Four faculty members earn Guggenheim fellowships

Four UChicago faculty members have won John Simon Guggenheim Memorial Foundation fellowships: Lauren Berlant, the George M. Pullman Distinguished Service Professor in English Language and Literature; Anthony Cheung, Assistant Professor in Music and the College; Justin B. Richland, Associate Professor in Anthropology and the Social Sciences; and Theo van den Hout, the Arthur and Joann Rasmussen Professor in Western Civilization and in Hittite and Anatolian Languages.

The recipients are among a diverse group of 178 scholars, artists and scientists from the United States and Canada chosen from a pool of 3,000 applicants.

A literary critic, Berlant focuses on the relation among aesthetics, attachment and affect, and the relation between personal attachments and those that bind people to collective infrastructures such as citizenship, law and embodied norms.

She will use her Guggenheim fellowship to advance the Matter of Flatness project, which takes questions of how we perceive the event of being-in-relation in a new direction. The project will address the need among scholars of political emotion and publics for better tools to think at once about multiple registers of the social, political and aesthetic. Berlant said rather than presuming that dramatic intensities and orchestrated events are of greater significance than diffused, unaccounted-for, loosely organized, comic or episodic forms of life, Matter of Flatness seeks to recalibrate how to evaluate the implied and melodramatic dynamics of encounter that are at once improvised and structurally shaped in predictable ways.

“The problem with research and writing while full-time teaching and advising is that one barely has a chance to try things out and disagree with oneself, and to be capacious and inefficient in the archive,” Berlant said. “The Guggenheim allows for this and more.” 

Cheung is a composer and pianist whose work has been commissioned and performed throughout the world. His music reveals an interest in the ambiguity of sound sources and the subtle transformation and manipulation of timbre allied with harmony, sometimes leading him to explore electronics. It also engages improvisation, poetic imagery, syntax and rhetoric, natural phenomena and the visual arts.

As a performer and advocate for new music, Cheung co-founded the New York-based Talea Ensemble in 2007 as pianist and artistic director and currently serves as its co-artistic director. He plans to use his Guggenheim fellowship to compose a new large-scale work for the Cleveland Orchestra, for which he serves as a young composer fellow for 2015-17. The fellowship also will help fund the recording of a new portrait disc featuring his chamber music. 

“I am incredibly honored to be joining friends and colleagues in receiving the Guggenheim fellowship,” Cheung said. “It is an award that places incredible trust in me to pursue my work at the highest level, and it coincides with my first research leave, which allows me to focus almost exclusively on creative work for the upcoming year.”

Richland is a linguistic anthropologist and law scholar whose research interests include legal discourse analysis and semiotics, anthropology of law and contemporary Native American law, politics, art and ethnographic museology. Richland serves as adjunct curator of North American anthropology at the Field Museum of Natural History, and last year he was appointed associate justice of the Hopi Appellate Court by the Hopi Tribal Government. 

He plans to use his Guggenheim fellowship to complete Open Fields: Aesthetics, Ethics and the Very Idea of Natural History, an ethnographic and historiographic exploration of the changing place of Native American ethnographic collections and exhibitions in contemporary natural history museums. The project is an interdisciplinary collaboration with colleagues at the University of Chicago and the Field Museum, and with Native American artists and representatives from several Native American nations. The project also is supported by the Neubauer Collegium for Culture and Society.

"I couldn't be more thrilled by this incredible honor,” Richland said. “I am deeply gratified by the fact that the award acknowledges, and will allow me to continue working with, the many people—native and non-native alike—who are creatively refiguring relationships between indigenous peoples and the non-native institutions that house their cultural property."

A researcher based at the Oriental Institute, van den Hout studies the Hittites (ca. 1650-1200 B.C.), one of the Middle Eastern powers in ancient Anatolia (modern-day Turkey). His work focuses on the development and social history of the two Hittite writing systems: the borrowed cuneiform and the indigenous “hieroglyphs,” and he directs the institute’s Chicago Hittite Dictionary project—a comprehensive, Hittite-English lexicon that serves as a window into Hittite society. 

With support from the Guggenheim fellowship, van den Hout will complete the book Writing and Literacy in Hittite Anatolia, a comprehensive monograph covering the initial adoption of the Mesopotamian cuneiform script, the simultaneous development of the Hittites’ own “hieroglyphic” system, questions of literature and literacy versus orality, as well as the nature and workings of the tablet collections and their housing in the Hittite capital.

“A large-scale project like this requires an extended period of time that one can devote to its completion,” van den Hout said. “This grant will allow me this time, and I’m extremely grateful to the Guggenheim Foundation for the opportunity.”