Dissertation Year Fellowships

Dissertation Year Fellows, 2014-2015

Mark P. Dries (History)

Project Title: “The Mercurial Menace: Health and Indigenous Labor in the Mercury Mines of Huancavelica, Peru 1570-1700”

Mark Dries’ dissertation examines how indigenous conceptions of health influenced the labor regime in the mercury mines of Huancavelica, Peru during the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries.  As the only American source of the mercury needed to refine silver, Huancavelica was singularly important to the colonial mining economy and by extension, the Spanish Empire.  Descriptions of Huancavelica, from colonial accounts to modern historical analyses, focus exclusively on the victimization of conscripted indigenous laborers in the toxic environment of the mines.  Dries posits that scholars have assumed that the mines’ toxicity limited the opportunity for resistance and negotiation and, thus, have failed to consider the different ways in which Early Modern Europeans and indigenous Andeans understood the dangers of subterranean labor in Huancavelica.  In contrast, Dries analyzes colonial documents from regional and local archives to show how worker health emerged as a distinctly colonial idiom deployed and manipulated by various interests in pursuit of their often conflicting goals.  By integrating his study of the Quechua language and Andean culture into his work on the history of Huancavelica, Dries explores how indigenous and Early Modern conceptions of well-being ascribed meaning to conflicts over labor, and vice versa, making debates over worker health the crucial site of indigenous contestation of colonial labor demands.

Heather Jennings (English)

Project Title: “Speaking Flesh: Embodied Knowledge in Medieval Rhetoric, Pedagogy, and Performance”

In her dissertation, Jennings explores medieval instruction in grammar and rhetoric as a means for understanding and interpreting performance in the Middle Ages. Rather than assuming a “third wall” in the theater, medieval drama relied on a dynamic relationship between performer and audience in which the actor’s body functioned as a medium for transforming the audience’s emotions as a way of making meaning.  Jennings argues that this interest in the body as a medium of communication was shaped in large part by the educational practices of the medieval classroom.  Using treatises on conduct, grammar, and rhetoric; school notebooks; poetry composed for pedagogical purposes; and other material related to education, she examines performance’s essential role in classroom instruction as well as how pedagogical practices shaped educated readers’ and viewers’ encounters with performance outside the classroom.  Her project explores how classroom exercises and performances shared with popular drama a reliance on sensory experience as a means of instruction, and then turns to examine how individual plays interrogated the relationship between performance, knowledge, and the bodies of the audience and performers.

Drawing on theories of performance and cognition, Jennings’s dissertation casts into relief productive correspondences between premodern and postmodern theorizations of the mind, the body, and the performer.  Her project uses medieval drama, which actively incorporated the audience into the play, as a fruitful site for considering how performance creates empathy among performers and audience.  Cognitive theory’s investigation of how embodied minds interpret the actions of others serves as a framework for her exploration of medieval theorizations and practices of performance as dynamic, embodied communication.

Dissertation Year Fellows, 2013-2014

Jieun Lee (Anthropology)

Jieun Lee’s dissertation is an ethnography of stem cell enterprise in South Korea (Korea) focusing on the emergence and proliferation of promises that center on the biological potential of stem cells. Conducting a fieldwork in Korea, she has observed burgeoning markets for stem cell promises and their derivatives. From the novel business of stem cell banking, often fashioned as “bio-insurance”, to presumably more risky and expensive forms of illegitimate stem cell treatment, they revolve around the biological potential of stem cells as the basis of promises. Her dissertation examines how this specific techno-scientific object called “stem cell” is made into a “promissory thing”—an object of knowledge and concern that drives desire, investment, and speculation for diverse actors with myriad anticipations for the future. Exploring various sites where stem cells are studied, discussed, and marketed from laboratories to consumer markets, she investigates the relations and practices that make stems cells into entities enfolding social-scientific-economic futures.

Lee is particularly interested in how stem cells are discursively and materially made and maintained as a specific life form, how they have gained cultural and economic significance as a promissory thing, and how they address people’s hope and anxiety through their biological specificity. Conceptualizing stem cell enterprise as a kind of “ecology of promises”, she highlights how promises are made to proliferate and become concrete elements of the social fabric of life in Korea.

