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April 22, 2016

Four Faculty Awarded Guggenheim Fellowship

Four UChicago faculty members are among the 178 scholars, artists, and scientists who received the John Simon Guggenheim Memorial Foundation Fellowship this year.

The Guggenheim Fellowships are grants awarded to “men and women who have already demonstrated exceptional capacity for productive scholarship or exceptional creative ability in the arts,” according to the Foundation’s website. Often called “midcareer” awards, the grants aim to give established professionals the time and creative freedom to pursue projects of their choice. The fellowships have been awarded every year since 1925 and over 3,000 applicants applied to the annual competition this year.

The faculty members are Justin B. Richland, associate professor in anthropology and the social sciences; Lauren Berlant, George M. Pullman Distinguished Service Professor in English Language and Literature; Anthony Cheung, assistant professor in music; and Theo van den Hout, Arthur and Joann Rasmussen Professor in Western Civilization and in Hittite and Anatolian Languages.

Richland is a linguistic anthropologist and law scholar who researches topics such as the anthropology of law and contemporary Native American law, politics, and art. He plans on using his fellowship to complete Open Fields: Aesthetics, Ethics and the Very Idea of Natural History, a project that explores the changing role of Native American exhibitions and collections in natural history museums. The project is undertaken in collaboration with the Neubauer Collegium for Culture and Society and the Field Museum, where Richland is the adjunct curator of North American anthropology.

Berlant, a literary critic, studies the relationship between aesthetics, attachment, and affect, especially in the context of citizenship and history. In particular, she writes about public spheres as realms of emotion and affect rather than of rational and deliberative thought. She will use the Guggenheim fellowship to work on the Matter of Flatness project, which seeks to help scholars of political emotions explore better tools to think about the social, political, and aesthetic realms.

Van den Hout, whose research is primarily focused on writing and literacy in ancient Anatolia, directs the Chicago Hittite Dictionary project at the Oriental Institute. With the fellowship, he hopes to finish his book, Writing and Literacy in Hittite Anatolia, which covers the Hittites’ adoption of cuneiform script, their own development of a hieroglyphic system, and the nature of working with tablet collections.

“Hittite society is a particularly interesting case in the sense that it shows a society that…if they don’t feel ready for a certain innovation, even though they are acquainted with certain technical developments in other societies, they might just ignore and say eh, we don’t need it,” van den Hout said. “And that was the case with Hittites for a long time because we know that they witnessed writing, perhaps even on a daily basis.”

For van den Hout, the fellowship will run from July 1, 2016 to June 30, 2017. During this time, he will not teach classes and will work solely on the dictionary and book projects.

“With the dictionary, classes, committee work, just the usual stuff you do as a faculty member, there’s not much time left,” van den Hout said. “You can write articles, et cetera, but to write a book, a comprehensive monograph, you need some time off or some time alone…. And that’s what the Guggenheim will enable me to do.”

Cheung, a composer and pianist, said that the fellowship, which coincides with his first faculty research leave, will allow him to record a new CD focusing on his chamber music work played by the Spektral Quartet, an ensemble-in-residence here at the University.

“One of the things we composers have a hard time dealing with sometimes is just documenting our work,” Cheung said. “A lot of the times we’ll just get an archival recording, it won’t be commercially available, we’ll put it on Soundcloud or something. But to have a studio-made, available, beautifully edited recording is a rare thing.”

Cheung will also use the opportunity presented by the fellowship to focus on writing several new pieces of music. Chief among them will be a new large-scale piece for the full ensemble of the Cleveland Orchestra, where Cheung is currently the composer-in-residence.

“I...continue to be able to have a voice and [to] have that voice heard and supported just means a lot, and this is just one of those fellowships that allows for that,” Cheung said.

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