She studies contemporary comics as a literary form. He’s interested in architecture and urban space in Renaissance Florence. Their scholarship diverges, but Hillary Chute and Niall Atkinson share an important distinction: both joined the faculty this fall as the University’s newest Neubauer Family Assistant Professors.

Created by Jeanette Lerman Neubauer and Joseph Neubauer to attract the nation’s most promising young scholars to Chicago, the assistant professorships are funded by a $25 million gift from the Neubauer Family Foundation. Four of the eight faculty selected for the honor are in the Humanities: Atkinson (Art History), Chute (English), and Agnes Callard (Philosophy) and Gregory Kobele (Linguistics), who arrived in fall 2008 and 2009 respectively. Eventually, the program will support 20 tenure-track appointments across the University.

To advance their scholarly work and careers, Neubauer professors receive research support and guaranteed leave time over five years. At Chicago, both Chute and Atkinson expect to delve deeper into topics they have explored for some time (see biographies in this section). Chute’s most recent book, completed during a three-year stint at the Harvard Society of Fellows, examines the graphic narratives of five women authors; she is now working on a study of comics as documentary. “My argument has always been that comics should be studied as literature, which is why I’m so excited to be part of the English Department,” she says.

Atkinson, who is trained in the history of architecture, analyzes the experience of urban space in the Italian Renaissance and “how people responded to the built environment around them. As much as they were looking at their world, they were listening to it,” he says. Moving beyond a traditional visual approach, his research attempts to reconstruct soundscapes in the early modern city, especially in fourteenth- and fifteenth-century Florence.

This year Atkinson will teach graduate seminars on architecture and sound and the iconography of experience in the premodern city, as well as two College courses: From the Agora to the Shopping Mall and Introduction to Art. Chute is teaching a graduate course on the aesthetics of comics and two undergraduate courses: Literature of 9/11 and Media Aesthetics.

“There are so many things to be excited about,” says Atkinson of his appointment, from collaborating with colleagues to the “inspiring” quality of UChicago students. “The kind of investment that Chicago is committing to getting research done is practically unique, especially in the humanities,” he says. Adds Chute, “It’s very, very gratifying to be supported by the institution that you’re joining at the outset.”

New Hires in the Humanities Division, 2009–2010

Niall Atkinson, a Neubauer Family Assistant Professor in Art History and the College, comes to Chicago from Texas Christian University, where he was a lecturer in Art History. He holds a PhD in the history of architecture and urbanism from Cornell University, and wrote his dissertation on “Architecture, Anxiety, and the Fluid Topographies of Renaissance Florence.” From 2007 to 2009 he was a Research Fellow at the Max Planck Institut in Florence and held a predoctoral appointment there from 2004 to 2006. Among his current projects are a history of sound in the early modern city and a study of visual semiotics in Renaissance Florence.

Hillary Chute, a Neubauer Family Assistant Professor in English Language and Literature and the College, received her PhD in English from Rutgers University and was a junior fellow at the Harvard Society of Fellows. Her current teaching and research interests lie in contemporary American literature and how public and private histories take shape in the form of innovative narrative work. Her book Graphic Women: Life Narrative and Contemporary Comics (2010) argues that the medium of comics has opened up new spaces for nonfiction narrative. She is the associate editor of MetaMaus by Art Spiegelman and will contribute articles on graphic narrative to The Cambridge Companion to Popular Fiction and The Routledge Companion to Experimental Literature, all forthcoming.

Thibaut d’Hubert, Assistant Professor in South Asian Languages and Civilizations and the College, studies the history of Bengali literature and its interactions with other literary traditions. He is also interested in the scientific edition of premodern Bengali texts, translation studies, poetics, and cultural history. He studied Bengali and Persian at the Institut National des Langues et Civilisations Orientales and was trained in Sanskrit in India and France. In 2010, he completed a PhD at the École Pratique des Hautes Études in Paris, with a dissertation on Ālāol, a prolific seventeenth-century author. He is currently working on two projects: one on the court literature in regional languages produced in northeastern South Asia, and another dealing with literary cultures around the Bay of Bengal from the fifteenth to eighteenth centuries.

