Zachary Bennett

Graduate Fellow                                                                                                                                                                Department of History--Rutgers, New Brunswick

zb photoMy project examines rivers as technoscientific networks in colonial America. Rivers were among the most exploitable sources of energy for Atlantic cultures, and central to the political economy of Native Americans, Euroamerican colonists, and early industrialists. Each of these cultures during the colonial period had different visions of whether waterpower should be used primarily for harvesting fish, moving commodities, or turning mill wheels to process agricultural goods or later power factories. The very attributes which make rivers attractive to human societies—their natural energy capacity and ability to connect people across wide distances—also make them delicate ecological zones rendering accommodation between different uses nearly impossible. The employment of weirs, metal fishing implements, and dams to capture energy impeded on neighboring cultural groups’ methods by either overharvesting fish, blocking passage, or flooding fields. I argue that the various ensuing conflicts immediately concerning river use provide a previously overlooked window into a larger intercultural Atlantic debate regarding human’s proper relationship with the environment.

Christopher Blakley

Graduate Fellow                                                                                                                                                                Department of History--Rutgers, New Brunswick

cmblakley rchanetworksMy project follows the North American and Caribbean itinerary of the gentleman naturalist Mark Catesby from 1722 to 1726. A circle of wealthy and ambitious elites financed the expedition, including Francis Nicholson, James Brydges, and Hans Sloane. These individuals invested their fortunes in mercantile and philanthropic corporations including the Royal African Company, the East India Company, the Royal Society, and the Society for the Propagation of the Gospel. As he scouted the southeastern Atlantic colonies and the Bahama Islands, anonymous “Friendly Indians” and slaves, including a “Negro Boy”, served Catesby as navigators and research assistants. In 1729 he published the first volume of his findings titled The Natural History of Carolina, Florida, and the Bahama Islands. A cast of esteemed readers appeared in the subscription list of the book, bestowing credit to the author, including the British royal family, colonial governors, nobles, and planters. The Natural History served the aspirations and visions of Catesby’s patrons and readers by organizing geographical, hydrographic, and ethnographic observations on the colonies with an eye toward profits in the plantation complex and circum-Atlantic trade. Moreover, it laid out environmental data and cultural information necessary for ruling over distant lands. Natural history united the networks of mercantilism, evangelicalism, and colonial governance into a single field of analysis.

Satyasikha (Shikha) Chakraborty

Graduate Fellow                                                                                                                                                                Department of History--Rutgers, New Brunswick

shikha rchaMy project broadly aims to understand how ideals and practices of domestic labor, household hygiene and non-kin intimacy were shaped and transformed in the colonial period through cross-cultural exchanges of discourses on domestic labor - both bonded and contractual, discourses on domestic health and the circulations of actual labouring bodies as well as of visual representations of domestic labourers. I am specifically interested in exploring the emotive creation of the idealized ever-faithful Indian nursemaid in British households and the late colonial and post-colonial incorporation of this figure into South Asian elite households. My project explores how far the inter-imperial circulation of cultural representations of romanticized non-white female care-givers was shaping British-Indian imagination. Examining colonial visuals and collectibles of Indian domestic labourers, I am exploring the question of how race was materially inscribed in these images/objects by looking at the networks of production and circulation of these collectibles that sustained the transcontinental networks of affect and nostalgia of empire.

Aries Dela Cruz

Graduate Fellow                                                                                                                                                                Department of Anthropology--Rutgers, New Brunswick

Dela Cruz 1820-002-1As a doctoral student of anthropology, my project investigates the networks of exchange around agricultural biotechnology, from the development agencies and foundations with stated agendas to promote their use, the scientists and knowledge systems that are funded by these interests, to the farmers and activists that either oppose or adapt these technologies and interventions, as well as the lawyers and judges that litigate and make decisions on disputes between farmers and scientists. I am particularly interested in golden rice, a genetically-modified crop that biosynthesizes beta carotene, and its and implementation in the Philippines. Debates around golden rice reflects overall the frictions generated by the global movement of science and technology, movements that produce new and distinctive forms of social, ecological, political, and legal relations in societies that are often forced to grapple with the growing reach of neoliberal development. My project intends to analyze the linkages and networks of exchange between ecology, law and technology that is brought about by modernity in countries like the Philippines, a country which is the twelfth most populous country in the world and was recently ranked by the UN as the third most vulnerable country to climate change. I hope to answer whether the research and deployment of golden rice produces new forms of moral orders and networks of exchange in which seemingly innocuous practices are in fact repositories of power. I will research these networks ethnographically and ask how it is that the practices of scientists, technocrats, judges and lawyers have come to be seen as enabling the possibility of new forms of life that promises to bring about security from hunger, toil and disease, and how it is that networks of public authority, scientific production of knowledge and legal practices that deal with agricultural interventions can often shape complex rural realities and relations.

