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February 23, 2016

Neubauer Faculty Projects Announced

Last week, the Neubauer Collegium announced twelve new faculty research projects for the 2016–2017 academic year.

Applicants from faculty departments across the University submitted proposals last fall explaining complex humanistic enigmas they hope to resolve and why the Neubauer Collegium should fund them.

Every project focuses on a particular question concerning humanistic thought, whether it be developing algorithms that will allow machines to create and evaluate art or studying the effects of abolition on the French colony Saint-Domingue’s plantation economy.

Each project consists of UChicago faculty members who engage with colleagues in an interdisciplinary approach to answer a potentially path-breaking question. Faculty run the gamut of departments from the Biological Sciences Division to the School of Social Service Administration to the Oriental Institute.

UChicago faculty lead each project, collaborating with other faculty members on campus or with colleagues teaching overseas.

“[The Neubauer Collegium’s] particular advantage from my point of view is that, first of all, it’s possible to bring in overseas scholars here in Chicago. And secondly, the fact that we have this center means that the projects can be a basis for developing longer term projects in the University,” said professor John Wilkinson, chair of the Committee on Creative Writing.

Wilkinson’s project was among the twelve chosen. He and his colleague Matt Ffytche, the director of the Centre for Psychoanalytic Studies at the University of Essex, will focus on textual material, specifically 20th-century creative writing written by those diagnosed with a mental disorder or identified as having one. Such writing is termed “outsider writing.”

“There’s a large and recognized body of writing from different genres that tends to be referred to as ‘outsider writing.’ What are the criteria that are applied? Is there any sort of rational basis for that kind of attribution?” Wilkinson explained.

Professor Elaine Hadley, a professor in the Department of English, is also working on a project sponsored by the Neubauer Collegium.

“Our main aim is to think about the history of the conceptualization of ‘the economy,’ what is included and excluded over time; to think about the tools of representation in that conceptualization; and to think in particular about the pressing question of ‘income inequality’ in light of these questions,” Professor Hadley said in an e-mail.

These collaborations look to host seminars and international conferences in the coming years to discuss these questions with faculty from other disciplines. In addition, they hope to produce graduate workshops at the University of Chicago and institutes that focus on their particular questions.

Both of these projects and the 10 other ones recently funded are among the total 54 faculty research projects that the Neubauer Collegium has funded since its 2012 founding.

In many ways, the work of the Neubauer Collegium is a response to increasing specialization in academia. The Collegium hopes that, by promoting this interdisciplinary work, great research will result.

“The irony is, all of the talk about interdisciplinary work really reflects the fact that over the years academics have become more specialized. The more specialized we become, the more we talk about cross-disciplinary work and that is really what it testifies to, that we worry about these things. So, it’s helping us to ensure that we have that kind of exchange across different disciplines,” Professor Wilkinson said.

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