Penn Humanities Forum Undergraduate Research Fellows



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Now showing 1 - 10 of 146
  • Publication
    Tuzo Wilson in China: Tectonics, Diplomacy and Discipline During the Cold War
    (2013-04-01) Kearney, William S
    Canadian geophysicist John Tuzo Wilson's transform fault concept was instrumental in unifying the various strands of evidence that together make up plate tectonic theory. Outside of his scientific research, Wilson was a tireless science administrator and promoter of international scientific cooperation. To that end, he travelled to China twice, once in 1958 as part of the International Geophysical Year and once again in 1971. Coming from a rare non-communist westerner in China both before and after the Cultural Revolution, Wilson's travels constitute valuable temporal and spatial cross-sections of China as that nation struggled to define itself in relation to its past, to the Soviet Union which inspired its politics, and to the West through Wilson's new science of plate tectonics. In so constructing these cross-sections, Wilson acts as a kind of cartographer of science, mapping the tectonic shifts during the Cold War, which revolutionized his understanding of the earth, of politics, and of the discipline of geophysics.
  • Publication
    The Lebanese M Community: Identities Lost (or Found) in Translation
    (2017-05-01) Karam, Michael
    The first time I was exposed to the word “gay,” I was watching television at home. In the Arabic subtitles, the word shādh appeared. From around that time, I have a vague memory of one of my teachers at my Lebanese Catholic School explaining what shādh meant. The word easily translated into English as deviant – my teacher had been clear: the norm is a straight line, and anything that deviates away from the line is a shudhūdh min al-mujtama’ (deviation from society), whereby the adjective shādh becomes the noun shudhūdh in that expression. The naïve first-year student I was who left Lebanon to attend college in the U.S. was quick to discover that there are words in English to talk about these nonnormative identities – I will address that term soon – that allow for the existence of the multitude of identities within language. Stepping out of the US and back into Lebanon, I question how the discourse forms around nonnormative identities in Lebanon? What words do people use to describe themselves and what do they not use? What terminology do local advocacy groups employ? This paper begins this research with contextualizing the linguistic fabric of Lebanon. Then, I explain the specific dilemma of putting this research together, in writing, in English. Finally, I partition the state of queer language in Lebanon into the imagined intersection of Arabic and English, or which is critically constructed within the confines of Arabic, to exemplify incongruent equivalency in queer (nontextual) translation.
  • Publication
    The Insidious Network: Translating the Invasive Biology of the Cuban Marabú Tree into a Model for Radical Politics
    (2017-05-01) Servin, Gerardo Cedillo
    A species native to Africa, the marabú tree was accidentally transported to Cuba in the form of seeds the transatlantic slave trade. Since then, it has been described as a weed that hinders agricultural development of the island with its dense rhizomatic thickets. Particularly during periods of agricultural stagnation, marabú spread with ease over the colonial legacies of sugarcane monocultures, becoming an insidious threat to the utopic agrarian policies of the Castro regime. Yet this sprawl prevented erosion and extinction of native species, reconfiguring the industrialized agricultural landscape with no regard towards political and colonial paradigms. As a network woven into the landscape, the marabú tree materializes the relationships between issues of migration, environmental decay, state failure, and decolonization. Tracking references in Cuban agronomical reports from the early 19th century and Fidel and Raúl Castro’s speeches, this project interprets marabú as a material-discursive system that imposes itself with a biological drive. How does marabú employ tactics of (in)visibility and insidiousness to reshape the landscape and its social, cultural, and political paradigms? How does marabú operate as an agent of dissent and resistance against totalitarian politics and colonial legacies?
  • Publication
    Navigating Gender: Billy Tipton and the Jazz Culture of Masculinity
    (2016-05-01) Judd, Hannah
    In this paper, I examine the life of Billy Tipton, a jazz musician who lived most of his life in Spokane, Washington, as a prominent entertainer and pianist. He is significant because he was a transgender performer who never underwent gender reassignment surgery and passed successfully throughout his adult life, with his assigned gender only being revealed upon his death. He lives largely in the public eye as an inspirational early trans performer, with perhaps the most notable tributes being the opera “Billy” based on his life and staged in Olympia, Washington (performed only three times), a jazz musical, ''The Slow Drag,'' which was performed Off Broadway and the Billy Tipton Memorial Saxophone Quartet, a feminist all-woman saxophone quartet based in Seattle.
