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UT Humanities Center Fellows 2022-2023

Faculty Fellows

Mary Dzon
Associate Professor
Department of English
Project Title: Divine Emotionality and Marian Advocacy in Late-Medieval Culture

Mary Dzon is an associate professor in the Department of English, and an active participant in the Marco Institute for Medieval and Renaissance Studies. Her first book, The Quest for the Christ Child in the Later Middle Ages, published by the University of Pennsylvania Press in 2017, won the Best First Book Award from the Southeastern Medieval Association in 2021. She is also co-editor of The Christ Child in Medieval Culture: Alpha es et O!, which appeared with the University of Toronto Press in 2012. Professor Dzon continues to explore the medieval reception of New Testament apocrypha and medieval devotional culture more broadly. Her new book-length project explores divine emotionality and Marian advocacy in the later Middle Ages.

 

Project Description:

This book project focuses on the subject of divine emotionality in medieval conceptualizations of Mary and the gendering of emotions within medieval culture. I explore the extent to which medieval Christians attributed anthropomorphic emotions to God the Father and the Son and believed that the Virgin would influence these figures by offsetting their disgust with humanity, often by making rhetorical and gestural appeals to her femininity. Likewise, apocryphal infancy legends, the focus of my earlier research, often show the young Jesus conceding to his mother's wishes, almost begrudgingly. In my current project, I explore arguable unorthodoxies of medieval piety and suppositions concerning the connections among Mary and the divine persons from a different angle: the various ways in which medieval Christians imagined their own salvation as contingent upon emotional fluctuations, or a lack of empathy, within the divine circle. My multidisciplinary and synthetic study highlights the ways in which late-medieval sources attribute extreme emotions and sometimes the absence thereof to divine and other holy figures, male and female, considered key players in the drama of salvation.



Beau Gaitors
Assistant Professor
Department of History
Project Title: Freedom and Slavery in the Port: African Descendants in Veracruz, Mexico, 1789-1849

Beau D.J. Gaitors is an Assistant Professor in the Department of History at the University of Tennessee-Knoxville. He is a historian of Latin America with research and teaching emphasis on the economic, political, and social impacts of African descendants in nineteenth and early twentieth-century Latin America after the abolition of slavery. Prior to coming to the University of Tennessee, he was an Assistant Professor of History at Winston-Salem State University in the Department of History, Politics & Social Justice. Gaitors received his Ph.D. in Latin American History in 2017 from Tulane University, his M.A. in History from Purdue University in 2010, and his B.A. in Africana Studies and International Relations from Brown University in 2008.

 

Project Description:

In the 2020 Mexican census more than 2.5 million people self-identified as African descendant. Reporters attributed this number to recent arrivals from West Africa and the Caribbean without reflecting on the vast presence in the colonial and early independence periods. This project engages archival examples to illuminate African descendants’ crucial roles in Mexico history, providing a better understanding of their presence today.



Brittany MurrayBrittany Murray
Assistant Professor
Department of Modern Foreign Languages and Literatures
Project Title: Old Futures and the “New Society”: French Culture in the Seventies

Brittany Murray is Assistant Professor in the Department of Modern Foreign Languages and Literatures. Her research and teaching interests include twentieth and twenty-first century French and Francophone culture, cinema, migration, work, gender and sexuality.  She is co-editor and translator of Taking French Feminism to the Streets: Fadela Amara and the Rise of Ni Putes Ni Soumises (2011) co-editor of the forthcoming volume, Migration, Displacement, and Higher Education: Now What, and co-editor of the forthcoming special issue, Periodizing the Present: The 2020s, the Longue Durée, & Contemporary Culture. Research has appeared or will appear in French Cultural Studies, The Comparatist, EuropeNow, Short Film Studies and more.  She is editor of the journal, CLCWeb: Comparative Literature and Culture.

