New Faculty Profiles 2012-13

Yuming He (East Asian Languages and Literatures)

Yuming He, a new assistant professor of East Asian Languages and Literature, works on early modern Chinese literature and cultural history, specifically in the history of the book. Her first book, Home and the World: Editing the “Glorious Ming” in Woodblock-Printed Books of the Sixteenth and Seventeenth Centuries will be available in April from the Harvard University Asia Center.

Having received her Ph.D. at UC Berkeley, followed by teaching positions first at Reed College and later at the University of Chicago, He returned to the UC system looking forward to its resources and community. “I thought to myself that UC Davis would be an ideal space because it has great research facilities but you can keep your feet on the ground,” He explained. “A large percentage of students are first-generation college students. It’s exciting. Having spent my pre-graduate education in China, I definitely see the merits of a public education system.”

In fact, He felt a specific connection to China when she visited the UC Davis campus for the first time. “China is often called the ‘Kingdom of Bicycles,’ and on Chinese college campuses, students use bicycles to get around. Seeing so many bicyclists here at UC Davis made me feel a physical connection to the campus. During my campus visit here I felt a sense of warmth and childhood experience. In literary studies, we call that moment the gate of memory opening,” He recalled.

Teaching courses on classical Chinese as well as literary and cultural history has been beneficial for He’s students as well as her own research. “Teaching classical Chinese has a lot to do with nuances, with philology. It’s a reminder and a welcome exercise to be sensitive to language, words, and textual specifics. These skills are so useful for close reading,” He explained.

Nevertheless, as important as close reading is, He said in-depth study of literature also means reaching beyond texts and national boundaries. “The meaning of literary texts is not contained; these meanings and studies of literatures have become cultural studies,” she asserted. He looks forward to offering cultural studies classes drawing from so many traditions to allow a diverse student body to connect to the course material. “I’m excited to work with students of different national traditions from mine. The humanities are about the openness of reading and interpretation,” she said.

He is especially excited about the prospect of working across disciplines and departments at UC Davis, a campus known for its interdisciplinarity. “I hope to get to work on early modern studies without regard for national traditions, looking at the transregional interactions of that time, the global market of cultural goods,” He said. “I also hope to work with performance studies by expanding my work on traditional Chinese theater into studies of larger processes of social identity construction.”

Seth Hindin (ACLS New Faculty Fellow in Art History)

Great libraries and a strong commitment to undergraduate teaching are among the things that drew Seth Hindin to UC Davis. An art historian, Hindin arrived on campus this fall as a 2012-2014 American Council of Learned Societies (ACLS) New Faculty Fellow and Visiting Assistant Professor fellowship.

The ACLS program allows fellows to choose where they would like to reside during their fellowship. For Hindin, the choice was obvious. In addition to asserting that “the students and faculty here are fantastic,” Hindin pointed out that UC Davis offered him the opportunity to advance his research. “The University of California has excellent library resources. Libraries are the laboratories of humanities research, and a key component of my fellowship is research.”

The other part of his fellowship, which emphasizes undergraduate teaching, also influenced Hindin’s decision to come to UC Davis. “From a teaching perspective, there was considerable demand from both undergraduate and graduate students here for courses in medieval European art and architecture…I knew I could make a real contribution here,” said Hindin, whose appointment is in the art history department.

This quarter, Hindin is teaching two undergraduate courses for the art history department, one on Gothic art and one on medieval and early modern urbanism and architecture. Hindin has already begun taking advantage of UC Davis’s wonderful resources to engage his students. Hindin brought his Gothic art class to the Shields Library Special Collections to look at one of the beautiful examples of an illuminated medieval book of hours. Students exclaimed over the shiny gold leaf embedded in the manuscripts as Hindin explained the process of attaching gold leaf.

Although the students had viewed many manuscript images in the classroom, they noted how the colors in facsimile reproductions of the manuscripts did not live up to the vividness of the original. Drew Narayanan, a class member, thanked Hindin, saying, “I’ve never had a professor show me manuscripts before.”

Hindin hopes his art history courses encourage his students “to look critically, analogous to the way text-based courses teach them to read critically.” Hindin wants his students to be “critical observers of the fine arts, but also other media like advertisements.”

These pedagogical goals reflect Hindin’s belief in the benefit of art history programs in the humanities. He says that programs in art history “have something important to offer because our focus on non-written materials allows students to expand their critical thinking skills,” encouraging students to apply those skills to understand the media they encounter every day.

Hindin will be at UC Davis for two years, and during that time he hopes to complete his first book manuscript, “Visualizing Difference: Art, Architecture, and Ethnic Identity in Medieval Central Europe,” as well as several articles. Supported through a grant from the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation, the ACLS New Faculty fellowship is particularly focused on undergraduate teaching, so Hindin feels fortunate to have the opportunity to teach both undergraduate and graduate students.

Engaging with his colleagues and the campus community, Hindin has begun organizing guest speakers, such as ACLS New Faculty fellow Kathryn Blair Moore at UC Berkeley, to maintain a dialogue with the art history department and the campus as well as the larger art history community.

Hindin comes to UC Davis after receiving his PhD in the History of Art and Architecture from Harvard University in 2011 and teaching at the University of Richmond during the 2011-2012 academic year.

