This year the Division of the Humanities welcomes seven new faculty members across seven departments: one full professor, five assistant professors, and one provost’s postdoctoral fellow.

Ania Aizman, AB’08, assistant professor in Slavic Languages and Literatures, returns to UChicago from the University of Michigan, where she completed a three-year term as a postdoctoral fellow with the rank of assistant professor. She concentrated in comparative literature as an undergraduate in the College, and her PhD—also in comparative literature—is from Harvard. Her current book project, “Anarchist Currents in Russian Culture from Tolstoy to Pussy Riot,” traces the history of anarchism from the violence of the late nineteenth century, through its suppression under Soviet Communism, to its modern-day reemergence in Russia and around the globe. Drawing on archival materials, texts, performances, and interviews, Aizman contends that the arts provide a site for anarchists to communicate among themselves and reach new audiences under repressive regimes. Aizman published two articles based on this research; a third is forthcoming. Her first article addressed the literary and artistic heritage claimed by the Russian anarchist punk activists of Pussy Riot. A second article delved into Leo Tolstoy’s fraught relationship with food aid efforts during the famines of the 1890s, discussing how his relief efforts relate to the contemporary practice of mutual aid. Another publication, for an anthology, discusses a forgotten Soviet writer who described the everyday life of revolutionary-era Jewish anarchists.

Aizman is currently studying the new rhetoric of sabotage among partisan groups operating in Russia to resist the war on Ukraine. In this study, she is especially interested in how groups across the political spectrum imagine solidarity through direct disruption of the war effort. Prior to the war, Aizman has written about Russian theater and performance. She has translated plays written by contemporary Russian playwrights for an anthology published by Columbia University Press, and she has analyzed Russian documentary theater’s culture and politics for online and print journals. She has also enjoyed writing for broad readerships at the New Yorker (“The Secret Lessons of Soviet Children’s Poems”) and the Los Angeles Review of Books (“Night With a Nihilist”).

Assistant professor in Romance Languages and Literatures Pauline Goul examines ecological tropes in early modern French literature and culture—which anticipate contemporary preoccupations with sustainability—in her first book project, “Ecologies of Waste: The New World, the Environment, and Literature in Renaissance France.” After completing her BA at the Sorbonne and her PhD in Romance studies at Cornell, she held a visiting appointment at Vassar College before joining the faculty at the George Washington University. She is also the coeditor of Early Modern Écologies (Amsterdam University Press, 2020). Her current research project, tentatively titled “The Mothering of Nature: Witches, Farmers’ Wives, and the Female Sauvage,” will trace the idea of Mother Nature—of coding the earth as feminine—through pagan rituals, botanical medicine, fairy tales, and other French cultural materials from the Renaissance through the seventeenth century.

Goul explores literature’s capacity to “formulate, complicate, and unsettle” humans’ relationship to the environment and to one another. This includes research on urban garbage, ecology, and ancient cynicism to investigate the purpose—and potential vanity—of ecological endeavors. “Ecologies of Waste” examines the influence of the New World on Renaissance-era French authors, who—despite France having not yet colonized the Americas—reconsidered their country’s expanding ecological impact in light of the territory’s discovery by Europeans and the subsequent destruction of the land and inhabitants. The first article in her “Mothering of Nature” project (forthcoming in 2023 in the journal L’Esprit Créateur) will reflect on the role of plants in regulating menstruation and perhaps hiding abortions, suggesting that plants could allow women to have a sexuality beyond the mechanics of reproduction.

Paula Harper, AB’10, a scholar of popular music, music videos, and digital sound cultures, is assistant professor in Music. Her bachelor’s degree from UChicago is in music and English, her MA in music history is from the University of Washington, and she holds a PhD in historical musicology from Columbia University. She returns to campus following a faculty appointment at the University of Nebraska–Lincoln and a postdoctoral fellowship at Washington University in St. Louis. Her publications include articles on Rebecca Black’s “Friday” and Beyoncé, and her book manuscript, “Viral Musicking and the Rise of Noisy Platforms,” is about the sonic components of audiovisual content and how participation in social media helps normalize conditions of pervasive advertising, data collection, and surveillance. Her other research project concerns the history of Western art music and its engagement with contemporary digital technologies. She is also coediting a book of scholarship on Taylor Swift.

“Taylor Swift: The Star, the Songs, the Fans” uses Swift to look at a variety of contemporary issues in digital culture and music, from songwriting to copyright to fandom to constructions of race and gender. Throughout her work on music, sound, and the internet, Harper situates music and digital ephemera within their broader contexts of creation, circulation, and reception. In addition to massively popular commercial music, she analyzes sonic memes and other viral media—as well as music produced on platforms such as TikTok rather than traditional avenues of the music industry—linking present-day digital culture with its history in the early days of the internet. One dimension of this research is tracing the ways that vernacular online media is increasingly becoming organized within corporate structures of control and monetization.

Professor in Classics Anthony Kaldellis studies how the ideas, themes, and practices of the classical period influenced later eras, particularly in late antiquity and Byzantium. He was previously on the faculty of the Ohio State University. His PhD in history is from the University of Michigan, where he also received his BA in philosophy and history. He is the author of numerous monographs, articles, translations, and other publications, including Byzantium Unbound (Arc Humanities Press, 2019), Romanland: Ethnicity and Empire in Byzantium (Harvard University Press, 2019), and A Cabinet of Byzantine Curiosities: Strange Tales and Surprising Facts from History’s Most Orthodox Empire (Oxford University Press, 2017). In addition to his interest in the living history of classical monuments, literature, and politics, his research examines how modern ideas about antiquity were established in the nineteenth century and persist today. He also hosts a podcast, Byzantium & Friends, which aims to educate the curious public about Byzantine studies through conversational interviews with fellow experts.