Project description:

Old Futures and the “New Society”: French Culture in the Seventies is a periodizing study of France during the 1970s, drawing upon a wide variety of cultural artefacts to understand the decade’s historicity, or its imagined relationship to the past and future. Interdisciplinary in scope, the monograph brings together perspectives of precarious workers, the unemployed, women, LGTBQIA+ communities, (im)migrants, and the unhoused. Though these vantage points, the book approaches the decade’s disorienting effect on the experience of time, and the ingenuity with which people re-oriented themselves in history.
During the decade following the Prime Minister’s famous promise in 1969 to usher in a “New Society,” the country was, in fact, transformed, though not necessarily through the process policymakers anticipated. The book narrates this transformation from the point of view of collective economic, social, and cultural struggle.  In response to these seismic shifts, French novels, philosophical writing, cinema, architecture, and art from the ‘70s register shock and disorientation, and yet they also capture a burst of creative energy devoted to charting possible futures. The book’s central thesis is that those old futures, forged through hardship and preserved in cultural objects from the 1970s, provide models to help readers in the present.



Larry Perry
Assistant Professor
Department of Religious Studies
Project Title: A Black Spiritual Leftist: Howard Thurman and the Religious Left’s Unfinished Business of Race Relations

Larry S. Perry, II is assistant professor of Religious Studies and Africana Studies. Dr. Perry's work focuses on the history of the American Religious Left, its thoughts, thinkers, politics, practice and its intersection (or lack thereof) with racial justice in the U.S. Dr. Perry's current book project is entitled A Black Spiritual Leftist: Howard Thurman and the Religious Left’s Unfinished Business of Race Relations. In the past Dr. Perry has served as a fellow at the Center for American Progress’ Leadership Institute and as a contributor on CSPAN.

Project Description:

My book project, A Black Spiritual Leftist, offers a needed portrait of Howard Thurman and his relationship to the broader American Religious Left—its institutions, leading figures, theology, philosophy, and politics. A Black Spiritual Leftist is an intellectual and political biography of the life of the 20th-century philosophy, mystic, minister, and activist, Howard Thurman. Intentionally included in the biography will be a description of the various circumstances, institutions, and social and cultural factors that produced him. A detailed account of the life of Howard Thurman and the world around him points one toward a figure who transcended and transgressed the bounds of American Religion in general and Black Religion in particular. My reading of Thurman allows us to reimagine American Intellectualism, Liberal Religion, and Black American Spirituality as tools in the struggle for racial justice.



Iliana Rocha
Assistant Professor
Department of English
Project Title: Ours

Iliana Rocha is the 2019 winner of the Berkshire Prize for a First or Second Book of Poetry for her newest collection, The Many Deaths of Inocencio Rodriguez, available from Tupelo Press. Karankawa, her debut, won the 2014 AWP Donald Hall Prize for Poetry (University of Pittsburgh Press, 2015). The recipient of a 2020 CantoMundo fellowship and 2019 MacDowell fellowship, she has had work featured or forthcoming in the Best New Poets, as well as The New York TimesPoetryPoem-a-DayThe NationVirginia Quarterly Review, Latin American Literature TodayOxford American, and Blackbird among others, and she serves as Poetry Co-Editor for Waxwing Literary Journal. She earned her PhD in Literature and Creative Writing from Western Michigan University and is an Assistant Professor at the University of Tennessee, Knoxville. Her three chihuahuas Nilla, Beans, and Migo are the loves of her life.

 

Project Description:

My project, Ours, is where poetry is met with critical inquiry, where the personal confronts the political, where the natural world is made antipastoral in an interdisciplinary, docupoetic manuscript focused on violence against Women of Color. As a Mexican American woman and a survivor of domestic violence, my intersectional pulse will be a primary guiding force, and my research begins within my own personal archives, including photo and video. I situate image and text to not only mediate my own experiences, but also strengthen poetic relationships between the two modes sometimes seen at odds. Writing about my own subjectivity and survivorhood is a direct, immediate response to a narrow discourse of Whiteness whose omissions are the consequence of racism, bias, and victim hierarchy. My research extends into data centering on domestic abuse among Latinx populations across the country to demonstrate how tethered one woman is to many—when examining wounding ripple effects, a morbid community emerges.



