Capitalist Mode of Prediction” and “The Future of the Algorithm”
Ivan Ascher’s first project argues that the traditional capitalist attention to production should now be refocused onto prediction. As new technologies are introduced—credit scoring, big data—so control over the means of prediction becomes increasingly important, both as a determining factor of economic success and as a factor in the transformation of social relations. His second project looks not only at what algorithms might look like in the future, but also tries to understand what kind of future is presupposed by the algorithm. In the context of finance, the increasing reliance on credit scoring and the development of high-speed trading both depend on and produce a novel conception of the future—one in which uncertainty is grasped as a risk that can be both quantified and contained.
Analysis of Post-War Youth Culture via Digital Methods
Joe Austin’s book project contributes to the social and cultural history of the American teenager, 1940–1970. The project addresses a number of gaps in the existing literature on U.S. youth culture, including the unexplored contributions of daily newspapers and the social sciences in constructing “the teenager.” Additionally, the project seeks to position the historical experiences of African American teenagers in relation to the historical trajectories of “generic [white, middle class] teenagers,” and to investigate the criminalization of African American teenagers. The project is unique in that it employs digital (non-humanistic) methods to accomplish more traditional humanities interpretations. For example, archival newspaper database inquiries, text mining, and critical discourse analysis software are being deployed to gain systematic insights into approximately 60,000 front-page newspaper articles from this time period.
(PhD, Visual and Cultural Studies, University of Rochester)
Provost Postdoctoral Fellow
“Transmissions: Ambient Media and American Security in the Era of Emerging Infections”
Gloria Kim’s project homes in on how the invention of a new disease concept transformed both the visualization of disease and its forms of mediation. Her project begins with a key transformation in visual representation and mediation that took place in 1989 when U.S. government scientists invented the concept of Emerging Infectious Diseases (EID). EID describes diseases hitherto unknown to humankind, or which have resurfaced after a period of eradication. And the EID concept fundamentally changed the practices of global public health: in addition to expanding the scale of biological governance (from state-bound to biospheric), a move from strategies of prevention (addressing present threats) to those of pre-emptive biopreparedness (acting on potential pandemics) came to dominate U.S. approaches to global health.
( Journalism, Advertising, and Media Studies)
“Her Stories: Daytime Television Soap Opera and Histories of the Feminine”
Traditional scholarship has studied the soap opera genre to understand its feminized pleasures and the ways it functions as a site of negotiation for women’s place in patriarchal society. Unfortunately, such scholarship has often tended to critique the genre synchronically, not diachronically. Elana Levine’s book project approaches the genre in historically contextual ways. By looking at ways the genre has both changed and remained the same over sixty years, Levine addresses how soaps construct and address a historically specific form of femininity. Acknowledging the current “end of the daytime soap,” she looks to understand not only the economic environment for this “death,” but more so the changing conceptions of femininity leading up to our postfeminist era.
Master's Of Liberal Studies (MLS) Fellow
“Better Doors: Game Study in Remediation”
Instead of writing another academic piece on video games, Stuart Moulthrop is creating a textual game as a basis for critical consideration of a well-known video game. His text-based game is being written in Inform 7, an authoring platform for writers of interactive fiction. The subject of his analysis is the acclaimed Portal 2, noted for its non-Euclidean architecture (warped space) and narrative discontinuities. With this project, Moulthrop hopes to better understand the rhetorical possibilities of text-based gaming for critical writing, to demonstrate that game-based criticism has scholarly merit, and to establish a precedent for innovative scholarly practice. As MLS fellow, Moulthrop will be teaching a graduate class on “Scholarship by Other Means,” which considers avenues for scholarly discourse beyond the confines of the monograph and the printed page.
“Spectrum Culture: Neuroscience, Media, and the Autistic Aesthetic”
No neurological category has captured public fascination quite like Asperger’s Disorder. The classification has spawned a rich subculture of self‐identified communities; the term functions as shorthand for nerd culture, and is a commonplace marker for lovable fictional eccentrics. Asperger’s has also gained currency through the emerging political and socio‐cultural notion of neurodiversity and its attendant rejection of cognitive difference as disability. Tasha Oren’s book project accounts for these developments within the larger framework of a cultural history of autism and its surprisingly broad impression on media, neuroscience, and digital culture. Shifting scientific and medical understandings of autism, in combination with digital technologies of both imaging and expression, have had profound implications for popular understandings of empathy, sociability, intelligence, and human affect.
“Hot Buttons: Liberalism and the Politics of Interface Design”
Jason Puskar’s project is a cultural history of the most ubiquitous mechanical interface of the modern world: the pushbutton. The pushbutton has come to function as a material means of reproducing core liberal values, especially those associated with individual agency. How does a liberal political system fundamentally based on faith in free will maintain confidence in even the most rudimentary forms of agency? The answer this book proposes is that the mechanical world, especially the binaristic switch-based interfaces of the late-nineteenth century, models a relationship between discrete causes and effects that liberal subjects subsequently (and disingenuously) internalize as fully human. Human agency, Puskar argues, is not so human after all, and would be better seen as a particular pattern of action that shows up most starkly in our machines.
(Office of Undergraduate Research)
“The Reintroduction of a ‘Wild’ Horse”
Nigel Rothfels’ project looks at the contemporary reintroduction of Przewalski’s Horse into China. Discovered in Mongolia at the end of the nineteenth century and then brought to Europe, these horses were noteworthy because they closely resembled the images of prehistoric horses being discovered in the caves of France at the time. For geneticists, the Przewalski horses being reintroduced today are simply direct descendants of those horses brought to Europe. Yet these horses are also very different from the original horses: they are as much the creation of a group of horse aficionados and prehistory buffs as anything else. These horses have been bred to conform to late nineteenth century ideas of primitivity: while they are the genetic heirs of the original horses, they have become something else through human culture.
UW System Fellow
“Everywhere and Nowhere: The Anonymous Text, 1660–1790”
Mark Vareschi’s book project examines the widespread phenomenon of anonymous publication and performance in eighteenth-century Britain. The project argues that the concept of anonymity in literary production was not self-evident to eighteenth-century readers and audiences. Rather, over the course of the period, anonymous literary texts went from being familiar and unremarkable to being a curious species of literature. One of the central features of Vareschi’s study is its reliance on quantitative data of publication and attribution to reveal patterns of thought and networks of textual circulation, patterns that had previously passed unnoticed via other modes of analysis.
For fellows from previous years, see the list of Center Fellows Since 1974.