Institute of Historical Studies
Institute of Historical Studies

Institute Fellows selected to study "Capital and Commodities" in 2014-15

Wed, April 30, 2014
Institute Fellows selected to study

The Institute for Historical Studies is pleased to announce the visiting Research Fellows joining us in 2014-2015. The Fellows arrive from across the United States, including three Assistant Professors from SUNY-Albany, UNC-Chapel Hill, and the University of Houston, and one Associate Professor from James Madison University in Virginia. Their fields of specialization are geographically and thematically rich and diverse - ranging from rubber production and environmental crises in Vietnam, 1890-1975, to consumption in medieval Persian cities, to wig-making and hairdressing in eighteenth-century France, to the post-World War II fishing industry in the Southeast Pacific - but all engage with the institute's theme next year, Capital and Commodities.

“During my year at the IHS,” writes Professor Michitake Aso (Ph.D., 2011, University of Wisconsin­, Madison) “I will finish my book manuscript that explores how rubber production in twentieth-century Vietnam led to material transformations in human and non-human natures. I plan to continue to examine the ways in which this commodity became enmeshed in human systems of meanings and knowledge. I also intend to focus on how spatial distributions of meanings have changed over time and juxtapose individual experience and social and political structures across colonial and post-colonial divides.” Dr. Aso will also further analyze the interactions between state and non-state actors in the rubber industry by applying a global historical perspective on this essential modern commodity.

Professor Emma Flatt (Ph.D., 2009, School of Oriental and African Studies, University of London) traces the emergence of a new understanding of consumption in medieval South India – one in which the acquisition of courtly skills was understood as the accumulation of capital, and the circulation and exchange of commodities both paralleled and facilitated the circulation of courtiers in a global, networked, courtly, labour market. “Locating the courts of the medieval Deccan within a broader world of commodity exchange and elite mobility- the ‘Persian Cosmopolis’, a zone of shared language and shared language practice, which allowed for the development of multiple, overlapping long-distance networks,” says Professor Flatt, “I investigate the transformation of courtly knowledge, skills and practices into the cash and goods of cultural capital. At the same time, I examine the role of material objects, particularly exotic luxury commodities such as perfume simples, in transactions of exchange, negotiation and translation between individuals and in the process of individual ethical self-fashioning.”

In “Tangled Interests: A History of Wig Making and Hairdressing in Eighteenth-Century France,” Professor Mary K. Gayne (Ph.D., 2006, Cornell University) explores "the path of human hair from the moments when peasant women and girls abandoned their long locks to hair croppers to the point at which wig stylists were mounting finished wigs on urban men’s heads.” “Through extensive archival research,” she continues, “I reveal that Old Regime hairstylists were in a privileged position to make new and often times conflicting claims about the symbolic logic of bodily appearance, the methods of marketplace construction, and the social tolerance for economic regulation. As a matter of everyday practice, these social actors routinely encountered the Old Regime body as physical form, as social construct, and as corporate entity; they contributed to the shaping and reshaping of men’s and women’s hairstyling; and they facilitated the wig’s transition from being a tool of state-building to becoming a consumer product directly defined in relation to women’s hairdressing.”

Finally, Professor Kristin Wintersteen (Ph.D., 2011, Duke University) will develop a new section of her book manuscript, tentatively titled "Elusive Catch: The Global Race for Fish in the Southeast Pacific." "Although largely overlooked in its importance as a commodity, fishmeal from the upwelling of the Humboldt Current marine ecosystem has been a hidden engine of the twentieth century revolution in industrial animal farming," writes Professor Wintersteen. "My research sheds light on how Pacific South America’s boom-bust cycles shaped the post-World War II ‘race for fish,’ and on the international alliances that emerged, both within the global South and across the Pacific and Atlantic Oceans, to govern access to these invisible yet increasingly precious resources."

We look forward to many engaging conversations with these fellows and others next year at our numerous workshops, talks, discussions, and other events, culminating in an annual conference in spring, all around the "Capital and Commodities" theme.

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