Charles Sanft
Professor
Department of History
Project Title: Hanging Spring Post: An Archive of Connection in China’s Northwest

Charles Sanft studies the history and culture of the early imperial period in China. His second book, Literate Community in Early Imperial China, received the James Henry Breasted Prize for the best book in English on history prior to 1000 CE from the American Historical Association, and an honorable mention for the pre-1900 Joseph Levenson Prize from the Association for Asian Studies. Professor Sanft is an Associate of the Kenneth G. Lieberthal and Richard H. Rogel Center for Chinese Studies at the University of Michigan, a former Fellow of the American Council of Learned Societies and of the Japan Society for the Promotion of Science, and a former Member of the School of Historical Studies at the Institute for Advanced Study (Princeton).

 

Project Description:

The project examines Hanging Spring Post (Xuanquanzhi), part of the postal relay and border zone monitoring systems of the Han dynasty. Beginning around the first century BCE and lasting into the first century CE, the post monitored its area and provided food, shelter, and horses for Chinese and foreign travelers. New documents from the outpost, which lay in the zone of contact between China and Central Asia, reveal a periphery that was far from centers of culture and government but never desolate. Professor Sanft's book project examines what these texts tell us about the early Chinese presence in the area, China's ongoing contacts with others in the region and beyond, and intellectual life across the Chinese realm. The book will also explore the connection of the site to its environment and human effects on it, highlighting what the texts from Hanging Spring record about early responses to change in the natural world.



Digital Humanities Faculty Fellow (Spring 2023)

Lisa King
Associate Professor
Department of English
Project Title: A Sense of Indigenous Place: Native American Voices and the Mound at UTK

Lisa King is an associate professor of rhetoric, writing, and linguistics in the Department of English at UT. Her work is interdisciplinary, based on cultural rhetorics with an emphasis in contemporary Native American/Indigenous rhetorics. She is co-editor of Survivance, Sovereignty, and Story: Teaching American Indian Rhetorics, and author of Legible Sovereignties: Rhetoric, Representations, and Native American Museums. Her current projects include a co-edited collection with Andrea Riley Mukavetz, titled Decolonial Possibilities: Indigenously-Rooted Practices in Rhetoric and Writing, and an upcoming exhibition at McClung Museum tentatively titled “A Sense of Indigenous Place.”

 

Project Description:

This project seeks to address the longstanding invisibility of Indigenous peoples on the University of Tennessee, Knoxville’s campus and in the wider region. Unrecognized by most, there is an Indigenous burial mound on the Agricultural Campus adjoining the main campus, and even those who know of its presence frequently do not understand the significance of that place or how it is part the history of the land we live on. UT’s narrative of itself does not include the mound or Indigenous peoples in any significant sense; if anything, UT’s historical narrative only begins with settlement and the interpretation of space through settler eyes. This project is an attempt to challenge that absence and that silence. The mound is the oldest human-made structure on our campus, and its presence has the power to reorient the UT community and the larger Knoxville area to Indigenous histories and contemporary Indigenous existence here. With this project I locate myself at the intersection of research to decolonize museums and work better with tribal communities, to provide wider access to exhibitions and collections, and to create spaces (physical and virtual) that are more engaging and interactive in practice.



Graduate Fellows

Emma Butler-Probst
PhD Student
Department of English
Project Title: The Social Bible in Nineteenth-Century American Literature

Emma Butler-Probst is a Ph.D. Candidate and Graduate Teaching Associate at the University of Tennessee, Knoxville. Emma’s research focuses on how Herman Melville and other nineteenth-century authors use scenes of shared Bible reading to comment on the social dynamic of belief and to negotiate larger intercultural relationships in the United States. In a larger sense, she is fascinated by questions of intertextuality, epistemology, and the many ways that authors’ philosophical and religious values are shaped by their reading and then manifested in their writing. Emma’s undergraduate thesis examined Melville’s depiction of madness as a warning against the obsessive pursuit of absolute truth, and her M.A. thesis explored Melville’s ongoing cyclical journey from skepticism to faith and back again. Emma has also published articles on Melville’s influence on George Eliot and Ishmael’s multicultural redemption through his relationship with Queequeg.

