By Courtney C.W. Guerra, AB’05
Emily P. Austin, Assistant Professor in Classics, studies Homer’s portrayals of emotion. Her dissertation has evolved into a book project, “Grief, Anger, and the Iliadic Hero,” in which she traces specific terms associated with Achilles to shed light on his place within the larger narrative of the Iliad. A shortened version of this analysis, “Grief as ποθή: Understanding the Anger of Achilles,” was published in the New England Classical Journal in 2015. After completing her BA at the University of Dallas, she received her PhD in classical studies from Boston University, where she held several graduate fellowships and was awarded two prizes for distinguished student scholarship from the BU Center for the Humanities.
Austin’s work engages with “affect studies,” an area gaining momentum across the humanities. Roughly, it is the examination of emotions or feelings through the ways in which they are expressed to others — whether intentionally or inadvertently. Austin focuses on the term used to describe Achilles’s grief for his friend and companion Patroklos — “ποθή,” translated as “yearning” or “longing” — which appears in no other grief contexts in the Iliad. Comparing the word’s use in the Odyssey and by other ancient Greek writers, Austin shows the specificity and complexity of this particular emotional response, a kind of inconsolable personal loss that is infused with anger. Understanding the term’s deployment in the Iliad leads to an enriched perspective on the work as a whole: its deep engagement with the motivations for vengeance, and the ultimate futility of revenge.
Ethnomusicologist Jessica Swanston Baker joins the University as Assistant Professor in Music after a postdoctoral fellowship in critical Caribbean studies at Rutgers. She received her PhD from the University of Pennsylvania and a bachelor’s degree in vocal performance from Bucknell University. Her dissertation, “‘Too Fast’: Coloniality and Time in Wylers of St. Kitts and Nevis,” examines a genre of Caribbean music known for its rapid tempo and explores the social implications of its musical and dance performances. She is the author of two entries in Oxford University Press’s Dictionary of Caribbean and Latin American Biography (2016) as well as several articles, most recently “Black Like Me: Caribbean Tourism and the St. Kitts Music Festival” in Ethnomusicology (2016).
The “wylers” genre Baker studies first gained popularity in the early 1990s. Its name may have evolved out of “wilder,” reflecting the frenetic speed of the music and the high-energy dancing that often accompanies it. As is the case with many emergent music styles associated with a younger generation, wylers has its detractors who bemoan its deleterious effects on the youth. Because these critiques often seek to control the bodies of (usually female) dancers, Baker’s dissertation title plays on the dual meanings of “too fast,” referring not only to the music’s tempo but also to the alleged inappropriateness of women who enjoy dancing to it. She offers a feminist counterargument to such assertions, tracing their origins back to colonial ideas about respectability and connecting that legacy to the broader historical and cultural issues of the Circum-Caribbean. In a related project, Baker is researching the role of music festivals — which often feature North American soul music — in the Caribbean tourist industry.
Professor in Philosophy Matthew Boyle specializes in the philosophy of mind — including self-knowledge, perception, and rationality — and the work of Immanuel Kant, with additional interests in psychology, ethics, and post-Kantian German philosophy. He was previously a professor at Harvard, where he completed his undergraduate degree, and he holds a BPhil from Oxford as well as a PhD from the University of Pittsburgh. He has held visiting appointments at the John U. Nef Committee on Social Thought, Universität Leipzig, and Universität Basel, and was awarded research fellowships from the Radcliffe Institute for Advanced Study and the American Council of Learned Societies. The author of numerous journal articles, he is working on his first book, The Significance of Self-Consciousness, which is under contract with Oxford University Press.
Boyle’s research has focused primarily on the philosophy of mind and on issues in the history of philosophy. In the former area, he has been especially concerned with the question of how we know our own minds and with debates about the scope and limits of such knowledge. In the latter field, he has written mainly on the philosophy of Immanuel Kant, and in particular on his views about the role that self-awareness plays structuring human perception, thought, and action. He also has research interests in the work of Aristotle, Thomas Aquinas, J. G. Fichte, G. W. F. Hegel, and Sartre. His book-in-progress focuses on the nature of rationality, the connection between rationality and the capacity for first-person awareness of one’s own cognitive activity, and the relevance of these topics to contemporary debates in philosophy and psychology.
