When Adrian Autry ’94 led the Syracuse University men’s basketball team into action against the University of New Hampshire to open the 2023-24 season, there were many familiar faces in the stands inside the JMA Wireless Dome cheering on the…
Humanities Center Fellowships and Grants Support Graduate Student Research in the Humanities
Since opening its doors in 2008, the Syracuse University Humanities Center has supported faculty and graduate student research that highlights the humanities’ relevance within and beyond the academy. Graduate students may apply for competitive Dissertation Fellowships and Humanities New York Public Humanities Graduate Project awards.
Dissertation Fellowships allow recipients to focus on finishing their writing without the demands of teaching. Fellows benefit from a support system within the Humanities Center, camaraderie with one another and presenting their work to an interdisciplinary audience. “Our support helps doctoral students complete their dissertations and succeed in the job market, whether in academia or applied settings,” says Vivian May, Humanities Center director.
This year’s Dissertation Fellows are Deyasini Dasgupta and Stephanie Jones.
Dasgupta is earning a Ph.D. in English. Her dissertation, “(Re)-Negotiating Monstrous Bodies: Reading Embodiment through Race, Affect and Disability in Early Modern England,” bridges disability studies, premodern critical race theory, gender studies and historical phenomenology. In examining various “monstrous” bodies in Shakespeare, Spenser and others, Dasgupta asks: What does it mean to be human in the premodern world? What does it mean to be excluded from the domain of the human? What does it feel like?
“I am truly grateful for the sense of community, financial security and professional support provided by this Fellowship,” says Dasgupta. “Because of this generous program, I have been able to present at multiple conferences, purchase research materials and focus all my time and attention on my research and writing. I have also benefited from Humanities Center Director Vivian May’s kind guidance and from conversations with the brilliant Stephanie Jones, my fellow dissertation fellow.”
Jones, the first Black woman awarded a Humanities Center Dissertation Fellowship, is a Ph.D. candidate in writing studies, rhetoric and composition. Her dissertation, “Afrofuturist Feminism as Theory and Praxis: Rhetorical Root Working in the Black Speculative Arts Movement,” examines the history of Afrofuturism, exploring intersections between African diaspora culture, science and technology, and Black women’s contributions to the Black speculative arts movement. As Jones explains, “Black artists create methods of world-building and time travel and engage strategies that allow them to cultivate unique perspectives, such as rhetorical root working and activism, to enact an Afrofuturism that recognizes and disrupts normalized genres of futurity in ways that are anti-racist.”
Jones credits her fellowship for allowing her to successfully complete her writing. “I was also able to publish several articles and attend conferences to present my dissertation research,” she says. In 2021, Jones’s research was recognized with two awards: the Geneva Smitherman Award for Research in Black Language, Literacies, Cultures and Rhetorics (from the National Council of Teachers of English Conference on College Composition and Communication Black Caucus) and an Outstanding Teaching Assistant Award for writing, rhetoric and composition studies from Syracuse University. She will defend her dissertation in May and has accepted a tenure-track position as assistant professor of rhetoric and writing studies and associate director of first-year composition at Oklahoma State University.
Dasgupta and Jones shared their dissertation research on the Humanities Center’s public video channel, followed by a virtual coffee hour in February to discuss their work. “The video presentations and coffee hour provide an opportunity for the wider University community to learn about students’ cutting-edge work in an accessible way,” says May. “The Fellows also gain experience speaking to non-specialists about their research and its significance.”
Humanities New York Public Humanities Graduate Projects
Public Humanities Graduate Projects, a joint initiative between the Humanities Center and Humanities New York, open to master’s and doctoral students, support emerging public humanities scholars to engage beyond the ivory tower. “These collaborative projects explore an issue in the public domain with community partners,” says May. “Projects bridge expertise across our communities and bring people together to address community issues.”
This year’s Public Humanities Graduate Project awardees are Jacob Gedetsis G’21 and Ionah Scully.
Gedetsis, who earned a creative writing M.F.A. in August 2021, received an award for “First Taste: A Community Narrative Around Food,” a youth-focused writing project designed to generate intergenerational community narratives centered on New Americans and food. Last summer, Gedetsis engaged local refugee students at the North Side Learning Center through site visits to local farms, museums, grocers and restaurants—including the CNY Regional Market, Habiba’s Ethiopian Kitchen and restaurants at the Salt City Market—to explore how various New American communities in Syracuse access and make food. Classroom-based workshops helped students reflect on their experiences through creative expression; the project concluded with a public reading and display of student work at the Salt City Market in downtown Syracuse.
Ionah Scully, an award-winning dancer, is a Ph.D. candidate in the cultural foundations of education program and a member of the Michel First Nation, whose traditional lands are in Canada. Their dissertation research focuses on Two Spirit storytelling in education. Via this grant, Scully hosted land-based journaling sessions with Black, Indigenous and other people of color to consider their relationships to land, the land-back movement toward Indigenous sovereignty and relationships to one another as colonized peoples with different experiences of oppression.
Scully’s dissertation research and Humanities New York project take up shared questions but are also distinct. “I am passionate about furthering decolonial action and education and taking full advantage of academia to support many different project directions,” Scully says. “It has been fruitful, and I look forward to seeking additional opportunities to continue this important community work.”
Meet Some Alumni
May notes that the positive influence of both funding sources is evident in past recipients’ successes. Here’s where a few former dissertation fellows and Humanities New York public humanities awardees are today:
- Haejoo Kim G’21 earned a Ph.D. in English with support from a Dissertation Fellowship and defended her dissertation on “Medical Liberty and Alternative Health Practices in Nineteenth-Century Britain.” This spring, she started a position as an assistant professor in the Department of English Language and Literature at Seoul National University, in Seoul, Korea.
- Donovan Schaefer G’17, who earned his Ph.D. in religion with support from a Dissertation Fellowship, is assistant professor of religious studies at the University of Pennsylvania. His forthcoming book, “Wild Experiment: Feeling Science and Secularism after Darwin” (Duke 2022), explores the intersections between affect theory, science and critical approaches to the secular.
- Kishauna Soljour ’13, G’19, earned a Ph.D. in history with support from a Humanities New York Public Humanities Fellowship, the precursor to its current grant program. As an Andrew W. Mellow Public Humanities Fellow and visiting assistant professor of history at Sarah Lawrence College, she is developing public programming at Yonkers Public Library. Soljour’s research highlights the importance of oral history, migration narratives and popular cultural as well as artistic expressions of identity.
- Matthew D. Stewart G’19, who earned a Ph.D. in history, is a humanities teacher at The Ambrose School in Meridian, Idaho, where he uses the discussion methods honed through his Public Humanities Fellowship in the classroom every day. His dissertation research forms the basis of his first book, “The Most Beautiful Place on Earth: Wallace Stegner in California” (University of Utah Press, 2022), which will be featured in the 2022 Books in the Humanities reception on May 2.