Brett Snyder (Design)

Brett Snyder, a new faculty member in the Department of Design and co-principal of the multidisciplinary architecture studio Cheng+Snyder, brings to UC Davis experience connecting architecture and graphics. Although his work is firmly in the field of architecture, it’s the graphics that allow Snyder to provide a kind of engagement buildings often cannot do on their own.

Snyder had completed projects in graphic design and as well as projects in traditional architecture when he realized that he could combine the two. Layering the digital world onto physical installations allows Snyder to provide the audience with more information and a deeper understanding of the architecture they see.

For example, you can download his interactive iPhone app, “Museum of the Phantom City: Other Futures” for a digital tour of alternative histories of spaces in New York City. As you walk around the city, you can check the app’s map to see areas of interest, marked by tags. When you arrive at that space, the tag changes color and you can see sketches and documents describing past designers’ plans for the space. You can even use the app’s feedback option, “Rate this Future,” to score the historical design ideas proposed for that spot.

The app allows viewers to connect not only to the current space they see, but also the past and future of the space. While the app offers the most for users in New York City, anyone can take the interactive tour through the Cheng+Snyder website.

Recently, Snyder created an interactive mural in a city park in Syracuse, New York. The installation is a mosaic of QR codes that allows the audience to interact with the city. The mosaic contains questions about proper use of the public space, and it invites viewers to weigh in on the questions via social media, which they can access by snapping the codes with their smart phones. “My goal was to create a connective corridor that functions like a stitch between the city and the downtown university,” explained Snyder.

Snyder sees all the work designers do as having a pedagogical and also a provocative element, like his app and mosaic. He also sees the teaching process as intertwined with the learning his own work requires. “The work my practice undertakes requires us to learn new things with each project we do. I see every project as an experiment,” he explained. This quarter Snyder is teaching an introductory class on 3D design, and next quarter he will be teaching an introduction to architecture.

Snyder is excited to be at UC Davis, saying “my work is highly collaborative, so a university with so many great departments really benefits me.” In his professional career, Snyder saw his design practice grow from client-based to grant-based. “As I moved into self-initiated projects, the projects had more critique and cultural commerce in that they refused to accept the status quo. Even if the project itself has a small footprint, the cultural commentary has a larger impact,” Snyder said.

Snyder received his bachelor’s degree in Graphic Design from Carnegie Mellon University and his master’s degree from the Columbia Graduate School of Architecture, Planning and Preservation. Snyder has taught design and architecture at numerous institutions including Columbia University, Cooper Union, Pratt, Syracuse, and University of the Arts, Philadelphia.

Matthew Vernon (English)

The power an author has over a text is like the power George Lucas has over Darth Vader.

So says Matthew Vernon, assistant professor of English, who joined the UC Davis faculty last fall and has found unique ways of connecting his students to the medieval texts they study in his classes. Vernon specializes in medieval and nineteenth-century literature, but his work also crosses temporal boundaries. “In my teaching and my work, I always keep in mind the interdisciplinary and the cross-temporal,” Vernon said.

“As I was teaching them [Chaucer’s] ‘The Clerk’s Tale,’ we were talking about the power of the author over the subject, and we started talking about the parody video of ‘Somebody I Used to Know’ featuring George Lucas,” Vernon explained. This parody uses a popular song to comment on the way George Lucas, as a creator of the Star Wars franchise, has control over the subjects of the Star Wars stories—in this video, Darth Vader complains of the way Lucas has treated his character.

Vernon’s students appreciated the connection because the students knew the Star Wars films and that some fans were angry with the way Lucas handled the character development in the Star Wars prequels. For that reason, and because the debate was packaged in the form of a song they knew, the students had an epiphany about how they can take relationships they already understand and apply them to the literature they’re reading, like the relationship between an author and the characters in his text.

In addition to these teaching methods, Vernon enjoys the challenges of lecturing, which bring the opportunity to make decisions about literature—having to decide “this is what the text means” and teaching it to a class. “It’s refreshing to have my ideas challenged in a formal way by people experiencing the literature for the first time,” Vernon said.

Vernon’s creativity extends beyond the classroom as he draws from current American culture to inform his examination of medieval literature. Thinking about the medieval German tale of Siegfried the dragonslayer, Vernon saw film director Quentin Tarantino’s Django Unchained as another depiction of dragonslaying, in which the villain of the film is the dragon to be slain. This film became a tool for Vernon’s reading of medieval texts. “I’ve been excited to read Django Unchained as a commentary on who is American and who is not American; in this movie, Americanization comes from being a dragonslayer,” Vernon observed.

Recognizing medieval icons, such as the dragonslayer, in popular media allows Vernon to critique medieval and modern forms of identity construction in conversation with one another, rather than in a vacuum. This cross-temporal examination provides a wider perspective on both texts, showing cultural connections between the medieval past and today. “Seeing something so new, like Django, that is still relevant to my work is exciting,” Vernon explained.

Vernon is also happy to join a group of faculty committed to graduate development. “I’m really impressed with the way the mentorship relationship between graduate students and faculty is taken so seriously here; it’s exciting that there’s room for that. It allows lots of vibrant young work and room for that work,” he said.

Vernon received his PhD from Yale in 2011 and comes to UC Davis from the Gallatin School for Individualized Study at New York University.