 

Project Description:

Emma’s dissertation project, “The Social Bible in Nineteenth Century American Literature,” examines how representations of shared Bible reading in nineteenth century texts can both highlight societal inequality and offer the potential for sincere intercultural relationships. Scenes of Bible reading offered the nineteenth-century reader an opportunity to imagine a larger network of diverse co-readers who could expand one another’s interpretive vision, but this dynamic could only work if both parties remained open to collaboration and exchange. While prejudice occasionally restricts access to this shared collaborative space, marginalized authors were also able to use depictions of the Bible to point to places where America has failed to meet its democratic ideals and to urge social reform. Scenes of Bible reading dramatize existing power relations in America in a way that both challenges imbalanced power relations and presents a vision of future collaboration that is found in the equal meeting of minds.



Ryan Gesme
PhD Student
Department of History
Project Title: Heimat or Hjemland: National Consciousness, Self-Determination, and the Great War in Schleswig-Holstein, 1907-1920

Ryan J. Gesme is a Ph.D. candidate in modern European history specializing in Germany, Denmark, borderlands, and nationalism at the University of Tennessee-Knoxville. He received an M.A. in history from Tennessee (2018) and a B.A. in history and Scandinavian Studies from the University of Wisconsin-Madison (2015). His work has been published in the 2021 edited volume Like Snow in the Sun? The German Minority in Denmark in Historical Perspective and the Spring 2020 issue of The Bridge: Journal of the Danish American Heritage Society. His work has been supported by a Fulbright Fellowship to Germany (2019-20), an American-Scandinavian Foundation Dissertation Fellowship to Denmark (2020-21), and an Einar and Eva Lund Haugen Memorial Scholarship from the Society for the Advancement of Scandinavian Studies (2021-22).  

 

Project Description:

Ryan Gesme’s dissertation project, “Heimat or Hjemland: National Consciousness, Self-Determination, and the Great War in Schleswig-Holstein, 1907-1920,” investigates communal identity within the German-Danish borderland of Schleswig-Holstein from before and during the First World War (1914-1918) and the 1920 Schleswig Plebiscite or referendum. It engages with the theories of national indifference or how local inhabitants rejected association with a specific national identity and Wilsonianism or the policies associated with U.S. President Woodrow Wilson, including self-determination, popular sovereignty, and ethnic-based nation-states. His dissertation utilizes a transatlantic approach to examine these global events by analyzing the diaspora community of America’s opinions regarding the application of Wilsonian ideas on the Schleswig Question. His work contributes to the public’s understanding of engagement with new political rhetoric, first-time democratic participation, and the construction of communal identity after periods of conflict. It provides a historical case study of the mandating of ethnicity through the democratic application of self-determination and popular sovereignty.



Michael Lovell
PhD Student
Department of History
Project Title: A Dark-Age Enlightenment: Reason, Faith, and Social Intolerance in Frankish Culture, 380-754 CE

Michael Lovell is a historian studying late antique and early medieval Gaul. His research interestes include: biblical exegesis, apocalyptic thought, late antique and early medieval heresy and othering, Frankish statecraft, Church history, late antique and early medieval theology and philosophy. He received his M.A. in history from Northern Illinois University (2015) and his B.A. with honors in history from the University of New Orleans (2013). Michael was the recipient of the Marco Institute for Medieval and Renaissance Studies' 2021-2022 Haslam Dissertation Fellowship.

Project Description:

While modern understandings of reason often place rationality in opposition to faith, to late antique and early medieval Christians, the two were inseparable. As such, Christians increasingly identified themselves as holding a monopoly on perfect rationality, while dubbing their opponents– namely pagans, Jews, and perceived heretical Christians– as untrustworthy champions of irrationality, insanity, and bestial nature. Elites in late Roman Gaul, Francia, and later Germany educated each other and the non-elite laity from the top-down on how to live most rationally for the sake of salvation through widely circulated sermons, saints’ lives, church and secular laws, and theological treatises. As the centuries progressed, this particular form of Christian identity narrowed the window of acceptable thought, thus increasing the degree of violence and persecution of religious outsiders in the Frankish dominions.

