Neubauer Collegium selects new faculty research projects

What are the social and ethical implications of machine-learning algorithms that can accurately predict crime in Chicago? How should we rethink the very meaning of a natural history museum to become better stewards of the art and artifacts of indigenous peoples? What can we learn from the language of an individual who lacks typical human senses to perceive the world?

These are just some of the complex humanistic questions that will be addressed in the 13 collaborative research projects that the Neubauer Collegium for Culture and Society has selected for 2017-2018.

The projects will be led by UChicago faculty representing almost every department in the Division of the Humanities and Division of the Social Sciences, as well as divisions and professional schools across the University. Several of the projects will include collaborations with scholars from other academic institutions in the United States and abroad. With these new efforts, the Neubauer Collegium will have supported 67 research projects led by 130 faculty fellows in its first five years.

“These projects proposed by University of Chicago faculty continue to promote the standards of excellence and imagination in research with which we have become familiar,” said Jonathan Lear, the Roman Family Director of the Neubauer Collegium and the John U. Nef Distinguished Service Professor in the Committee on Social Thought and the Department of Philosophy. “I am grateful to the faculty advisory board for its hard work in making difficult decisions. And I look forward to working with the researchers in the months to come.”

The following Neubauer Collegium faculty research projects will begin in July 2017:

A Comparative History of East Asian Literatures
Haun Saussy (Comparative Literature)

University Professor Haun Saussy, working in collaboration with an international team of scholars, will look at the influence and integration of East Asian cultures on the literature of the vast region. As part of this project, the team will reconceptualize the nature of comparative history, with the aim ultimately to produce a multi-volume comparative literary history including Chinese, Japanese, Mongolian, Vietnamese and Tibetan traditions, among others.

Crimes of Prediction
Chris Blattman (Harris), Kathleen Cagney (Sociology), Ishanu Chattopadhyay (Medicine), Brett Goldstein (Harris), Jens Ludwig (Harris, SSA) Harold Pollack (SSA) and Forrest Stuart (Sociology)

Utilizing the detailed crime logs available to the public through the city of Chicago Data Portal, and drawing on expertise in machine-learning, social theory and ethnography, this project will investigate whether the predictability of human behavior can help foresee crime in Chicago, and explore the ethical concerns and biases that could arise from such methods.

Interwoven: Sonic and Visual Histories of the Indian Ocean World
Niall Atkinson (Art History), Philip Bohlman (Music), James Nye (Library), Laura Ring (Library) and Anna Seastrand (College)

Building on three years of workshops on sonic and visual culture in South Asia, this project will bring together the worlds of research and performance as it seeks to improve our understanding of the diverse artistic practices in the Indian Ocean region, and the complex ways they helped shape local and transregional cultures.

The Language of Kim
Lenore Grenoble (Linguistics) and Peggy Mason (Neurobiology)

How does an individual who lacks typical human senses perceive the world? This project will seek to answer that question by adopting a field linguistic approach in an effort to learn the “language of ‘Kim,’” a remarkable woman who relies on vision and hearing to see the world in the absence of touch and pain, and limited taste and smell.

Living Aspirations
William Schweiker (Divinity) and Günter Thomas (Ruhr-University Bochum)

This project will support the Neubauer Collegium Visiting Fellowship of Günter Thomas from Ruhr-University Bochum. Working with Prof. William Schweiker, Thomas will explore one of the most profound characteristics of human beings—the realization of their life’s aspirations—from the vantage point of moral philosophy, religious thought and socio-cultural analysis. The project will consider aspirations as the key missing link, under-examined in current thought, between human creativity and social and cultural processes of transforming and enriching life.

The Logic and Politics of Climate Change
Dipesh Chakrabarty (History), Elizabeth Chatterjee (Political Science), Greg Lusk (Philosophy) and Joseph Masco (Anthropology)

Where and how should the humanities and social sciences intervene in the climate change debate? This project will foster interdisciplinary dialogue on a range of topics, from climate modeling to ethical decision-making and democratic participation, to open up the science-policy relationship and demonstrate the value of this more comprehensive approach to climate change.

NigerHeritage: Conservation and Exposition of Niger's Unique Cultural and Fossil Legacy
Ralph Austen (History), Lauren Conroy (Organismal Biology and Anatomy) and Paul Sereno (Organismal Biology and Anatomy)

This project involves rethinking the design and function of a museum, a cultural center for nomadic peoples, and a fossil field site—each with a distinct role in the preservation of Niger’s paleontological, archaeological and cultural heritage. Scientists, social scientists, architects, planners and the public in the U.S. and Niger will collaborate to develop plans for these cultural initiatives, the ultimate goals of which include repatriation and cultural stewardship of artifacts originating from the region.

Open Fields: Ethics, Aesthetics, and the Future of Natural History
Justin Richland (Anthropology), Jessica Stockholder (Visual Arts) and Alaka Wali (Field Museum)

This project, which builds on an earlier collaboration at the Neubauer Collegium, aims to rethink the very meaning of a natural history museum. In particular, what should the museum’s goals be with respect to the vast collections of artifacts of Native American and other indigenous peoples? The project will also continue to contribute to the ongoing renovation of the major hall of the North American Indian at the Field Museum.

Revolutionology: Media and Networks of Intellectual Revolution
Robert Bird (Slavic Language & Literature)

Marking the centennial of the 1917 Russian revolutions, an international team of scholars will look at the impact of the political and intellectual changes that rippled far beyond the Soviet Union, spurring revolutions and governmental upheaval from East Asia to Latin America and Africa. A series of workshops will allow for the creation of a publicly accessible digital archive and a volume of essays on the idea of “revolution.”

Sustainable Agriculture as a Relational Learning Process
Gary Herrigel (Political Science) and Susanne Wengle (University of Notre Dame)

As the world comes to terms with growing environmental crises and resource constraints, the need to develop sustainable agricultural practices is intensifying. This project will explore the varied content and meanings of the term “sustainable” by examining efforts to create sustainable agricultural practices in the United States, Germany and New Zealand. A key focus will be on the relations that develop between multiple parties and stakeholders, frequently in ways that cross boundaries between farm and industry, and public and private players.

Textual Optics
Hoyt Long (East Asian Languages and Civilizations), Robert Morrissey (Romance Languages and Literatures), Haun Saussy (Comparative Literature), Richard Jean So (English) and James Sparrow (History)

The digital age has changed the face of literary and textual scholarship—from data mining and visualization to machine learning and network analysis. Bringing together a number of existing digital research initiatives and collaborations at the University, this project will seek to create a lab-like environment for humanistic scholars to produce a set of technical interfaces and models for digital literary study, ultimately creating a new approach to textual studies.

Visiting Fellow: David Auburn
Charles Newell (Court Theatre) and Larry Norman (Romance Languages and Literatures)

Award-winning playwright, screenwriter and director David Auburn, best known for his 2001 Pulitzer Prize- and Tony Award-winning play, Proof, will complete a stage adaptation of Saul Bellow’s novel The Adventures of Augie March for a world premiere production at Court Theatre during his residence as a Neubauer Collegium Visiting Fellow.

Wires and Rails: Mapping America’s 19th Century Information Revolution
Aaron Honsowetz (Bethany College), Richard Hornbeck (Booth) and Michael Weaver (College)

The rapid spread of the railroad and telegraph remade America in the late 19th century, but previous scholarly research has been limited in examining when and where people gained access to these new networks. Drawing on recently digitized resources, the researchers on this project will produce a digital map of railroad stations and telegraph offices across the United States to improve our understanding of these interrelated technological transformations.