Kaldellis’s scholarship counters the narrative that the classical world was slowly forgotten during the medieval period before western Europe “rediscovered” it during the Renaissance. In truth, the Greek classics and the Roman polity continued evolving in the eastern part of the Roman empire and persisted in the civilization that came to be known as Byzantium. By recovering the ways that Roman culture and thought persisted in the lived experiences of eastern Romans, Kaldellis disrupts the idea that the legacy of Rome belongs exclusively to western Europe. In addition to the books mentioned above, he has explored these topics in Procopius of Caesarea (University of Pennsylvania Press, 2004), Hellenism in Byzantium (Cambridge University Press, 2007), The Christian Parthenon (Cambridge University Press, 2009), and The Byzantine Republic (Harvard University Press, 2015). His latest project is a comprehensive history of east Rome from Constantine the Great in the fourth century to Mehmed Fatih in the fifteenth century, contextualizing the region’s social, economic, religious, and demographic developments within a unified narrative.

Mohit Manohar joins the faculty in Art History as a provost’s postdoctoral fellow—a tenure-track position that transitions to an assistant professorship—following a Mellon fellowship at the Center for Advanced Study in the Visual Arts at the National Gallery of Art in Washington, DC. A scholar of the art and architecture of premodern South Asia, he specializes in South Asian sultanates and the temple architecture of Deccan India. His current book project, “Refracted Cities,” analyzes the architectural links in the late medieval period between Delhi and the Deccan city of Daulatabad. A future project, “Ecological Urbanism in Medieval Delhi,” studies the city of Firuzabad in Delhi alongside a Persian manuscript describing its construction and cultural life. He holds a PhD in the history of art from Yale and a bachelor’s degree in art history and creative writing from Princeton.

In addition to his scholarly writing, Manohar publishes fiction—most recently “Tamarind” in the Los Angeles Review—and has received several awards for his short stories, including the Nimrod International Journal of Prose and Poetry’s Katherine Anne Porter Prize for Fiction for “This Has Not Been Enough” and the PEN/Robert J. Dau Short Story Prize for Emerging Writers for “Summertime.” He also received Yale’s Frances Blanshard Prize for his dissertation, “The City of Gods and Fortune.” That project highlights the religious, political, and linguistic diversity of medieval South Asia and inspired his subsequent research, which seeks to showcase the ways that the period’s urbanism and architecture can help scholars understand issues of race, religion, cross-cultural encounter, and ecology.

Assistant professor in Near Eastern Languages and Civilizations Cecilia Palombo uses documents and material culture to explore the social and political histories of the early Islamicate Middle East, as well as the convergence between Islamic studies and late antique studies. Her dissertation and current book project investigate the relationship between religious and political structures and how non-Muslim religious officials helped develop and implement Islamic governmental practices. She was previously a postdoctoral fellow at Leiden University in the Netherlands, where she was part of the team at Embedding Conquest, a collaborative research project using documentary sources to provide a bottom-up view of the Islamic empire. She received her PhD in Near Eastern studies from Princeton, her MPhil in Islamic studies and history from Oxford, and her BA in historical and religious studies from Sapienza University of Rome.

Palombo’s research explores questions about administrative, scribal, and archival practices within different religious and linguistic groups in early societies where Islam was culturally dominant. This includes studying documents’ modern afterlives as they are transformed into museum objects and digitized, as well as the historiographical implications when cultural artifacts are dispersed through looting or other means. Her primary focus has been the documentary and archaeological heritages of southern Europe, the Levant, Egypt, and Turkey. Her scholarly approach emphasizes both the materiality of the texts she consults and the multilingual contexts of their production. While most of her primary sources are in Arabic, she also works with premodern texts in Coptic, Greek, Latin, Syriac, and Judeo-Arabic. She is especially interested in the concept of community and in interrogating community-centered historical narratives about the premodern Middle East.

Mee-Ju Ro, a scholar of Asian, Asian American, and transpacific literature, is assistant professor in English Language and Literature. In her dissertation, “Entangled Testimonies: Technologies of Subjectivity in Asian American Women’s Writing”—which she is currently adapting into a book—she studies confessional texts narrated by women who are grappling with the dislocation of migration and histories of violence. These include contemporary novels and the testimonies of “comfort women” compelled into sexual servitude during World War II. Her other research projects are an examination of Instagram and other social media platforms, particularly in relation to anti-Asian racism during the pandemic, and an analysis of the bestselling feminist novel Kim Jiyoung, Born 1982. She holds a PhD in English from Cornell, an MA in English from the University of Toronto, and an honors BA in English from Queen’s University in Kingston, Ontario.

In her scholarship, Ro seeks to provoke a reconsideration of current forms of testimony, which originate with Christian confession and other early forms of reported speech. She argues that this Eurocentric legacy privileges a particular form of self-narration, which in turn is used to identify and authorize the personhood of those capable of performing it. This privileging has real-world implications, given that testimonies are often essential to attempts at redressing historical atrocities. Through her research—which includes fieldwork in Seoul at the House of Sharing (a community of Korean former comfort women)—she proposes a new idea of testimony that reflects the entangled social relationships of the people giving it. She is also working on a project about the Korean War (often called the “Forgotten War”) in Toni Morrison’s Home and recently published a short story, “seoriseori,” in The New Quarterly.

Photo Creds: 
Photography by John Zich