Julia Katz

Graduate Fellow                                                                                                                                                                Department of History--Rutgers, New Brunswick

Jkatz photoDuring the last two decades of the Hawaiian monarchy, cultural, political, and economic struggles converged in the regulation of opium, and nearly every member or faction of Hawaiian society had a stake in the debate.  What made opium regulation such a salient site of struggle?  As with our contemporary War on Drugs, the discursive and empirical record of the regulation of opium tells us less about who was actually using and selling the drug than it does about who was already perceived to be criminal, which improper and abject subjects needed to be policed and purged.  The discourse around opium reveals a lurid imaginary, one preoccupied with the precarious fate of an island kingdom always on the precipice—whether of demographic failure, financial ruin, or annexation.  Opium, whose alleged tragedies and abuses circulated through rumor and published account across the imperial world, lent these fears a sordid urgency.  It became, in the eyes of the state and respectable society, a crisis of criminality in the case of the Chinese, a crisis of public health for the Native Hawaiians, and a crisis of governance for a protocolonial state unable to extend its reach into those corners of society deemed most threatening—the interiors of Chinese and Hawaiian life.  I argue that opium, when taken as an optic, reveals both the vexing blindspots of protocolonial governance, as well as its strategies of sovereignty, including sinophobia, paternalism, and exclusion.  Each tactic was crucial to the maintenance and extension of American hegemony in the islands.

Taylor Moore

Graduate Fellow                                                                                                                                                                Department of History--Rutgers, New Brunswick

TMooreI am a second year PhD student in the History Department at Rutgers University, with a regional focus in Middle East and African History. I received my BA in Honors Political Science and Sociology, specializing in Middle East Politics, from the American University in Cairo. My research interests include the intersections of sexuality, public health, and racial science, particularly as they manifested themselves in non-Western colonial projects. I also am interested in the political and socio-economic transformations that took place in Egypt in the first half of the twentieth century, particularly their inflection in ethnographic and social science knowledge production, that resulted in the ‘de-Africanization’ of Egypt and Egyptian memory. My RCHA research projects looks at this process of Egyptian 'de-Africanization' through the story of peasant women in semi colonial Upper Egypt, particularly with regard to the ways in which the state attempted to medicalize their "superstitious" reproductive and hygienic practices.

Marika Plater

Graduate Fellow                                                                                                                                                                Department of History--Rutgers, New Brunswick

mplater headshotThis year, I will be researching the St. John’s Guild’s Floating Hospital—a clinic on a barge in New York City that had its maiden voyage in 1874, its last in 2001, and continues to serve patients on land today. I will focus on the Progressive Era, during which time the hospital sought to provide medical treatment—paired with healthy sea breezes, sunlight, nourishing food, saltwater baths, and rest—to impoverished children. I want to understand how the Floating Hospital’s staff and benefactors thought about their work and their patients. I will consider interconnecting ideas about nature’s ability to cure, gender, class, and race at play in the Floating Hospital’s mission and actions—especially in contrast to other organizations of the time that also fell into the category then known as “fresh air work.” I also seek to understand how patients and their families thought about the Floating Hospital and its natural cures and why they lined up to board the “ship of health.” Thinking about the Floating Hospital as a network of exchange will help ground this work. At multiple piers throughout New York City, the barge connected medical providers with patients in need. Sick children and their families received free treatment, food, and perhaps fun while doctors and nurses gained important information about childhood health at a moment when pediatrics was still an emerging field. Studying this network, I hope to add nuance to conversations about nature, health, and the politics of reform in New York City’s past.

David Reid

Graduate Fellow                                                                                                                                                                Department of History--Rutgers, New Brunswick

Reid PhotoMy project looks at a dispute over salinity in the Colorado River between Mexico and the US in the 60s and 70s. In 1961, a project to reclaim salt-laden irrigation lands in Arizona began pumping highly saline groundwater into the Colorado just upstream from the border, threatening Mexico's most important agricultural area, the Mexicali Valley. The salinity crisis dominated relations between the two countries for the next thirteen years in a dialogue that combined and conflated the environmental, technical, juridical, and moral aspects of the problem as each side tried to strengthen its case. I'm especially interested in the political consequences of the dispute, which were influenced by the Cold War and the Mexican regime's hold on power. Internationally, the Mexican government used (and even encouraged) farmers' protests in Mexicali as evidence that the salinity was catalyzing communist subversion to win concessions from the US (eventually a successful strategy). Domestically, it violently repressed those protests when they even slightly threatened the ruling party's dominance. Meanwhile, the US tied solving the salinity to a broader strategy of strengthening anti-democratic Latin American regimes in exchange for loyalty. The story is an interesting example of the connections between environment, politics, and international relations.