Allyson Nadia Field joined Cinema and Media Studies as Associate Professor in January 2016; her previous faculty position was at UCLA. A scholar of African American cinema from the silent era to the contemporary, she studies the relationship between moving image media representation and social perceptions of race and ethnicity. Her first book, Uplift Cinema: The Emergence of African American Film & the Possibility of Black Modernity, was published by Duke University Press in 2015. She also coedited L.A. Rebellion: Creating a New Black Cinema (University of California Press, 2015) with her CMS colleague Jacqueline Stewart, AM’93, PhD’99, and UCLA’s Jan-Christopher Horak. After graduating cum laude from Stanford and receiving an MA from Universiteit van Amsterdam, she completed her PhD at Harvard. In addition to holding fellowships at Harvard’s W. E. B. DuBois Institute at the Hutchins Center for African and African American Research and Radcliffe Institute, she has cocurated a number of film series and exhibitions in Los Angeles.
The perspective of Field’s argument is telegraphed in the title of her monograph: the phrase “uplift cinema” is offered as an expansion of the category of “race film,” the term used to describe films by, for, or about African Americans. “Uplift cinema” marks the legacy of Black filmmaking practices in the 1910s, including nontheatrical and amateur films as well as commercial films produced for African American audiences. By studying this largely forgotten archive of cinematic history — because there are no known surviving uplift films, Field’s work is based entirely on surviving extrafilmic sources — Uplift Cinema provides a new context for our understanding of the history of African American cinema, drawing on media history, political discourse, and cultural ideals. Field’s next project is on Noble Johnson, widely considered the first Black movie star and the cofounder of one of the first production companies to portray nonstereotypical African American characters onscreen. Johnson appeared in over 170 films from the silent era to 1950, playing a variety of nonwhite, often generically “ethnic” characters throughout his career. Field uses this legacy to complicate the idea of a clear black/white identity binary and to reconsider the racial politics of U.S. cinema — and the culture more broadly — in the first half of the 20th century.
Matthias Haase, Assistant Professor in Philosophy, specializes in ethics, moral psychology, and philosophy of action and mind; he is also interested in German idealism, political philosophy, and the philosophy of gender and sexuality. In addition to his previous appointments — on the faculty of the Institut für Philosophie at Universität Leipzig and Philosophisches Seminar at Universität Basel, with a two-year visiting fellowship at Harvard between them — he has also collaborated with his UChicago colleagues, participating in the Department’s ongoing Wittgenstein Workshop and Candace Vogler’s project Virtue, Happiness, and the Meaning of Life. His graduate studies were conducted at Freie Universität Berlin, Humbodlt Universität Berlin, and finally Universität Potsdam, and he spent several years at the University of Pittsburgh as a visiting scholar before completing his doctoral degree.
A guiding principle of his research is the thesis of German Idealism: that our fundamental concepts of ethics like good, ought, justice as well as action, character, and will are to be developed within a systematic account of specifically practical knowledge, truth, and reason. From this perspective, understanding what it is to be an intentional agent and understanding what it means to “live well” become one and the same enterprise. By reflecting on the precarious nature of human action, Haase’s research is able to explore a number of foundational topics in ethics: the way in which individual self-understanding is situated within communities of ethical life; the linkage between thought, action and language; and the interiority of self-reflection versus its dependence on the whole whirl of our social relations to one other. One of the current research projects in this broader approach explores the way in which the philosophical understanding of the ideal of justice is inseparable from an account of the actual dimensions of human interaction.
Music theorist and pianist Jennifer Iverson joins the Department of Music as Assistant Professor after a yearlong fellowship at the Stanford Humanities Center. She was previously on the faculty at the University of Iowa, where she spent a semester as a fellow-in-residence at the Obermann Center for Advanced Studies. Her book project “Electronic Inspirations: The WDR Studio and Music at Mid-Century” explores the early electronic music produced in West Germany in the 1950s. Other research interests include disability studies and their relationship to music composition and performance. Her PhD, in music theory, is from the University of Texas–Austin. She also holds an MM in piano performance and pedagogy from the University of Northern Iowa and a BS from the University of Wisconsin–La Crosse.
