Fall 2012 Graduate Student Fellows
Heidi Pennington’s (English and Comparative Literature) dissertation, “The Great Work of Fiction: Narrative Identity and the Potential of Fictionality in the Victorian Fictional Autobiography,” explores the nature and function of fiction as a mode of imaginative self-creation, particularly as it is constructed in the Victorian form of the fictional autobiography. She argues that fiction and personal identity are analogous, process-based phenomena defined by and created through narrative acts of imagination which are necessarily communal endeavors. The fictional autobiography, which combines the overt fictiveness of the novel with the conventions of autobiographical telling and content, solicits this reconceptualization of the self by engaging the reader in a uniquely doubled reading stance in which one recognizes the fictionality of the narrating protagonist while also identifying emotionally with this character as lifelike. It is this dual awareness of fictiveness and affective reality that permits readers to perceive the active, fictional, and reciprocal processes of identity creation that constitute the reality of the protagonist, and of all human identities. One of the repercussions of this rethinking of identity is that the fictional autobiography engages with Victorian discourses on progress and human potential, reorienting this conversation towards fictionality and narrative. The dissertation concludes with a coda that investigates what makes fiction a seductive and a productive medium both in and beyond the Victorian context.
In his dissertation, “Coloring Catastrophe: De/Coding Color in Representations of the Holocaust,” Russell Alt (Germanic Languages and Literatures) investigates color and its literal and metaphoric use in literary and visual works on the Holocaust. He submits that color as an aesthetic and narrative strategy complexly challenges basic expectations about the look and structure of representations of the Nazis’ million-fold murder of European Jewry during the Second World War. Because color speaks to what may be seen as the three major trajectories within Holocaust representation, i.e., realism (typified by historians and photographic evidence), memory (epitomized by survivors and personal testimony), and postmemory (exemplified by successor generations and ongoing attempts to come to terms with the history of the Holocaust, especially as re-imagined through film), color has become a versatile tool in re/constructing, expressing, and transmitting personal accounts as well as collective remembrance of the Holocaust. As a student of German literature and culture, Alt accounts for the influential role that German philosophers, critics, authors, and artists have played in shaping the color codes he detects with regard to Holocaust memory. He also acknowledges the transnational scope of the Holocaust and its effects, however, and therefore draws these case studies in German aesthetic thought into a discussion of larger trends within the corpus of Holocaust writing and representations.
Spring 2013 Graduate Student Fellows
Meghan Ference’s (Anthropology) dissertation project, “Movement and Meaning in Metropolitan Nairobi,” analyzes the built urban environment in colonial and post-colonial Nairobi through the lens of the informal transportation sector. The transportation sector consists of a system of privately owned, collective taxis, referred to as matatus. The matatu industry is the largest employer of young men between the ages of 17 and 35 in Kenya and carries over 80% of the population daily. Ference uses ethnographic and archival data to explore the ways that informal transportation operators manage risk and negotiate passage through social and physical boundaries over time. Her research examines the everyday linguistic, social and economic practices that matatu transport operators use in order to move through the increasingly regulated urban landscape of Nairobi and how this movement is linked to power and urban identity. Although many of these strategies have historically and currently disrupted the power asymmetry of the unique urban landscape of post-colonial Kenya, the large workforce of transport operators still struggle with the risk and responsibility inherent in providing a crucial service in a continually growing and urbanizing city.
The ways in which people belong and make claims to identities appear at the heart of debates across Europe about the future of national cultures and identities in a globalizing world. Nowhere is this debate more intense than in contemporary Britain, where “multicultural Britain” is increasingly becoming unsettled and, for some, unsettling. Rajbir Purewal Hazelwood’s (History) dissertation project, “Diasporic Politics of Belonging: Punjabis in Britain c.1950-2010,” provides a historical case study of how the largest minority group in Britain has differently positioned itself within a shifting politics of identity and national community in the second half of the twentieth century. Through an examination of the practices by which a diverse group of Punjabi migrants have historically constituted a sense of belonging and community in postwar Britain, Hazelwood unravels the ways in which Punjabi migrants have claimed stakes to multiple nodes of belonging, revealing the triangulation of a Punjabi-regional, Indian/Pakistani-national, and British-national geo-cultural politics in the postcolonial period. Drawing on a diverse archive, from community newspapers and oral histories to television and literature, her project contributes to a rethinking of how, why, and on what basis Punjabi migrants in Britain have belonged.
We wish to thank the WU faculty who participated in the Graduate Student Fellowship selection process: Ahmet Karamustafa, professor of history, religious studies, and Jewish, Islamic and near eastern languages and cultures; Joseph Schraibman, professor of Spanish; and Jennifer Kapczynski, associate professor of German.
2013-14 Graduate Student Fellowship Competition
In 2013-14, the center will again offer Graduate Student Fellowships for both fall and spring semesters. Whereas the Graduate Student Fellows’ projects for the spring 2014 program may relate to the center’s research theme for that semester, “Affect,” the fall 2013 Graduate Student Fellowship program will be open to applicants with research projects on any topic or theme.
The deadline for applications for both semesters will be May 1, 2013. For application details, visit the Graduate Student Fellowship page.
Director of Research and Grants
The Center for the Humanities
Washington University in St. Louis