Eunkyung Song

Graduate Fellow                                                                                                                                                                Department of Sociology--Rutgers, New Brunswick

Esong 1Through what process do digital texts on social issues gain salience and play out as shared, collective causes that are linked to efforts for political mobilization? More specifically, how can individuals develop common understandings that make possible, minimally, exchange of opinions, or more ambitiously, commitment to coordinated political practice (however individualized), if digital interaction tends to be dynamic? Drawing on the idea that ties in a given network carry multiple meanings that can change over time, this study examines the semantic and structural features of a large corpus of digital texts that circulated during the 2008 Candlelight Protests that took place in Korea.

Marian Ahn Thorpe

Graduate Fellow                                                                                                                                                                Department of Anthropology--Rutgers, New Brunswick

My research examines practices of consent amongst Ngäbe (“NAH-bay”) indigenous communities in Panama as Ngäbe leaders Thorpe WebPhotoconsider whether to participate in climate change forestry projects. In 2011 and 2012, violent altercations between government police and Ngäbe anti-mining and anti-dam protesters eventually required mediation by the United Nations. Though government officials and Ngäbe leaders ultimately agreed to a mining and dam moratorium, Ngäbe remain sensitive to issues of informed consent and meaningful community involvement in development projects. Now, as Panama’s climate change forestry program (a national version of a controversial international program called Reducing Emissions from Deforestation and Forest Degradation, or REDD) enters its final planning stages, the concept of informed consent has once again emerged as a key issue amongst indigenous Panamanians. My doctoral project investigates the cultural, historical, political, and scientific contexts that shape how two key groups of actors, Ngäbe decision-makers and non-indigenous REDD planners, interpret the concept of informed consent. Through this research, I hope to better understand how indigenous communities and policymakers can work together to design just, effective processes of informed consent.

Erik Wade

Graduate Fellow                                                                                                                                                                Department of English--Rutgers, New Brunswick

EWadeMy project examines how literary depictions of medieval sexuality were shaped by the diverse cultural interactions that characterized the early medieval English period (until about 1100). I analyze the transmission of medieval exotica narratives and collections, many of them translated or derived from non-English texts. These range from a forged letter from Alexander the Great describing India to an Egyptian saint's life. In these, descriptions of the wonders of the world produced a geography of the world that also served as a spacialized account of Christendom and its sexual/racial Others. I study how translated literature paradoxically became the basis for a sense of English identity, while English-produced texts imagined sexual and racial Others elsewhere in order to shore up this identity. I argue that this “English” identity was based on categories of the natural and the unnatural that served to morally differentiate sexual practices and different identities. In addition, I argue that depictions of sexual practices functioned as a form of racialization in Anglo-Saxon texts, producing a hierarchy of humanity with Christians at the top and in the center.

Hakim Zainiddinov

Graduate Fellow                                                                                                                                                                Department of Sociology--Rutgers, New Brunswick

Hakim RCHA photoFor the past two decades, following the dissolution of the Soviet regime in 1991, Tajikistan like other Central Asian countries has been experiencing the effects of globalization processes that have left their traces not only on political and economic spheres of the country but also on its religious life. Worldwide cultural and political processes impacted and shaped structures of religious organizations, as well as directed their conduct. But how have the other important components of globalization – advancement and flow of modern science, technology, and medicine influenced religion? The project explores the impacts of globalization on religion by looking at the interaction of religion with the outside world entrenched in the advancement of science, technology, and medicine. Religious entities turned out to be more isomorphic than one would expect given that religion usually shows strong resistance to changes enforced by modern science and technology. Overall, the project aims to seek answer to the following question: Does religion accommodate itself with the outside modern world through encouraging adoption of some elements of the modern world and opposing others?

Andrew Cavin

Postdoctoral Fellow
Ph.D.: University of Michigan

DSC 0046aMy research focuses on knowledge production with a particular emphasis on cultural exchange and the productive power of material worlds. My work combines intellectual history with new materialist concerns that question traditional distinctions between nature and society, human and non-human. At the RCHA I will be working on a book, Encountering Others, Imagining Modernity: Primitivism in German Ethnology, Art, and Theory, which argues that common tropes about modernity (i.e., individual alienation as a result of an increasingly technological and rationalized world) were shaped historically by the discourse of primitivism during the era of European imperialism. Through a focus on German case studies, the project aims to resituate the intellectual history of modernity within the context of empire. I will be researching how the mobility of objects and ideas in German colonial Africa influenced scientific and aesthetic practices within Germany and the colonies. My new research focuses on objects in relation to bodily subjectivity—enchantment and fear, desire and repulsion—in order to understand how the aesthetics and sense experience of colonial space shaped everyday social interaction as well as forms of knowledge.


