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Solmsen Fellows

Costica Bradatan
Humanities, Texas Tech University
Solmsen Fellow (2017-2018)
In Praise of Failure

At the IRH Bradatan is completing a new book, In Praise of Failure (contracted with Harvard University Press), which makes the argument that, because of our culture’s obsession with success, we miss something important about what it means to be human, and deny ourselves access to a deeper layer of our humanity. A sense of what we are in the grand scheme of things, an openness towards the unknown and the mysterious, humility and reverence towards that which transcends us – these are only some of the rewards that a proper grasp of failure could bring about. 

Costica Bradatan is a Professor of Humanities at Texas Tech University. He has also held faculty appointments at Cornell University, University of Notre Dame, and University of Wisconsin-Madison, as well as at several universities in Europe and Asia. He is the author or editor of ten books, most recently Dying for Ideas: The Dangerous Lives of the Philosophers (Bloomsbury, 2015), and has written for The New York Times, Washington Post, The New Statesman, Aeon, Dissent, and Times Literary Supplement, among other places. 

Portrait image of Mira Green
Mira Green
History, University of Washington
Solmsen Fellow (2017-2018)
Digesting Bodies: Status, Gender, and Mastery in Roman Society and Homes

Providing a distinct window into the social and political developments of the early Roman Empire, my book project takes up various lived experiences in domestic settings to probe Roman notions of embodiment. In particular, my work focuses on Roman attitudes towards the digesting body and the domestic practices associated with its needs. While recent work in Roman social and cultural history has enhanced our knowledge about Roman attitudes toward sexuality, far less attention has been given to the role of the digesting body for the articulation of Roman social hierarchies. I argue that Roman authors’ accounts of somatic functions subtly reveal elite concerns about political and social changes occurring during the late Republic and early Empire. Additionally, through an analysis of material evidence, my project reveals how numerous activities related to basic bodily needs became the markers of a person’s place in Roman society.

F. Mira Green is a Lecturer in Ancient History in the History Department at the University of Washington. She received her PhD in Roman History from the University of Washington and M.A. in Greek History from the University of Utah. Her research focuses on questions of hierarchy and power that are intertwined with a society’s ideas about daily life, food, slavery, sexuality, and the material expressions of mastery in the Roman world. She has published articles in the Journal of Roman Archaeology and Helios.

Jeremy Ledger
History, University of Michigan
Solmsen Fellow (2017-2018)
Mapping Mediterranean Geographies: Geographic and Cartographic Encounters between the Islamic World and Europe, c. 1150-1600

Mapping Mediterranean Geographies is a study of the cultural encounter between Muslim and Christian inhabitants of the Mediterranean basin between the twelfth and sixteenth century. It approaches this subject from the vantage point of the circulation, transmission, and reception of geographical knowledge between Muslim and Christian geographical writers and cartographers who dwelled along the shores of the sea. The project begins with an acknowledgement of difference across the Mediterranean: geographical knowledge of the world and ways of representing it differed greatly between the Islamic world and western Europe. Based on Arabic, Latin, and Romance sources, my research asks how these disparate knowledges crossed the Mediterranean and explores the ways in which geographers and cartographers received this ‘imported’ knowledge and incorporated it into their own descriptions and maps of the world. Through the lens of geography and cartography, this project assesses the different ways in which Muslim and Christian inhabitants of the Mediterranean understood their world and how cross-cultural exchange and reception of new knowledge altered those conceptions.

Jeremy Ledger received his Ph.D. in history from the University of Michigan in 2016. His research and writing center on the social, cultural, and intellectual history of interfaith relations in the medieval and early modern Mediterranean. He is currently working on a book project entitled Mapping Mediterranean Geographies that explores how Muslim and Christian inhabitants of the western and central Mediterranean constructed the cosmos, globe, space, self, and others in geographical writing, cartography, and travelogues. His research has been supported by grants from the Fulbright IIE, the Council of American Overseas Research Centers, Fulbright Hays, the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation, and the American Institute for Maghrib Studies.

Portrait image of Su Fang Ng outdoors
Su Fang Ng
Clifford A. Cutchins III Associate Professor of English, Virginia Tech
Solmsen Fellow (2017-2018)
Literary and Other Lives of Interpreters: Captives, Converts, and Scribes in the Early Modern East Indies

Shakespeare wrote: “You taught me language, and my profit on’t / Is, I know how to curse”: Caliban’s accusation of European linguistic colonialism is riveting theatre but hardly an accurate picture of how early modern transnational exchange. English was peripheral and Europeans had to learn other languages or depended on interpreters. Often unknown and invisible, the interpreter who translates was a crucial principal in early modern Euro-Asian trade and other negotiations. Using case studies, I consider the role in the period before its professionalization in the East Indies. Interpreters, Asian and European, were converts, captives, scribes, and refugees. Their lives left traces in travel accounts, literature, dictionaries and grammars, and the rare portrait. My study explores the affective engagements of cross-cultural male intellectual and other collaborations, friendships, and competition. In Europe’s encounter with Asia, skilled linguists, whether bookish humanists or practical merchants, collaborated in constructing global networks.