Xinyu Dong is an Assistant Professor in Cinema and Media Studies and the College. She received her PhD in East Asian languages and civilizations—with a secondary field in film and visual studies—from Harvard University in 2009. She was a fellow in the Introduction to the Humanities program at Stanford University in 2009–10. She has taught courses on topics ranging from communication in contemporary America to East Asian modernities, and from world silent cinema to popular culture in modern China. Her research focuses on late imperial and modern Chinese literature and culture as well as East Asian regional and global image exchange. “China at Play: Republican Film Comedies and Chinese Cinematic Modernity” is the title of her current book project.

Ahmed El Shamsy, Assistant Professor in Near Eastern Languages and Civilizations and the College, earned his PhD at Harvard and taught at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. His research and teaching center on the history of North Africa and the Middle East—mainly between the seventh and fifteenth centuries—with a focus on intellectual history, cultures of orality and literacy, education, and Islamic law. He is currently working on a book on the early evolution of Islamic law and its institutions in ninth-century Egypt; he has published articles on legal history in the Journal of the American Oriental Society and in Islamic Law and Society. His passion is medieval Arabic manuscripts, and he is in the process of editing a number of texts discovered during his research travels in the Middle East and Europe.

Maud Ellmann is the Randy L. and Melvin R. Berlin Professor of the Development of the Novel in English and the College. She comes to Chicago from an endowed professorship at the University of Notre Dame and previously from Cambridge University. Her research seeks to locate Irish experiences in theoretical and comparative contexts; she also specializes in modern British fiction, gender studies, and postcolonial studies. Her forthcoming book is entitled The Nets of Modernism: Henry James, Virginia Woolf, James Joyce, and Sigmund Freud (Cambridge, 2010). Her book Elizabeth Bowen: The Shadow across the Page (2003) received the British Council Prize for book of the year in English studies. A Fellow of the Royal Society of Arts, she has received Mellon, Guggenheim, ACLS, Newberry, and other significant fellowships. She edited Dracula by Bram Stoker (1996) and is the author of The Hunger Artists: Starving, Writing and Imprisonment (1993) and The Poetics of Impersonality: T. S. Eliot and Ezra Pound. (1987).

Christopher Frey, Assistant Professor in Philosophy and the College, received his PhD from the University of Pittsburgh in 2010. His primary research areas are ancient philosophy and the philosophy of mind. His interests in ancient philosophy lie at the intersection of metaphysics and natural philosophy, particularly the ways in which Aristotle’s views on elemental motion, chemical combination, and biological function illuminate crucial aspects of his metaphysics. Frey’s work in the philosophy of mind centers on the substantive relationships that exist between the phenomenality and the intentionality of perceptual experience. He is also interested in self-consciousness and the imagination.

Cécile Fromont, Assistant Professor in Art History and the College, holds a PhD from Harvard University in African and colonial Latin American art and architecture, specializing in early modern Central Africa. She is interested in the relationship between artistic form and religious thought, the visual syntax of belief systems, and cross-cultural translation by visual means. Her scholarship has focused on the role of art and architecture in the political history of the kingdom of Kongo and of the Portuguese colony of Angola, the role of Christian art and rituals in the experience of enslavement in colonial Brazil, the history of artistic encounters between Europeans and Africans, art and colonialism, and contemporary Caribbean art.

Ben Morgan, Assistant Professor in English Language and Literature and the College, received his PhD from the University of California, Berkeley, in 2010. His research and teaching examine the intersection of literature, science, and aesthetics in the Victorian period and early twentieth century. Although his historical focus is on nineteenth-century texts, he is interested in them for how they inflect a longer tradition of thinking about aesthetics. His current book project, “The Matter of Beauty,” investigates aesthetic experiences that do not involve contemplation or reflection: responses, in other words, that take the artwork to be a material object that directly affects the body in specific and discernible ways. He is also working on articles about the notion of an animal sense of beauty in the Victorian period and about the relation of William Morris’s romances to his political principles.

