USC Society of Fellows in the Humanities

A Message to USC Faculty

From:         Michael W. Quick

Provost and Senior Vice President for Academic Affairs

Daniela Bleichmar

Associate Provost for Faculty and Student Initiatives in the Arts and Humanities

Date:           April 18, 2016

We are pleased to announce the USC Society of Fellows in the Humanities, an interdisciplinary community of junior and senior scholars that supports advanced research and intellectual exchange in the humanities and humanistic social sciences. The Society is an outgrowth of our very successful Provost’s Postdoctoral Scholars Program in the Humanities, which, over the past five years, has supported twenty-eight outstanding postdoctoral fellows who have contributed much to the vibrancy of humanities research and teaching at USC.

Beginning in Fall 2016, the USC Society of Fellows in the Humanities will offer five two-year postdoctoral fellowships every year. The competition will be open to candidates in the humanities and humanistic social sciences. Postdoctoral fellows will be affiliated with an academic department as well as with the Society, and will have mentors in both. Postdoctoral fellows will teach three courses over four semesters, with one semester dedicated to full-time research. Through the Society, postdoctoral fellows will give public presentations of their research, participate in formal and informal scholarly discussions, and organize events for graduate students in the humanities and humanistic social sciences. The Society will also involve other postdoctoral fellows in the humanities at USC and engage with departments, institutes, and centers, thus providing a forum for interdisciplinary exchanges.

A significant new feature of the Society is its expanded focus on faculty. Every two years, the Society will appoint ten USC faculty fellows, one of whom will serve as its Director. Faculty fellows will be selected in recognition of their excellence in scholarship and mentoring, and work closely with postdoctoral fellows and graduate students to steer interdisciplinary conversations and scholarly programs, as well as to support and guide their professional development.  We thank Professor Thomas Habinek for serving as the inaugural director.

We envision the Society will become a vibrant center of intellectual engagement for the USC community, serving as a clearinghouse for the exchange of ideas among humanistic scholars across our schools. For more information on the USC Society of Fellows, please visit

Please join us in congratulating the postdoctoral and faculty members of the Society of Fellows in the Humanities included on the attached roster.


Continuing Postdoctoral Fellows, 2016–2017

Stephanie Balkwill (Religion)

Bihui Li (Philosophy)

Ronald Mendoza-de Jesús (Spanish and Portuguese)

Bonnie Ruberg (Cinema and Media Studies)


New Postdoctoral Fellows, 2016–2018

John R. Blakinger (Art History) will receive his Ph.D. in Art History from Stanford University in June 2016. He studies the history, theory, and criticism of modern and contemporary art, with a focus on the intersection of aesthetics and politics with media, design, and visual culture. His dissertation explores artist, designer, and visual theorist Gyorgy Kepes’s attempts to reconcile art and science in the context of the Cold War. Blakinger was a 2014–2016 Chester Dale Fellow at the Center for Advanced Study in the Visual Arts (CASVA) at the National Gallery of Art in Washington, D.C. In 2014, he curated an exhibition on Kepes as the first Andrew W. Mellon Curatorial Research Assistant at Stanford’s Cantor Arts Center. Blakinger has published on Andy Warhol’s “Death in America” paintings and the US government’s camouflage training program. At USC, Blakinger will revise his dissertation on Kepes into a book manuscript and launch a second book project exploring the discourse and politics of creativity and the rise of a new culture of the image in the 1950s through 1970s. This project will examine experimental approaches to aesthetics in fields outside of the arts, with a particular interest in how common questions of vision created relationships between previously unrelated individuals, institutions, and intellectual domains.

Rhae Lynn Barnes (American Studies & Ethnicity) received a B.A. in History from the University of California, Berkeley and a Ph.D. in History from Harvard University. Barnes is a cultural historian of North America with particular interests in the history of racism, racial formation, gender, sexuality, book history, and popular culture. Her dissertation, “Darkology: The Hidden History of Amateur Blackface Minstrelsy and the Making of Modern America, 1860-1970,” received funding from the Library of Congress, the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation, the National Endowment for the Humanities, the Western History Association, and the Rare Book School at the University of Virginia. Her book monograph on this subject will be accompanied by a website that includes a bibliographic database documenting thousands of amateur blackface minstrel plays and material culture. She is the founder of the digital history website “U.S. History Scene,” which has been cited by The New York Times, the Washington Post, the Atlantic, California University Press, the Journal of African American History, and an amicus brief to the Supreme Court. In 2018, Barnes will join the History Department at Princeton University.

