Student CHUM Fellows to Explore Fact and Artifact, Civic Life

Olivia DrakeAugust 24, 20119min

The Center for the Humanities advisory board awarded eight Wesleyan seniors with a Student Fellowship for 2011-12. These fellows will explore the themes “Fact and Artifact” and “Visceral States: Affect and Civic Life.”

Four Student Fellowships are awarded by the center’s advisory board each semester.

Alexandra Wang ’12

During the fall semester, fellows Conan Cheong, Kevin Donohoe, Bridget Read and Alexandra Wang will will explore the theme “Fact and Artifact.” They will examine the career of the modern fact and its uncomfortable companion, the artifact. The fellows will question, “Under what conditions can facts be created?” “How do efforts to pin down empirical reality gain access to the material world?” “How do they depend upon symbolic or aesthetic logics of representation or produce such representations?” “What light can the study of artifacts shed on the status and function of facts in our world?”

Wang is using the “Fact and Artifact” theme as a springboard for her senior thesis on diabetes.

“I’m researching how the facts we now know of the manifestations, complications, and treatment of the disease can be considered artifacts of societal and cultural influences on scientific research,” she explains. “From the other student fellows, lectures and professors, I hope to develop existing ideas and gain new perspectives on my research.”

Read hopes to complete her honors thesis in English as a CHUM Fellow. During the fall semester, she will write a biography of the late Fred Millett, professor of English, emeritus, who taught at Wesleyan from 1937 to 1958. From childhood to his death in 1979, Millett kept meticulous written records, assembling his correspondence as well as self-publishing small books that chronicled different times in his life, including his years as a teacher and retiree. Read will use materials arrived at Wesleyan’s Special Collections and Archives as primary sources for her project.

“Throughout his life, Millett existed in a delicate balance between propriety and passion, restraint and expression, and his navigation of this tension provides valuable insight into mid 20th century social upheaval in the United States,” Read says.

Bridget Read ’12

“Yet it is what Millett omitted in the recording of his life that intrigues me as much as what he did include, and what inextricably ties my project to the theme of ‘Fact and Artifact. According to those close to him, Fred Millett was gay, but he left no trace of his sexuality in the archive except for a collection of magazines that was destroyed by his family.”

Millett’s archive, including the undocumented story of his sexual orientation, call into question the very nature of “fact” inherent in the dissection and study of an “artifact,” and begs a question of what can we actually learn from artifacts of the past, when the indisputable or objective “facts” they point to may or may not exist at all, Read explains.

“I hope to challenge conventions about the materiality of a human life that posit a single, unidirectional line between ‘artifact’ and ‘fact,’ the written word and the objective reality it explains,” she says. “While my first impulse was to investigate Millett’s archive for evidence of how he lived his life, I now believe that a close reading will inevitably reveal those ‘artifacts’ as examples of his own storytelling, a production of identity that deserves critical analysis.”

During the spring semester, fellows Corey Dethier, Jesse Jacobson, Connor Larkin and Han Hsien Liew will examine the possibilities and challenges accompanying new attention to the complex relations between emotional subjectivities, visceral experiences, and public life through the theme “Visceral States: Affect and Civic Life.”

Fellows will question, “Can the deployment or solicitation of affect in civil life be understood as complementary to—or even partially constitutive of—reasoned debate?” “How might fields such as moral philosophy, social theory and psychology adjudicate between canonical rationalist frameworks and those proposing constitutive dynamics of affect?” “To what extent do aesthetic representations and practices provide grounds for new approaches to the interplay of affect, subjectivity, and sentiment in social life?”

Corey Dethier ’12

Dethier will focus his semester on studying the work of Hannah Arendt, a 20th century political philosopher who wrote a number of influential essays and books on freedom, authority, labor, action, thinking and judging. During the spring semester, Dethier will synthesize a discussion of the changes in property law with a philosophical inquiry into Arendt’s politics.

“Arendt’s work is quite strongly tied to the ideas of both civic life and the passions and emotions that go on within a community. She focuses more upon the first idea in On Revolution and The Human Condition, but her later work, especially following Eichmann, tends to focus on the way that people’s thoughts (or lack thereof) and passions are played out in a community; what laws bind them and what effect moral codes have,” he says.

Student Fellows share an office at CHUM and take part in center activities, which include a lecture series on Monday; colloquial discussions on Tuesday, and occasional center conferences. One course credit is awarded for a Student Fellow’s participation in the center’s activities.

When applying for the CHUM fellowship, students submitted two letters of recommendation from faculty members and a proposal for a senior project to be carried out during the semester.

Faculty Fellows who will work at the Center during fall semester are Nadja Aksamija, assistant professor of art history; Robyn Autry, assistant professor of sociology; Laura Stark, assistant professor of science in society, assistant professor sociology, assistant professor of environmental studies; Courtney Fullilove, assistant professor of history; and Jennifer Tucker, associate professor of history, chair and associate professor of feminist, gender and sexuality studies, associate professor of science in society.

Faculty Fellows who will work at the Center during the spring semester are Sonali Chakravarti, assistant professor of government, tutor in the College of Social Studies; Kehaulani Kauanui, associate professor of American studies, associate professor of anthropology; Patricia Rodriguez Mosquera, assistant professor of psychology; Eirene Visvardi, assistant professor of classical studies; and Leah Wright, assistant professor of African American studies, assistant professor of history.