Magalí Rabasa (Cultural Studies)
Project Title: “The Book in Movement: Radical Politics & the Recrafting of Books in Latin America”

Rabasa’s dissertation is an ethnography of the print book, and examines its production and circulation in current social movements in Latin America. Over the past two decades, Latin American intellectuals have conceptualized the region as a “continent in movement” with waves of popular mobilization from Patagonia to Tijuana expressing repudiation of both neoliberal policies and the post-neoliberal capitalist models of current “progressive” governments. In recent years, there has been an explosion of alternative presses (publishing houses) working alongside the autonomous movements, which Rabasa asserts are defined more by their practices(cooperativism, self-organization, horizontalism) than by any specific categories or identities (class, race, etc.). It is in this context that new political concepts are emerging as grassroots political actors theorize their own experiences, creating a new body of political theory. The alternative presses, whose production and circulation practices the dissertation follows, are on the frontlines of this process.

Grounded in more than two years of participatory research with presses, writers, booksellers, and movements in the capital cities of Mexico, Bolivia, Chile and Argentina, Rabasa’s dissertation explores how the print book is made of—and is continually making—political, social, and economic relations. She argues that a different print book is emerging, which she calls the “organic book” drawing on Gramsci’s notion of the “organic intellectual.” Produced by the very actors and practices theorized in its pages, this object— the “book in movement”—is organic to the politics it describes. The organic book emerges from early twentieth century anarchist traditions, but today it appears as an “old” medium being made anew. A multi-sited ethnography, Rabasa’s dissertation takes methodological inspiration from cultural studies, anthropology, book studies, and political economy, exploring how books participate in multidimensional networks that zigzag across the continent.

Dissertation Year Fellows, 2012-2013

Jacob Culbertson (Anthropology)
Project Title: “Assembling Maori Architecture: Indigenous Knowledge and Expert Collaboration in an Emerging Science”

Culbertson’s dissertation is an ethnography of Maori architecture, an emerging professional field in New Zealand that draws on traditional Maori building practices and purportedly-universal architectural practices. Over the past two decades Maori architecture has become a crucial resource for reviving Maori traditions while literally rebuilding Maori communities. His research asks how Maori architecture travels; that is, how Maori architects select, combine and translate into each other diverse Maori and non-Maori architectural influences to comprise their unique field of design and building practices (not just an aesthetic) and differentiate it from other architectures.

Culbertson argues that these encounters and translations are both empirically contingent on particular design projects and theoretically generative, as they produce incommensurable (and often mutually-incomprehensible) differences while bringing together practices that push open the dichotomy between modern and non-modern ways of knowing. Over the past few years Culbertson has split his time between daily work with a collective of Maori woodcarvers in the Bay of Plenty region and interviewing professional architects and urban planners, mostly based in Auckland. Wandering through urban and rural landscapes with camera and notebook is also an important part of his research method, as is digging in on “traditional” construction projects when the opportunities arise.

Sarah Klotz (English)
Project Title: “Sentimental Literacies: Grief, Writing, and American Indigenous Rights, 1820-1920

As an English PhD candidate with an emphasis in Writing, Rhetoric, and Composition Studies, Klotz has embarked on a dissertation project that traces how nineteenth-century Americans depicted, understood, and engaged Native American literacies. She examines texts by James Fenimore Cooper, Catharine Sedgwick, Henry Wadsworth Longfellow, William Apess, Zitkala-Ša and others in addition to didactic texts and pedagogical strategies at work at the Carlisle Indian Industrial School. She argues that literacy became one of the primary criteria for determining who qualified for representation (in both the political and literary sense) during the period when policies of removal and assimilation depleted the sovereignty of Native American peoples.

