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The online edition of the magazine published by The Johns Hopkins University, Zanvyl Krieger School of Arts and Sciences


Humanities Fellowship Program
Cultivates Inspired Teaching, Fresh Perspectives

English major Rachel Sanford ’06 had long wanted to tackle James Joyce’s Ulysses, a novel, she acknowledges, “whose claim to fame is its indecipherability.” When she saw a course listing last fall for Colonial and Postcolonial National Epic: Ulysses and Midnight’s Children, she jumped at the chance to take the course. “I recognized the need for a ‘guide,’” she says. “Such a mammoth and complex novel really requires someone to help you understand it as you go along.”

Kevin Attell photo

Kevin Attell

In Sanford’s case, her “guide” was Kevin Attell, a scholar who is at the Krieger School this year and next as one of three inaugural Andrew W. Mellon Foundation Postdoctoral Fellows in the Humanities. Attell, historian Bruce Hall, and anthropologist Stanford Carpenter are using their fellowships to further their research and offer courses that have grown out of their work.

The fellowships carry departmental affiliations and the responsibility of research and teaching—one course per semester—in exchange for stipends of $45,000. For the second round of fellowships, three positions beginning in the fall, the program attracted an incredible 792 applications in all fields of the humanities, with the strongest showings in English, history, and philosophy. Recipients were to be selected this spring.

For Sanford, Attell’s course offered a welcome opportunity. “The English Department here at Hopkins has relatively few modernists, and I was very excited to be able to study these two novels that have had a major impact on many modern authors,” she says of Ulysses and Salman Rushdie’s controversial epic. “My expectations were more than fulfilled,” she says.

Bruce Hall photo

Bruce Hall

Sanford’s sentiment brings a smile to the face of James B. Knapp Dean Adam Falk, who chaired the committee that selected this first crop of fellows. Key to establishing the Mellon postdoctoral program at the school, Falk says, was the “desire to bring bright young scholars to campus to enrich the departments and the intellectual life—to make available to our undergraduates exciting courses that grow out of the fellows’ scholarly interests.”

This spring, Attell is offering an advanced undergraduate seminar that he says aims to shed light on “new views” of Thomas Pynchon’s writing. Attell is applying the latest ideas in nationalism and postcolonial studies, among other things, to Pynchon’s first four novels in an attempt, he says, to “reveal a hitherto uncharted depth” to his writing.

In the History Department, Bruce Hall is drawing on his expertise in Africa to lead a graduate reading course on Histories of the Saharan World. “It’s something I’ve long wanted to teach, in part because of my own personal interests and research trajectory,” Hall says, “but I hope that it can also help to move beyond stricter area studies approaches that treat sub-Saharan Africa or the Middle East and North Africa as largely separate bodies of history.” An additional benefit for his graduate students: The course focuses on “an important part of the Islamic world,” he says, “that is not one of the areas of focus of [Hopkins’] History Department.”

Ethnographer Stanford Carpenter stunned the students in his anthropology course—Experiments in Ethnographic Representation—last semester, when he informed them that they “couldn’t use the written word” to complete their mid-terms or finals. After first exploring the goals and objectives of ethnography (work that included field trips to observe the production of National Public Radio’s “Talk of the Nation” and Baltimore Public Radio’s “Marc Steiner Show”) Carpenter challenged the members of the class to create “an experimental ethnographic project in a non-written format.”

Stanford Carpenter photo

Stanford Carpenter

The students rose to the challenge beautifully, Carpenter says. For her mid-term project, one student attempted to illustrate “context” and the “social construction of meaning” using a clay figure and a Quicktime audio-visual presentation. Her project contrasted “accepted contemporary uses of the American flag” with sections of the flag code.

According to Dean Falk, courses such as Carpenter’s that inspire “fresh, new perspectives” will become the hallmark of the Mellon fellowship program. Notes the dean: “We’re looking forward to bringing a succession of extraordinary young scholars into our community.”

—Sue DePasquale

Photos: Will Kirk/HiPS



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Dean's Letter


“We’re looking forward to bringing a succession
of extraordinary young scholars into our community.”

—Adam Falk