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Humanities

A Study in Sketches: Compositional Process in Elliott Carter’s String Quartets

Laura Emmery, PhD
Assistant Professor
ECAS
Department of Music
The aim of this project is to complete a book, entitled A Study in Sketches: Compositional Process in Elliott Carter’s String Quartets. Elliott Carter (1908-2012) is a two-time Pulitzer winning composer who played a pivotal role in establishing American modernism in the post-1945 era. Following WWII and the Cold War, it was vital for American composers to develop an authentic “American sound.” Carter emerged as one of the most prominent composers during this period and the leading figure of American modernism. Not conforming to the musical techniques of his contemporaries, such as implementing jazz idioms and American folk tunes in his compositions to make them sound American, Carter instead developed his own method that stood apart: harmony based on his own system of sound organization, his unique rhythmic organization featuring multiple temporal and rhythmic strands, and form that defied the linear perception of time.
Carter chose the genre of the string quartet to explore novel ideas and develop his
identifiably unique sound. My monograph analyzes Carter’s compositional process through the lens of his five string quartets and contextualizes the development of his new aesthetic with the socio-cultural events. The study draws on music theory, musicology, performance studies, philosophy, music cognition, musical meaning and semantics, literary criticism, and critical theory to derive novel conclusions about Carter’s expression. Informed by original archival documents, the project offers a compelling new reading of each quartet individually and offers conclusions on their collective meaning, including Carter’s evolving compositional processes and his place as the leading American modernist.

 

Anger in a Time of War:  Psychology and the Problem of Child Emotional Development in China, 1937-1949

Jia-Chen Fu, PhD
Assistant Professor
ECAS
Department of Russian and East Asian Languages and Cultures
Between 1937 and 1949, Chinese psychologists conducted a series of studies on the emotions of children at state-run children’s homes. Why were Chinese psychologists concerned about the emotional life of children? How did they conceive of emotions? How did wartime conditions influence their speculative inquiries and analytic praxis? And what role did changing scientific understandings of emotions play in the production of Chinese knowledge about children? These questions serve as the basis for Anger in a Time of War: Psychology and the Problem of Child Emotional Development in China, 1937-1949. Conventional treatments of the history of psychology in China assume that the war years represented a period of dearth and stasis for the burgeoning discipline. A closer examination of the wartime period challenges this assumption and highlights a more fundamental characteristic of modern science in China, namely the heterogeneity of people doing scientific work and spaces in which they worked. Focusing on the ways in which Chinese psychologists as local actors understood and conceived of their scientific research on the emotional development of children redirects our attention away from master narratives and masculine state actors that dominate historical treatments of China’s wartime period. My project shifts prevailing historiographic trends to show how war became a critical component to how Chinese psychologists understood the emotional development of Chinese children, and how scientific understandings of emotions shaped Chinese knowledge about children.

 

‘Motus mixti et compositi: The Portrayal of Mixed and Compound Emotions in the Visual
and Literary Arts of the Low Countries, 1500-1640’

Walter S. Melion, PhD
Professor
ECAS
Center of Humanistic Inquiry
My new book project explores the representation of mixed emotions in Dutch and Flemish art and literature of the sixteenth and early seventeenth centuries. My primary focus is on the emotions not the rhetoricized passions. Heretofore, art historians have been mainly concerned with studying how the passions (passien, in Dutch) were conveyed through motions of the face and body. In art treatises, such affects as joy and
sorrow, desire and hatred, admiration and revulsion were described as codifiable; they were thought to be externally legible, clearly discernible rather than fleeting, and precisely reproducible in the context of rhetorical performance. Emotion (affectie, in Dutch), by contrast, is more internal, volatile, and unspecified; it transits from state to state, is experienced more interiorly than exteriorly, and its internal complexion is not
easily translatable in external bodily terms. Emotion thus eludes the processes of corporeal codification applicable to the passions. How to portray emotion was a problem that exercised visual artists, as a complement to the more tractable problem of conveying the passions. In order to advance this project, I want closely to consult with two major scholars whose research centers on focuses on the affective embodiment of character in pre-modern Dutch literature and rhetoric—Geert Warnar, Senior Lecturer in the Department of Dutch Language and Culture at the University of Leiden, who specializes in late medieval literature, and Bart Ramakers, Professor of Historical Dutch Literature at the University of Groningen, who specializes in the theatrical literature of the rederijkerskamers (Dutch and Flemish chambers of rhetoric).