  • Publication
    Ornamenting Fingernails and Roads: Beautification and the Embodiment of Authenticity in Post-War Eastern Sri Lanka
    (2015-05-01) Kolor, Kimberly
    In post-conflict Sri Lanka, communal tensions continue to be negotiated, contested, and remade. Color codes virtually every aspect of daily life in salient local idioms. Scholars rarely focus on the lived visual semiotics of local, everyday exchanges from how women ornament their nails to how communities beautify their open—and sometimes contested—spaces. I draw on my ethnographic data from Eastern Sri Lanka and explore ‘color’ as negotiated through personal and public ornaments and notions of beauty with a material culture focus. I argue for a broad view of ‘public,’ which includes often marginalized and feminized public modalities. This view also explores how beauty and ornament are salient technologies of community and cultural authenticity that build on histories of ethnic imaginaries.
  • Publication
    Pragmatism and Effective Altruism: An Essay on Epistemology and Practical Ethics
    (2019-05-01) Odera, John Aggrey
    This paper hopes to provide an American Pragmatist reading of the Effective Altruism philosophy and movement. The criticism levied against Effective Altruism here begins from one of its founding principles, and extends to practical aspects of the movement. The utilitarian leaders of Effective Altruism consider Sidgwick’s ‘point of view of the universe’ an objective starting point of determining ethics. Using Quality Adjusted Life Years (QALYs), a popular measure in contemporary welfare economics, they provide a “universal currency for misery” for evaluating decisions. Through this method, one can calculate exactly the value of each moral decision by identifying which one yields more QALYs, and, apparently, objectively come to a conclusion about the moral worth of seemingly unrelated situations, for example, whether it is more moral to donate money so as to help women suffering from painful childbirth-induced fistulas, or to donate to starving children in famine-ridden areas. What’s more, not making the choice that yields more QALYs is “unfair” to those one could have helped more, thus immoral. This paper provides, first a pragmatist conception of epistemology (or lack of it), in contrast to the Sidgwickian one held by the utilitarian effective altruists, and then explores how holding either epistemological position affects our ethical viewpoints and actions. It argues that the utilitarian conception is the wrong place, and way, from which to view all ethical action. It contends that Effective Altruism, in seeking to reorder society to meet its abstractly conceived teleological utilitarian moral ideal (as measured by QALYs- a measure settled upon by the movement’s leaders), is undemocratic, and ultimately misses much of the complexity and messiness provided by contingencies, personal and cultural, that is present in, and important to, human life. Altruism done this way is atomizing and thoughtless; and it depicts to a high degree what William James referred to as a “certain blindness in human beings” - the lack of recognition that different things matter to different people, and that it is impossible to aggregate these claims relative to a moral standard that exists outside their particular individual and societal experiences. The paper then provides a pragmatist reading of meliorism, as found in the works of John Dewey, William James, Richard Rorty and Jane Addams; a view of meliorism that hearkens towards solidarity and not objectivity; one that is not only democratic, cognizant of contingencies and focused on habit, but also, by its insistence on viewing ourselves as members of communities and societies, saves us from the moral atomization of Effective Altruism and its insistence on individual moral responsibility and action in line with “objective truths”, as opposed to collective and political action to address contingent issues.
  • Publication
    Finding God in Oneself & For Colored Girls: A Revolutionary Performance of Language, Naming, & Spacing
    (2015-05-01) Hyatt, Abrina
    This project analyzes the powerful implications of Ntozake Shange’s For Colored Girls Who Have Considered Suicide/When the Rainbow is Enuf in terms of the language of “choreopoetry,” the identity politics present in the experiences of Black women, and the elements of spirituality that move Shange’s work forward. I argue that For Colored Girlsoffers Black women a space to celebrate the fullness and diversity of themselves, regardless of where they fall within the spectrum of characters represented. Shange’s work is groundbreaking in its usage of dance and poetry as joint storytelling language, and with Black women as the titular characters and target audience for this piece. For Colored Girls reshapes how we can continue to enjoy creative processes in theater, writing, poetry, dance, literature, and so much more. This piece has and continues to breathe life and beauty into stories that often go ignored.