John Muse, Assistant Professor in English Language and Literature and the College, focuses on modern and contemporary theater, modernist literature, and performance. He earned a PhD from Yale University in 2010. He is particularly interested in work that tests the boundaries of a given medium or the borders between media: plays that approach visual art, poems performed on stage, closet dramas, novels in dramatic form, metatheater and metafiction, and digital or otherwise virtual theater. His current book project explores the minimum boundaries of dramatic form by focusing attention on modernist microdramas. Related teaching interests include media studies, performance studies, Renaissance drama, and global theater history.

William Pope.L, Associate Professor in Visual Arts and the College, is a prominent multi-disciplinary artist known for his conceptual and often performance-based art practice, which actively confronts issues of race, sex, power, consumerism, and social class. As the self-proclaimed “friendliest black artist in America,” Pope.L invites dialogue through provocative performances, installations, and art objects. He is best known for a series of more than 40 “crawls” staged since 1978 as part of his larger eRacism project, and for The Black Factory, a traveling performance and installation designed to provoke discussion on race through direct audience involvement. A senior lecturer at Bates College from 1990 to 2010, he holds an MFA degree in visual arts from Rutgers University. Pope.L is the recipient of numerous grants, awards, and residencies including Guggenheim and United States Artists Fellowships.

Richard Jean So, Assistant Professor in English Language and Literature and the College, specializes in modern American literature in an international context. His particular focus is on the Asia-Pacific world, which spans American, Asian American, and East Asian cultures. His current research project, “Coolie Democracy: U.S.-China Cultural Formation, 1925–1955,” examines patterns of political and literary exchange between American and Chinese writers and intellectuals during the interwar period. His other interests include modern U.S. democratic theory, Chinese Communist cultures, translation studies, theory of the novel, race and diaspora studies, and “cultural transnationalism” as it continues to evolve as a conceptual category. So earned a PhD in comparative literature from Columbia University in 2009 and works in the English, Chinese, and Japanese languages.

John Wilkinson, Professor of the Practice in the Arts, is the author of seven major collections of verse as well as critical articles on British and American poetry. His recent works of poetry include Down to Earth (2008), Lake Shore Drive (2006), Contrivances (2003), and Effigies Against the Light (2001). His earlier book, Proud Flesh (1986), was reissued in 2005. Wilkinson’s poetry is represented in the Anthology of Twentieth-Century British and Irish Poetry (2001), and his critical writing has appeared in Cambridge Quarterly, Critical Quarterly, and Chicago Review. He has been a Frank Knox Fellow at Harvard University, a Fulbright Distinguished Scholar at the Nathan S. Kline Institute for Psychiatric Research, and, most recently, a research professor at the University of Notre Dame, where he taught literature and creative writing.

Malte Willer, Assistant Professor in Philosophy and the College, received his graduate training at the University of Texas at Austin, where he wrote his dissertation on “Modality in Flux.” His main area of interest is philosophy of language and philosophical logic, and specifically the dynamic perspective on discourse and reasoning. His current research focuses on philosophical problems that are intimately tied to theoretical questions about the semantics of modality. He has written and published on epistemic modals and conditionals, and is currently working on issues in deontic logic and the semantics of moral discourse.

Ming Xiang, Assistant Professor in Linguistics and the College, comes to Chicago from the University of Victoria, British Columbia, where she directed the Linguistics Language and Cognition Lab. She earned a PhD in linguistics from Michigan State University in 2005 and has held postdoctoral research positions at the University of Maryland and at Harvard. Her research focuses on sentence processing—combining both behavioral and neuroimaging methods, she studies how people effortlessly achieve the daunting task of processing large amounts of linguistic information rapidly. Her other interests are experimental syntax and semantics. She is currently setting up a language processing lab in the Department of Linguistics that will use various methodologies, including ERP and eye tracking, to study how people produce, comprehend, and learn a language.


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