 



Rebecca Webster
PhD Student
Department of Anthropology
Project Title: Pots, Pipes, and People: Evaluating Sekakawon/Wicocomico Persistence throughout the Potomac and Rappahannock River Valleys through the Identification of Communities of Practice

Rebecca Webster is a PhD candidate focusing on archaeology in the Department of Anthropology at the University of Tennessee, Knoxville. Rebecca began her career in archaeology at St. Mary’s College of Maryland in St. Mary’s City, Maryland, graduating in 2016. At St. Mary’s College, she researched sites including Late Woodland Indigenous villages, colonial households, and 19th century enslaved communities in the Chesapeake under the tutelage of Dr. Julia A. King. In 2017, Rebecca relocated to Knoxville to study 17th century Indigenous-settler interactions in the Chesapeake with Dr. Barbara J. Heath. For her dissertation, she is assessing the use of attribute analyses of Indigenous-manufactured ceramics and smoking pipes as a method to highlight Indigenous coalescence and persistence during and after the colonial period, specifically highlighting the persistence of the Virginia Chicacoan/Wicocomico throughout the 17th and 18th centuries.

 

Project Summary:
In 1719, the Virginia colonial government dissolved the Wicocomico Indian Nation after the death of its werowance (chief), William Taptico Jr. In the eyes of the colonial settlers, this marked the end of the Wicocomico as a polity, people, and culture. However, the 177 members of the modern Wicocomico Nation Heritage Association have challenged this claim through extensive genealogical research. This contradiction reflects the tension felt between Indigenous descendant communities and individuals who have been educated and influenced by traditional historical narratives today. A central factor associated with Indigenous persistence that scholars previously overlooked, but descendant populations have embraced, is the coalescence and ethnogenesis of Indigenous populations during the colonial period. In this dissertation, I propose to use the Wicocomico as a case study to identify instances of Indigenous coalescence within the Potomac and Rappahannock River Valleys through archaeological analysis of Indigenous-manufactured ceramic and tobacco pipe attributes and genealogical evidence from the Late Woodland period until A.D. 1763. By performing these analyses, I seek to identify the presence of communities of practice within the region that could influence group decisions to coalesce or not. Through this theoretical and methodological framework, I hope to bring Indigenous narratives of persistence throughout the region to the forefront of historical conversations.



Marco Haslam Dissertation Fellow

Thomas Maurer
PhD Student
Department of History
Project Title: “In that Day, the Dragon will approach the City”: Italy and the Apocalyptic Dream

Thomas Maurer is a sixth year PhD student studying medieval Italy. His focus is on prophecies about Italian cities during the wars between Frederick II (d. 1250) and the papacy. During the conflict, Italians established an apocalyptic identity in the face of imminent destruction at the hands of either imperial or papal forces. Using the apocalyptic theories of Abbot Joachim of Fiore (d. 1202), local Italians wrote pseudo-Joachite prophecies to place their civic homes within a wider eschatological world view. Maurer completed his M.A. at Western Michigan University (2017) and his B.A. at Christendom College (2015). He currently holds the Haslam Dissertation Fellowship through the Marco Institute for Medieval and Renaissance Studies.

Project Description:

In the thirteenth century, citizens of Italian cities understood their civic homes as possessing a duel civic and religious identity. Both were wrapped together into a unified idea of civic identity. However, an eschatological element was present within civic consciousness as well. Maurer's project investigates how thirteenth century Italians viewed their home cities in apocalyptic terms. Scribes throughout northern Italy used the name and theories of Abbot Joachim of Fiore (d. 1202), to write their own “pseudo-Joachite” prophecies about their home cities, exulting their native cities, and castigating nearby enemies. There was good evidence to believe the eschaton was approaching. The emperor Frederick II was waging war upon the Church, fulfilling his role as the seventh and final Antichrist and spurring apocalyptic prognostications. As papal and imperial armies crisscrossed the Lombard plains, medieval Italians fortified their spirits and civic resolve with prophecies that placed their homes as new Jerusalems. This project uncovers a new element of Italian religious and civic culture, as civic prophecies express a deep desire by medieval Italians for a place within an unfolding eschatological drama.    



Past Fellows

Download PDF listings of Humanities Center Fellows here:


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