Five University of Chicago scholars earn Guggenheim Fellowships

Five University of Chicago scholars have been named 2019 Guggenheim Fellows, chosen on the basis of prior achievement and exceptional promise.

Prof. Michael Bourdaghs, Assoc. Prof. Agnes Callard, Prof. Per Mykland, Prof. Robert Pippin and Asst. Prof. Sam Pluta were among the 168 scholars, artists and writers chosen this year from a group of almost 3,000 applicants. They will receive financial support to pursue a variety of projects—from Japanese Cold War culture to the fundamentals of data architecture.

During the four decades that Michael K. Bourdaghs has studied the Japanese Cold War culture, his scholarship has evolved from comparing Japan to America to examining Japan in a wider global context. The award-winning East Asian scholar will use the Guggenheim Fellowship to finish a book about the Japanese Cold War. He will evaluate its relationships to countries in the so-called First, Second and Third Worlds.

“I contend that a full understanding of Japan’s Cold War requires us to look at how Japanese artists and intellectuals were simultaneously participants in all three ‘Worlds’ of the Cold War era,” said Bourdaghs, the Robert S. Ingersoll Professor in East Asian Languages and Civilizations.

The idea for his new book started through teaching the UChicago course entitled “Japanese Culture of the Cold War: Literature, Film, Music.” Bourdaghs realized postwar Japanese culture was radically different when viewed through the lens of Cold War culture and when Japan was placed at the center of Cold War geopolitics instead of on the sidelines.  Japanese artists and intellectuals were simultaneously aligned with First World liberal democracies, while building ties to the socialist Second World and the nonaligned movement’s Third World.

Prolific in the Japanese language, Bourdaghs plans to undertake his new scholarship using a methodology that combines close textural analysis with rigorous historical contextualization. The Guggenheim Fellowship allows him to take several short trips to Japan while primarily working at UChicago’s Regenstein Library.

Philosopher Agnes Callard has asked if it’s possible to learn to believe in God, and what it means to “speak as a woman”—writing on both topics for The New York Times. In her 2017 book Aspiration, she drew from both psychology and decision theory, producing a work that The New Yorker described as “often moving, quietly profound.”

And as the director of undergraduate studies for the Department of Philosophy, Callard launched Night Owls, a series that draws hundreds of students for late-night discussions on everything from the existence of minds to the philosophy of divorce.

Callard plans to use the Guggenheim Fellowship to support her next book, The World Socrates Made, which will investigate how contemporary intellectual culture is rooted in Socratic origins.

“The Socratic method is our method; every field of contemporary intellectual endeavor has inherited it,” Callard said. “We play our Socratic part without attending to what a strange and idiosyncratic activity we are engaging in. So long as we take it for granted, we are blind to both its special virtues and the distinctive forms of damage it can inflict. For instance, Socrates teaches that the unexamined life is not worth living for a human being.

“But he never addresses the question: How livable is the examined life? If we take seriously the fact that intellectual engagement has real drawbacks, we put ourselves in a position to ask: How Socratic should we be?”

Per Mykland is a leader in the field of statistics and econometrics for time-dependent processes; his research breakthroughs include the development of likelihood and expansion methods for a type of probability called “fair games.” The Robert M. Hutchins Professor of Statistics and Finance, he has focused on high-frequency data in finance, showing how to include noise in statistical inference for such data and how to connect the analysis of high-frequency data with classical statistical techniques. He also serves as the scientific director of the Stevanovich Center at the University of Chicago.

His work in high-frequency data also touches on risk management, forecasting, incomplete markets and how to hedge against statistical uncertainty in pricing. Apart from their intrinsic academic value, these results are of practical interest to investors, regulators and policymakers.

Mykland’s current project, which he will continue with the Guggenheim Fellowship, seeks to understand the fundamentals of data architecture and how to turn the data into knowledge. While his recent interest has been in economic data, the mathematical theory connects intimately with medical survival analysis, and could also have applications in neuroscience, engineering, and environmental science and monitoring.

Working primarily on the modern German philosophical tradition, with a focus on the philosophers Kant and Hegel, Robert B. Pippin has analyzed issues ranging from modernity, political philosophy, self-consciousness and the problem of freedom. His interdisciplinary explorations have evaluated the relationship between philosophy and literature in Henry James and the Modern Moral Life (2000) and between philosophy and film in Hollywood Westerns and American Myth: The Importance of Howard Hawks and John Ford for Political Philosophy (2010) and The Philosophical Hitchcock: “Vertigo” and the Anxieties of Unknowingness (2017).

The Evelyn Steffansson Nef Distinguished Service Professor in Philosophy and chair of the John U. Nef Committee on Social Thought, Pippin plans to use the Guggenheim Fellowship to support work on his next book, Idealism and Anti-Idealism in Modern European Thought, which discusses how idealism in Kant, Fichte and Hegel asserts that unaided human reason can completely determine all that is knowable that it is knowable and how it is knowable.

“Philosophical knowledge is not empirical knowledge, but involves substantive questions such as what is the nature of art, justice, knowledge?” Pippin said. “Hegel has a systematic answers to such questions that later German philosophers, F.W.J. Schelling and Martin Heidegger especially, criticized. In my research next year, I want to assess and ultimately dispute these criticisms.”

Sam Pluta is a composer and performer whose unique scholarly approach explores both electronic and acoustic music. Pluta performs on electronics and coded the software that he has used in performance for over a decade: the Live Modular Instrument. Using his laptop, Pluta’s performances can be either carefully rehearsed or completely improvised—or something in between.

He has toured internationally with multiple groups, and is the technical director for Wet Ink, a collective that The New York Times named the best classical music ensemble of 2018.

“During my fellowship year, I plan to work on multiple projects,” said Pluta, “including a long form composition for Wet Ink Ensemble, a sound art installation that will be up on campus; an album of compositions; and machine listening and machine-learning algorithms for live performance.”