December 17, 2009

Prestigious NEH Fellowships Aid Humanities Faculty's Book Projects

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The National Endowment for the Humanities offered two College of Arts and Sciences faculty members—Ellen G. Landau from art history and Susanne Vees-Gulani from modern languages and literature—prestigious and competitive NEH Fellowships to support their research.

The two NEH Fellowships also set a new record for the university. This is the first time that two faculty members have received Fellowships in one year in recent history. Over the past years, CWRU has been the recipient of 48 NEH awards.

NEH funded 319 humanities projects.

NEH has given support for the projects, "Mexico and American Modernism," by Landau, Andrew W. Mellon Professor of the Humanities, and "The Myths of Dresden: Origins and Manifestations of the German Victim Discourse" by Vees-Gulani, assistant professor of comparative literature and German.

Mexico's Influence on American Artists

Landau will spend her sabbatical next year completing the final chapter in her book, Mexico and American Modernism, an exploration of the influences and impact that Mexico and Mexican art has had on four important mid-20th century American artists—Jackson Pollock, Robert Motherwell, Isamu Noguchi and Philip Guston.

Prior scholars have not adequately analyzed "the catalytic implications" on the artists' extraordinary creativity that resulted from cross-fertilization with the Mexican artistic and social culture, says Landau.

She adds, "A sharpened and refined interrogation of these ventures will add new perspectives on the cultural impact of globalization, a key 21st century direction in humanities studies."

Landau worked on three of four chapters during 2004 as the Agnes Gund and Daniel Shapiro Member at the Institute for Advanced Study in Princeton. At that time, she conducted intensive research for the book, which is under contract with Yale Press for publication.

She finished the Guston and Pollock chapters, and now plans to write the final chapter on Motherwell as well as expand information in the section on Noguchi, which allies his sculpture with modernist dance.

The art historian's scholarly work on Guston has won the Smithsonian American Art Museum's 2008 Patricia and Philip Frost Essay Prize. The award-winning article, "Double Consciousness in Mexico: How Philip Guston and Reuben Kadish Painted a Morelian Mural," will be incorporated into Mexico and American Modernism.

Landau also plans to show how Mexico had an impact on Motherwell's evolution as a painter. He began painting seriously during an extended stay there, which resulted in his signature works, Elegies to the Spanish Republic. These abstract paintings portray bullfighting in stark white and black imagery.

The CWRU art historian's work contributes to a little-studied area that explores the relationship Mexico and its culture had on artists in this country. Currently only one hallmark volume exists in the catalogue, South of the Border: Mexico in the American Imagination, 1914-1947, which accompanied a 1993 exhibit at Yale University. Landau's project will build scholarship in this area.

Dresden Memorialized

How the eastern German city of Dresden acquired iconic status as a cultural center and later for its destruction, then followed by the rebuilding of the city to its former persona—and how it shaped German history and the memory of the war—is at the center of Vees-Gulani's book-in-progress, The Myth of Dresden.

The new research builds on work begun in her prior book, Trauma and Guilt: Literature of Wartime Bombing in Germany (2003) in which she analyzes German literary texts on the air war both in the context of trauma theory and questions of guilt about the Nazi past.

During this project, Vees-Gulani realized that "the research on Dresden contains significant blind spots, even though it has played a central role in the cultural, academic and popular discourse about the air war during World War II." While the raids that largely destroyed the city towards the end of the war have been discussed, Dresden's symbolic role for German history and memory since its destruction has been rarely explored.

The Myth of Dresden will fill this omission and show that Dresden's exceptional status is not just the result of its destruction in 1945. It also is connected to the city's history of tourism and the continued visual encoding of the city in paintings and postcards. These pictures serve as mental counter-images to the photographs of Dresden after its destruction, allowing for a discourse of German suffering as well as an opportunity for propagandistic rhetoric.

Vees-Gulani further explores how this discourse has influenced rebuilding decisions from 1945 to the present, as well as how it is reflected in contemporary literature, film and culture.

Starting in June 2010, Vees-Gulani will spend time in Germany, conducting research in museums and archives in Dresden and Berlin.

Baker-Nord Center Support

In an effort to encourage and support faculty applications to NEH, the Baker-Nord Center for the Humanities and the College of Arts and Sciences' Office of the Dean hosted a two-day visit by Russell Wyland, assistant director of the NEH Division of Research Programs, in February.

During that time, Wyland talked about funding opportunities at the NEH, and conducted a mock review panel to demonstrate the process proposals undergo. The Baker-Nord Center also offered interested faculty in the College of Arts and Sciences the opportunity to have their draft proposals reviewed by a panel of humanities faculty with expertise in grant writing.

Vees-Gulani participated in the process and found it helpful in applying.

"I might not have applied without the workshop," Vees-Gulani says, "I was not aware of all the details of the fellowship and always assumed that only senior faculty would be funded since it was so selective."

After the workshop, Vees-Gulani says she knew what she had to do to prepare the best possible application. This is the first time she applied for the NEH Fellowship.

For more information contact Susan Griffith, 216.368.1004.

Posted by: Kimyette Finley, December 17, 2009 01:09 PM | News Topics: Arts & Entertainment, Collaborations/Partnerships, College of Arts and Sciences, Faculty, Provost Initiatives, Research, news

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