Iverson’s forthcoming book discusses the avant-garde electronic music produced at the radio station Westdeutsche Rundfunk, or WDR, based out of Cologne, West Germany. In addition to broadcasting new music, WDR was a recording studio where military technologies were reclaimed and repurposed to produce avant-garde electronic music. Composer György Ligeti — best known to general audiences for work “borrowed” by Stanley Kubrick for the soundtrack to 2001: A Space Odyssey — began his career at WDR. This experimental, collaborative environment inspired countless others, including US composer John Cage. In her other research, Iverson has analyzed cultural ideas of disabled bodies, including several essays on the electronic music of Bjork. One study examines the film Dancer in the Dark, in which Bjork is both an actor — portraying a protagonist with a degenerative eye condition — and the musician featured in most of its soundtrack.
Catherine Kearns, Assistant Professor in Classics, is an archaeologist studying the Mediterranean world of the first millennium BCE. Her interests and publications focus on ancient landscapes, social practices, and environmental change. Her in-progress monograph, “Unruly Landscapes: Society and Environment on Ancient Cyprus,” examines the island’s social and political developments and landscape changes. Her fieldwork on Cyprus has been supported by grants from the Fulbright Commission and the American Schools of Oriental Research. She comes to UChicago after an Andrew W. Mellon Postdoctoral Fellowship at Stanford, following her PhD at Cornell University. In addition to her MA studies at the University of Arizona and her BA from George Washington University, she also worked at the Smithsonian in the anthropology archives.
In “Unruly Landscapes,” Kearns uses archaeological findings, historical climate data, and contemporary writing to make connections between Cyprus’s environment and political systems. She has helped direct geophysical surveys and excavations throughout the island, uncovering evidence of both rural and urban settlements and the interplay between them. As new technologies have emerged to evaluate climate patterns of ancient eras, Kearns weaves this data into her analysis, developing a more complete picture of community development during the Iron Age. She also studies ancient Greek and Roman depictions of Cyprus to better understand the sociopolitical context of the region, and has conducted fieldwork in the surrounding eastern Mediterranean area, including expeditions to Armenia, Jordan, and Italy.
Thomas Pashby is an Assistant Professor in Philosophy, specializing in the philosophy of physics and of science as well as metaphysics; he is also interested in the history of philosophy and of science. After earning his master’s degree in physics and philosophy from the University of Bristol in the UK, he completed his graduate studies in history and philosophy of science at the University of Pittsburgh with the dissertation “Time and the Foundations of Quantum Mechanics.” His scholarship concerns the interpretation of quantum mechanics and relativity theory, particularly with respect to our understanding of time. Before joining the University, he was a provost’s postdoctoral scholar at the University of Southern California and a visitor at Ludwig-Maximilians Universität and the Institute for Advanced Study in Princeton, New Jersey. Before beginning his PhD, he designed automotive sensors for a British electronics company.
Pashby’s work connects traditional philosophical considerations with theoretical physics. In many ways, he seeks to bridge the ostensive divide between the humanities and the sciences, using knowledge gleaned from physics and related fields to develop new philosophical understandings. Much of Pashby’s scholarship is in metaphysics, testing metaphysical hypotheses against findings in physics and vice versa to develop arguments that attempt to offer a complete picture of the universe’s machinations — from the movement of energy through outer space to microscopic neurons firing within an individual brain.
Sam Pluta, Assistant Professor in Music, is a composer and improvisational musician. As a composer of acoustic and electroacoustic music, he has written works for many of the leading new music ensembles in the country. In addition to his creative pieces, he has studied the technologies of computer-aided music performance, culminating in his dissertation, “Laptop Improvisation in a Multi-Dimensional Space.” He has a DMA from Columbia University, master’s degrees from the University of Birmingham in the UK and the University of Texas–Austin, and a BA from Santa Clara University. A member of numerous performance ensembles, he has toured internationally and held several artist residencies. His commissioned pieces have been performed widely at prominent music festivals.
In addition to music, Pluta also creates software. His program Live Modular Instrument (LMI) is used in nearly all of his recent compositions and performances. LMI, which facilitates live, laptop-based performances that integrate seamlessly with other instruments, is freely available to other electronic musicians interested in its custom-designed capacity to respond organically to performances in real time. You can listen to many of Pluta’s pieces — including a few featured in concert videos that show LMI in action — on his website: http://www.sampluta.com/composition.html.
Published: Fall 2016