Su Fang Ng is Clifford A. Cutchins III Associate Professor of English at Virginia Tech, where she teaches early modern literature. Her first book, Literature and the Politics of Family in Seventeenth-Century England (Cambridge University Press, 2007), examines the family-state analogy as a contested political language shared by royalists and republicans. She guest-edited a special issue on Transcultural Networks in the Indian Ocean for Genre (July 2015) and has published essays on medieval, early modern, and postcolonial topics. She is completing revisions on a second book, Alexander the Great from Britain to Islamic Southeast Asia: Peripheral Empires in the Global Renaissance for Oxford University Press: this book remaps global literary networks by uncovering the connected literary histories of Alexander the Great romances at the peripheries of Eurasia. She has won residential fellowships at the Radcliffe Institute for Advanced Study at Harvard University, the National Humanities Center, the University of Texas at Austin, Heidelberg University, and All Souls College at Oxford, as well as a number of small grants.

Portrait image of Mali Skotheim
Mali Skotheim
Classics, Princeton University
Solmsen Fellow (2017-2018)
Radical Dancers: The Rise of Pantomime and the End of Drama in Antiquity

Mimes, pantomimes, magicians, acrobats, and puppeteers performed at ancient Greek religious festivals alongside actors of tragedy, comedy, and other stage performers. I focus on the role of pantomime in Greek, Roman, and early Christian culture. Pantomime, first attested in the first century BCE under Augustus, transformed the traditionally staged and acted drama that audiences were familiar with into an exciting new form, a masked, mimetic dance. At every stage in the history of the dance, pantomimes dancers negotiated complex relationships between verbal and bodily expression, high and low culture, tradition and innovation, Greek-ness and Roman-ness, and masculinity and femininity. I argue that these tensions must be understood in relation to the institutional context of the Greek festivals, where the dance was popularized throughout the ancient Mediterranean.

Mali Skotheim received her PhD in Classics from Princeton University in 2016, and her BA in Latin from Swarthmore College in 2005. During 2015-16, she was a Rome Prize Fellow at the American Academy in Rome, where she completed her dissertation, The Greek Dramatic Festivals under the Roman Empire. Her work has been generously supported by fellowships at the Center for Epigraphical and Paleographical Studies at The Ohio State University, the Warburg Institute in London, the Center for Ancient History and Epigraphy at the German Archaeological Institute in Munich, and the American School of Classical Studies at Athens.

Portrait image of Melissa Vise outdoors
Melissa Vise
Italian Studies, New York University
Solmsen Fellow (2017-2018)
The Unruly Tongue: Speech and Violence in Medieval Italy

What can words do? This project offers a historicizing twist to that question by asking what words could do in medieval Italy. I focus on the northern Italian cities, the nascent self-governing republics that arose in the midst of monarchic and seigniorial rule. The cities branded themselves as beacons of libertas, but dissimilar to the ideals of many modern republics, speech was far from free. I construct a cultural history of speech and its regulation by drawing together medical tracts, pastoral treatises, rhetorical manuals, contemporary literature, statute law, and civic, episcopal, and inquisition trial processes. This diverse source base has suggested that a narrative forefronting clerical or political persecution cannot fully explain medieval regulation of speech. Instead, I argue that the definition and prosecution of speech crimes were part of a larger and developing ethics of speech, one that identified the ability of words themselves to become weapons and that summoned all to guard against their violence. I work to identify the construction, geography, and cultural import of a moral order: the ephemeral and irretrievable yet determinative world of speech.

Melissa Vise is a historian of medieval Europe whose research focuses on religious, cultural, and legal history with an emphasis on the Italian peninsula. Most recently, she was a Visiting Assistant Professor at New York University in the Department of Italian Studies. She was a Presidential Fellow at Northwestern University (2012-14), a Fellow in the Mellon Academy for Advanced Studies of the Renaissance (2013), a Charlotte Newcomb Fellow (2014-15), and a winner of the Medieval Academy of America’s Olivia Remie Constable Award (2017). Her most recent article, “The Women and the Inquisitor: Peace-making in Bologna, 1299” is forthcoming in Speculum, 2018.