Asheesh Siddique (History) was educated at Princeton University (A.B., 2007), the University of Oxford (M.Phil., 2009), and Columbia University (Ph.D., 2016). He is a political, intellectual, and cultural historian of the British Empire, early America, and early modern Europe who is interested in the relationship between governance, knowledge, and technology. Siddique’s first book project, “Paperwork, Governance, and Archive in the British Empire During the Long Eighteenth Century,” examines the changing ways in which the British imperial state used the technology of paper to govern and administer its territories in North America, the Caribbean, and India during a century of immense geopolitical transformation. The project examines both the ways in which documents were developed and used in administration; and the history of their archivization. At USC, Siddique intends to start work on two new projects: a study of the rise of archive-based approaches to writing the history of the American Revolution during the nineteenth century across the Atlantic world; and a conceptual history of “corporation” in Western political, legal, and economic thought from the medieval period to the present. His research has been supported by the Social Science Research Council, the Omohundro Institute of Early American History and Culture, and the American Philosophical Society.

Emily Ambrose Wang (Slavic Languages and Literatures) received her Ph.D. from the Department of Slavic Languages and Literatures at Princeton University in 2016. Her research focuses on Russian literature (primarily poetry) from the nineteenth and twentieth centuries, as well as affect and postcolonial theory. She is interested in considering texts in both a literary and a social context, and her work draws on historical methodologies and intellectual history. Her first project, “Civic Feeling: Pushkin and the Decembrist Emotional Community,” argues that the participants in the uprisings in December 1825 at Senate Square and in Ukraine were not members of an organization with a defined political program, but rather an emotional community focused on Sentimentalist friendship. She has also begun work on a second project, tentatively titled “The Cosmopolitan Periphery: Acmeism, Symbolism, and the Birth of Russian Modernism,” which analyzes Acmeist and Symbolist writers in terms of their engagement with imperial centers and peripheries, considering how these positions were negotiated culturally and geographically both within and beyond the Russian empire.

Jessica Wright (Classics) received her Ph.D. in Classics from Princeton University in 2016. She works at the intersection of the history of medicine and religion in late antiquity. Her doctoral dissertation, “Brain and Soul in Late Antiquity,” explores constructions of the brain in Christian texts from the fourth and fifth centuries CE. Drawing upon theoretical frameworks from history and philosophy of medicine, disability studies, and sociology, she argues that the brain was a fruitful conceptual object for Christian theologians and preachers seeking to articulate new understandings of the human soul and responsibility. Alongside her doctoral research, she is also involved in prison education: at Princeton, she taught college-accredited literature classes through a prison education program, launched a two-semester Latin program for incarcerated students, and founded and organized a college tutoring program inside two state prisons. As a postdoctoral fellow at USC, Jessica will work on two projects. The first, “The Brain in Ancient Medical Science,” is an introductory account of the brain in key philosophical and medical authors in the Greek scientific tradition. The second, titled “The Care of the Brain in Early Christianity,” will examine rhetorics of cerebral vulnerability in early Christian texts, and will make the argument that Christian appropriation of cerebral dysfunction as a model for illnesses of the soul produced new categories of disability, and at the same time contributed to a discourse of “crazy” that rooted moral deviance in diseases of the brain.


Faculty Fellows (2016–2018)

Director: Thomas Habinek, Professor of Classics, Dornsife College

Lisa Bitel, Professor of History and Religion, Dornsife College

Vittoria Di Palma, Associate Professor of the History and Theory of Architecture, School of Architecture

James McHugh, Associate Professor of Religion, Dornsife College

Mark Schroeder, Professor of Philosophy, Dornsife College

Vanessa Schwartz, Professor of History and Art History, Dornsife College, and professor of Cinema and Media Studies, School of Cinematic Arts

Tom Seifrid, Professor of Slavic Languages and Literatures, Dornsife College

Laura Isabel Serna, Associate Professor of Cinema and Media Studies, School of Cinematic Arts

Bruce Smith, Dean’s Professor of English and Professor of Theatre, Dornsife College

David Treuer, Professor of English, Dornsife College