Courtney Fullilove

Postdoctoral Fellow                                    
Ph.D.: Columbia University                                                                                                                                Assistant Professor, Department of History, Wesleyan University

courtney fullilove-2I'm pursuing two projects about the relationship of local knowledge to organized research and development on an international scale. My book-in-progress traces the reliance of 19th-century American agricultural development on global seeds and methods. It weaves together the lives of German/Russian immigrant farmers, British colonial officers, prairie plant collectors, and Ohio pharmacists, among others, to describe the transformation and occasional effacement of local knowledge in the nationalizing economy of the 19th-century United States. My new research investigates how and why international agricultural research organizations have constructed and administered seed banks, focusing on the double mandate of poverty reduction and biodiversity preservation. Like my previous work, it questions the relationship of agrarian knowledge to the data gathering procedures devised to capture it. This project draws on field research conducted at the International Center for Agricultural Research in the Dry Areas (ICARDA) in Aleppo, Syria, the Vavilov Research Institute for Plant Industry (VIR) in St. Petersburg, Russia, and during collecting missions to the Caucasus and Central Asia.


Stephen Milder

Mellon Postdoctoral Fellow                                                                                                                                 Ph.D.: University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill

Steve MilderMy research focuses on democracy and environmentalism in postwar Europe. I study how citizens become engaged in public affairs and how they perceive of the political. At the RCHA I am working on a book manuscript entitled Greening Democracy: The Movement against Nuclear Energy and the Emergence of Environmentalism in Postwar Europe, 1968 – 1983. This manuscript traces the formation of the environmental movement in Western Europe from the grassroots up. It is related to the Networks of Exchange Project because it investigates connections and transfers between West Germans, French, and Swiss. I begin by looking at how people from all three of these countries and from a variety of backgrounds worked together to carry out local protests against nuclear reactors during the early seventies. My research shows how these activists’ experiences protesting together caused them to change their values and led to the diffusion of new political ideas and the formation of Green parties throughout Europe. Yet, my findings also question environmentalists’ ability to maintain the link between “local action” and “global thinking,” which they had established in their inclusive grassroots protests, as their movement grew and they adapted it to the processes of national politics. 


David Singerman

Postdoctoral Fellow                                                                                                                                              Ph.D.: Massachusetts Institute of Technology 

IMG 4921-1My dissertation, “Inventing Purity in the Atlantic Sugar World, 1860-1930,” argued for the importance of understanding the hidden labor that makes complex natural substances appear as uniform global commodities. I showed how chemists, engineers, and sugar-factory owners in the late nineteenth century constructed and deployed the idea that sugar was a pure chemical, and therefore that its value could be measured only by scientific practice. They thereby delegitimized the artisans whose sensory and tacit skill had been crucial to sugar production for centuries. In my final chapter, I followed allegations of corruption in the postbellum New York sugar trade. The sugar tariff was the biggest source of Federal revenue, but the introduction of chemical testing in customs houses, intended to allay fears of fraud and adulteration, instead allowed importers and refiners to profit from the ambiguities of scientific practice. The Treasury found itself beholden to the unaccountable expertise of samplers, appraisers, and chemists—those who actually manipulated sugar itself—and to the docks and other ungovernable spaces where they worked. During my postdoctoral year at RCHA, this chapter will become the core of a manuscript about science, capitalism, and corruption in nineteenth-century America. Other commodities, from wool and tin to milk and even frozen herring, were likewise subjects of scandals about their valuation. Such crises made scientific knowledge central to arguments about free labor and slavery, democracy and empire, and economic influence and political power.


