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Inaugural class of fellows to research "Viral Culture"

The Northeastern Humanities Center, which is housed in the College of Social Sciences and Humanities, has selected six Northeastern University faculty members for the 2013-14 Humanities Center Resident Fellowship Program. The inaugural class of fellows includes Northeastern scholars from different disciplines who will collaborate around this year’s theme, “Viral Culture.”

The scholars for 2013-14 and their projects are:

  • Nicole Aljoe, Assistant Professor, Department of English, College of Social Sciences and Humanities; “‘Do you Remember the Days of Slav’ry?’: The Neo-Slave Narrative in contemporary Caribbean Cultural Production”
  • Ryan Cordell, Assistant Professor, Department of English, College of Social Sciences and Humanities; “Uncovering Reprinting Networks in Nineteenth-Century American Periodicals”
  • Ilham Khuri-Makdisi, Associate Professor, Department of History, College of Social Sciences and Humanities; “The Waves That Bind: Radio Broadcasting in Lebanon and Beyond, 1958-1968”
  • Justin Manjourides, Assistant Professor, Department of Health Sciences, Bouvé College of Health Sciences; “The Application of Infectious Disease Surveillance Methodologies to Humanities Data”
  • Suzanna Danuta Walters, Director of Women’s, Gender, and Sexuality Studies Program; Professor, Department of Sociology, College of Social Sciences and Humanities; “‘The Viral is Political’: Sexual Identity, Sexual Violence, Social Media”
  • Sara Wylie, Assistant Professor, Department of Sociology, College of Social Sciences and Humanities; “Redesigning WellWatch with Open Source Hardware Tools for Environmental Investigation”

The program, which will run from September 2013 to May 2014, will facilitate productive discussions and collaborations among the participants. Fellows will attend regular meetings with a rotating schedule of research reporting and collaboration; participate in monthly research colloquium presentations for Northeastern faculty, staff and students; and share their work at a yearly summit celebrating the theme.

The 2013-14 theme of “viral culture” names modes of circulation and transmission of information, ideas, and biota across time and space. The Humanities Center thinks of “viral culture” as a way to engage an array of important and emergent contemporary phenomena—related to areas as diverse as social networks, the internet, new media, public health, sexuality, marketing, and globalization. Viral culture has roots, as well, in fields as diverse as the history of public health, economics, literature, transportation, and print culture. With this theme, scholars working in diverse fields and periods will consider the ways in which the viral transmission of memes, diseases, electronic signals, print texts—of varied forms of culture— inform new research.

Later this spring, the Humanities Center will also announce the Northeastern Humanities Center Graduate Student Fellows. The deadline to apply is Friday, March 29, 2013.

Future themes for the Northeastern Humanities Center Resident Fellowship Program will include “By Design” (2014-15) and “Trans-identification” (2015-16).

2013-14 Northeastern Humanities Center Faculty Fellows

Nicole Aljoe’s project explores the global translations of the neo-slave narrative genre through a case study of Caribbean texts. Although the genre has been examined extensively as the discursive manifestation of structural racisms in the United States, its relationships to issues of neo-colonialisms outside of the U.S. context have not been fully explored. By analyzing the numerous permutations of neo-slave narratives by Caribbean artists working in a variety of media, this project highlights the ways in which contemporary artists engage with the continuing impact of the colonial era and reveals the inherent transnationality of the genre.

Ryan Cordell’s research seeks to develop theoretical models describing what qualities, both textual and thematic, helped news stories, fiction, and poetry “go viral” in nineteenth-century America. Prior to copyright enforcement, texts circulated promiscuously among newspapers and magazines, as editors freely reprinted materials borrowed from other venues. This project uses computational tools to automatically identify repeated passages within digital archives and has already uncovered thousands of reprinted texts, most unexamined by scholars. By recovering a corpus of “viral” texts, this work aims to open a new window on the values of antebellum editors and readers.

Ilham Khuri-Makdisi investigates the role played by Radio Lebanon (Idha‘at Lubnan) in shaping national identity and promoting an exemplar archetype of the modern Lebanese subject-citizen in the late 1950s and through most of the 1960s. Based on hitherto inaccessible radio archival material collected in Lebanon, the work focuses on the programs and self-proclaimed mission of the only Lebanese station (owned and run by the Lebanese state) during a decade when the radio was for the first time effectively used as a vehicle to promote strong statist messages, and disseminate highly ideological and didactic messages in the Arab world.

Justin Manjourides plans to apply distance-based disease mapping techniques and scan statistics to data derived from disciplines within the social sciences and humanities. These applications could involve identifying hotspots of crime and accidental deaths within the criminology field or mapping the spread of ideas or memes through social networks. This project aims to develop new methods of visualizing and displaying complex data resulting from jointly analyzing data from multiple sources in order to better communicate results.

Suzanna Danuta Walters will explore virality in relation to two “sites” in which both “the body” and identity itself is at issue: sexual violence and sexual identity.  Through an investigation of numerous “signal” moments in viral transmission (e.g. the “It Gets Better” project combating anti-gay animus and the circulation of video feeds and other forms of social media surrounding the Steubenville rape case), this project asks historical, social, and political questions of the place of virality in social change and justice projects.

Sara Wylie’s project designs, develops, and analyzes WellWatch, an online mapping and databasing tool for communities and academics to collaboratively study natural gas extraction.  WellWatch is a “viral community” that networks and inter-relates grassroots narratives to better understand and respond to emerging environmental health issues. This work will contribute to Wylie’s second book project, Designing Digital Media Tools for Collaborative Grassroots Environmental Health and Justice Research.

– by Courtesy of CSSH Dean’s Office

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