The question of Indian/White relations often hinged on whether Native Americans and European Americans could inhabit the same national identity and geographical space. Proponents of removal used the fact that indigenous Americans did not always communicate, historicize, or write in ways that were fully legible as literate to insist that Native/white coexistence was impossible. But even as Andrew Jackson and his supporters used literacy to disenfranchise Native Americans and further colonize their land, many nineteenth-century writers resisted these policies by contextualizing, historicizing and generating new literacies to support the sovereignty of indigenous groups. To better understand the context of Indian Removal and assimilationist policies between 1820 and 1920, Klotz’s dissertation constructs an account of nineteenth-century literacy practices and their political impacts.

Dissertation Year Fellows, 2011-2012

Chad Anderson is a doctoral candidate in history. A historian of the early American republic, Chad is interested in the convergence of three related historical developments in the early nineteenth century: westward expansion and environmental change, the dispossession of Native Americans, and the formation of an American national identity. He is especially interested in uncovering the stories written on the landscape around us, sometimes hidden in plain sight or concealed in a place name.

His dissertation, “The Storied Landscape of Iroquoia: Landscape and Memory on the New York Frontier, 1750-1840” examines the relationship between changes to the built and natural landscape of the New York frontier and the meaning attached to this landscape by the Haudenosaunee (the Iroquois Six Nations) and European Americans, from approximately 1750 to 1830. During that period, Haudenosaunee control of the New York frontier, a region also known as Iroquoia, gave way to settlement by European Americans. He explores how settlers imposed a new vision of the landscape on Iroquoia, invented new traditions associated with this transformation, and remembered or distorted the land’s Indian past.


D.A. Caeton is a doctoral candidate in the Graduate Group in Cultural Studies. In his dissertation, “Reading Between the Dots: Tactile Writing Systems and the U.S. Ethos of Independence, 1830-1932,” D. A. Caeton investigates how the pursuit of a standardized method of literacy for blind people was informed by divergent beliefs about blind people’s assimilability into the dominant sighted culture.  He holds a B.A. in Sociology with a minor in Women’s Studies from the University of California, Berkeley and he has been trained in braille literacy by the Hadley School for the Blind.


Vivian Choi is a doctoral candidate in sociocultural anthropology. She came to Davis in 2004 by way of Sri Lanka, where she was a Fulbright Scholar, New York, where she worked in US welfare policy reform, and Pomona College, where she studied anthropology as an undergraduate. During her first year at Davis, the Indian Ocean tsunami ravaged Sri Lanka’s coastlines, and she focused her research on the aftermath and reconstruction of the tsunami. In the midst of her fieldwork in Sri Lanka, the civil war between the government of Sri Lanka and the insurgent rebel group the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE) drew to a tumultuous end. This historical moment shed light onto her understanding of post-tsunami reconstruction, especially in the war-affected community where she conducted much of her field research.

In her dissertation, “After Disasters: The Persistence of Insecurity and Violence in Sri Lanka,” Vivian is creating a critical ethnography of disasters both natural and man-made. She weaves together the aftermaths of the tsunami and the war, assessing the possibilities of peace through new processes of nation-building and reconstruction in a post-tsunami and post-war context. By examining how both disasters unfold socially and politically, she aims to unsettle the very terms by which we understand phenomena as either “natural” or “man-made” – that is, “natural” and “cultural.”


Matthew Russell is a doctoral candidate in the Department of Spanish and Portuguese. His principal research areas are contemporary Spanish cultural studies, literature, film, and intellectual history. Matthew’s dissertation project “Postmemory, the Holocaust and the Re-Moralization of the Spanish Civil War in Contemporary Spanish Cultural Production” examines how contemporary Spanish novelists, filmmakers, graphic novelists, and authors of testimony use the moral trope of the Holocaust in order to understand, mediate, and construct memories of Spain’s contentious history of violence. He argues that in most cases, the invocation of Holocaust in the Spanish context serves an exclusively Spanish agenda tailored to Spanish concerns. His study aims to suggest a more nuanced and critical view of the globalization of memory discourses and how the universal trope of Holocaust informs and hinders local memory practices in marginally related contexts.

Matthew holds bachelor’s and master’s degrees in Literature from the University of California, Santa Cruz and has been a student at the University of Granada, the University of Paris 3, Sorbonne Nouvelle, and the University of Michoacán. He can be reached at mbrussell@ucdavis.edu