Melissa Aronczyk

Faculty Fellow                                                                                                                                                    Department of Journalism and Media Studies, Rutgers-New Brunswick

 MG 2448

My research project involves an in-depth study of specific information and influence campaigns to promote the oil industry in an effort to analyze their role in three different arenas: 1) as a spur to national and international decisions over environmental and social policy, impacting public opinion and political claims-making by government actors, industry groups, and environmentalists; 2) as a form of techno-material nationalism, in which oil exploitation is positioned by various interests as a determining feature of contemporary national identity; 3) as a global ethic and aesthetic, reinforcing a social imaginary which posits the achievement of worldwide interconnectedness via pipeline infrastructure. A central research concern uniting these three arenas is to adequately describe the culture of oil in the twenty-first century. Several observers have noted the persistence of our energy dependence as a form of magical thinking, a willed ignorance of the origins of our taken-for-granted habits and material environments. While it is hard to disagree with the perspective that oil-fueled life is at least in part a problem of personal responsibility, this research apprehends the ways that a culture of oil is maintained via a series of collective actors and institutions, global networks and knowledges, and their ongoing intentional diminishment of alternative futures, both material and ideational. 

Cati Coe

Faculty Fellow                                                                                                                                                   Department of Sociology, Anthropology, and Criminal Justice, Rutgers-Camden


As Africa’s population ages, old age is increasingly constructed as a problem. My research aims to document how aging becomes a subject of crisis and what people and organizations are creating in response. In Ghana, because the state and international organizations are more focused on the needs of the young, individuals and organizations are coming up with their own solutions—fragile, emergent, under constant modification, and subject to funding vicissitudes. These new arrangements are both commercial and charitable. Migration and global exchanges through networks play a role in these new elder care arrangements in several ways: some children of the aged are abroad and seek substitute carers, some migrants may return to Ghana having worked in elder care abroad, and HelpAge, an international NGO, has promoted particular solutions to aging in Ghana, namely senior day centers. My research is a study of ideas and norms: how ideas about care for the aging travel and are transformed as they are enacted in programs and organizations. This is a study of how people understand problems, translate ideas and experiences to new contexts, and persuade others of their solution’s validity (or fail to do so). It is a study of the thinkable and unthinkable, and transformations in common sense, in the area of elder care. 

Paul Israel

Faculty Fellow                                                                                                                                                      Department of History and Thomas A. Edison Papers, Rutgers-New Brunswick

PI Rutgers Mag cropped

Paul Israel is director and general editor of the Thomas A. Edison Papers at Rutgers University. To date the project has produced eight volumes of The Papers of Thomas A. Edison as well as an online edition with nearly 200,000 document images ( Dr. Israel is also the author several articles and three books: Edison: A Life of Invention (Wiley & Sons, 1998), for which he won the Edelstein [Dexter] Prize from the Society for the History of Technology; From Machine Shop to Industrial Laboratory: Telegraphy and the Changing Context of American Invention, 1830–1920 (Johns Hopkins, 1992); and Edison’s Electric Light (Johns Hopkins 2010; Rutgers 1986) written with Robert Friedel. In these works he has been examining technological creativity, the origins of modern innovation, technological enterprise, patent regimes, and the intersections between science, technology, and business. He is currently writing a series of essays that explore these themes for a book to be titled Essaying Edison.

Mazen Labban

Faculty Fellow                                                                                                                                                      Department of Geography, Rutgers-New Brunswick


Mazen Labban is visiting assistant professor in the department of geography. His research interests are in critical social theory, philosophies of space/nature, natural resources and extractive industry, development, geopolitics, and finance. He is the author of Space, Oil and Capital (Routledge 2008) and he is currently conductingwork on labour in the oil industry; urban mining; and the employment of biotechnologies in extractive industry. Prof. Labban is an editor at Capitalism Nature Socialism and Human Geography.





Associate Professor, Department of History
Depauw University
IMG 1202 - Version 2I am currently on sabbatical from DePauw University, where I am an Associate Professor of Middle East/Comparative History. My research interests are in the history of science and medicine in pre-1500 Islamicate societies. My first book, Science and Religion in Mamluk Egypt: Ibn al-Nafis, Pulmonary Transit and Bodily Resurrection (Routledge, 2013), examines the intersections of philosophy, theoretical medicine and theology in the works of Ibn al-Nafis (d. 1288), which led him to posit not only his well-known anatomical result, but even a new physiology and a new theory of pulse. Currently, I am working on the place of theoretical medicine and its teaching in Islamicate societies during the Mamluk period, particularly with regards to the fate of Ibn al-Nafis's novel theories. Contrary to long-held assumptions, Ibn al-Nafis's novel physiological theories were not discarded by Islamicate physicians, but rather seriously considered and modified by Mamluk-era physicians in their commentaries on the works of Ibn al-Nafis and Avicenna. Brief examples of such engagements can be found in a forthcoming article in Oriens. During my time at the RCHA, I hope to learn more about how alternatives to Galenic physiology were being developed, discussed and debated in the Islamicate world, and how these developments were themselves transmitted across the Mediterranean, thus reviving and transforming debates in physiology and anatomy in 16th century Italy.

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