 

Combining Senses as a Literary and Scientific Problem

PI:  Laura Otis, PhD
Professor
ECAS, Department of English
This project investigates the ways that fiction-writers cue readers to blend imagined sights, sounds, smells, tastes, and touches. Novelists inspire readers to imagine characters’ sensory experiences by inviting them to remix reconstructed memories, and some writers use language brilliantly to evoke multi-sensory images. Neuroscientists have been struggling to learn how human brains “bind” transient sensations in single modalities to form unified, lasting memories. Because fiction-writers’ knowledge is craft-based, they have been overlooked as experts with information relevant to sensory binding. Through close readings of skilled fiction-writers’ sensory descriptions, literary scholars may gain insight into the ways that people combine sensations. Thus far, however, no literary scholar has systematically analyzed the ways that writers prompt readers to blend senses, and interdisciplinary humanities scholars have conducted few studies of any mental imagery other than visual.

This project uses close analysis of literary descriptions to address the following questions: 1) Which senses are most often combined? 2) Why might these particular combinations occur? 3) How do sensory descriptions vary with literary context, such as at the beginnings and ends of scenes? and 4) How can patterns discovered in multi-sensory literary descriptions be communicated to scientists and used to design new experiments? The project focuses on English-language authors who excel at evoking sensory imagery, including Junot Díaz, Thomas Hardy, Toni Morrison, Arundhati Roy, Salman Rushdie, and Virginia Woolf. Seeking patterns in the ways that diverse novelists describe sensations may suggest new experiments to investigate how human brains “bind” sensations to form dynamic, meaningful memories.

 

“Rap Music and the Politics of Storytelling in Taiwan”

Meredith Schweig, PhD
Assistant Professor
ECAS
Department of Music
This project is an ethnographic study of Taiwan’s underground hip-hop scene and an exploration of rap music’s emergence as a trenchant form of narrative discourse following four decades of martial law (1949-1987) under the Kuomintang (Chinese Nationalist Party). Informed by the work of Hannah Arendt (1958) and M.D. Jackson (2002), I posit acts of storytelling as critical to reclaiming senses of agency and control over personal and community circumstances, particularly in the wake of dramatic social and political upheaval. I expand substantially the purview of existing scholarship to consider how narrative music—that is, music that recounts a story through the combined performance of lyrical texts and sonic effects—works to these ends in Taiwan, one of the world’s youngest and most vibrant democracies. I argue that artists in Taiwan have localized rap as a storytelling practice to render audible previously muted histories and challenge longstanding political mythologies after the end of authoritarianism. Tracing the contours of the hip-hop scene through interviews, archival findings, and music analysis, the project probes the sonic dimensions of contemporary social justice movements in Taiwan, and will facilitate greater understanding of how and why popular musicians are so often heralds of reform and reconciliation in post-conflict societies.

 

Spectacles of Truth:  Drug Trials in Late Renaissance Italy

Sharon T. Strocchia, PhD
ECAS
Department of History
My new book project examines how early modern states simultaneously shaped the medical marketplace and cultures of experimentation through the use of state-sponsored drug trials, patents, monopolies, and print censorship between 1540 and 1670. During the grant period, I will draft the first chapter, tentatively titled "Spectacles of Truth: Drug Trials in Late Renaissance Italy." Drawing on unpublished archival sources, this chapter investigates the practices, objectives, and outcomes of Renaissance drug trials conducted on human subjects at Italian hospitals, prisons, military sites and princely courts in order to test the efficacy of new medical remedies. Although drug testing and other forms of medical experimentation had deep roots in antiquity and the medieval period, these forms of inquiry expanded significantly in sixteenth and seventeenth-century Europe in tandem with the rise of empiricism. Testing widened from animal to human subjects; trials were scaled-up in order to present more convincing evidence; and results were disseminated more broadly via medical advertisements, physicians' casebooks and published correspondence. Many drug trials, which could be highly theatricalized, aimed to produce transferable results in order to win patent privileges for the inventor. I argue that early modern states drove medical experimentation in particular ways by setting testing parameters and determining what "counted" as proof. Renaissance drug trials also raised enduring ethical questions about whose bodies should bear the risks associated with medical experimentation. My research shows how Renaissance methods of proof-making formed the backbone of modern protocols for clinical drug testing, despite different conceptions of disease.