Residential Fellowships

The Humanities Research Center’s annual residential fellowship program gives four faculty members who are working on related issues or topics release from all teaching responsibilities for one semester so they can focus on individual research projects and at the same time engage regularly with each other. The topic or issue that unites the group can be broad—for example, race relations in urban environments, gender and sexuality in the early modern world or the politics of virtue. The goal is to foster intellectual exchange and to enhance the quality of research at VCU by exposing faculty to different perspectives and methodologies. Applicants need not be working collaboratively and indeed we anticipate that in most cases they will not be doing so; but applicants must be open to thinking about their own projects in new ways and to asking new questions of their material as a result of engaging with colleagues who are considering similar issues in different contexts and/or using different methodologies. Applicants must demonstrate in their proposals the specific benefits to their individual projects that they anticipate from engaging with the other group members.

Fellows meet as a group once a week to discuss their own works-in-progress and readings of common interest. Fellows are given the opportunity to give public presentations about their projects during the academic year following their residency at the Center. Publications resulting from this fellowship program must acknowledge the Center’s support.

Application criteria and instructions

Residential Fellows: 2022-23

Kai Bosworth
Kai Bosworth, Ph.D.
Kathleen Chapman
Kathleen Chapman, Ph.D.
Rocio Gomez
Rocío Gomez, Ph.D
Jennifer Rhee
Jennifer Rhee, Ph.D.
Andrea Simonelli
Andrea Simonelli, Ph.D.

Kai Bosworth, Ph.D., School of World Studies

“Grottograph: Mapping the intimate social relations of cave conservation”

Debates in the environmental humanities have critically assessed the potential and shortcomings of declaring “the Anthropocene” era--the supposed entry of humanity writ large into the Earth’s geological record. But the seeming exceptionality and planetary scale of both declarations and debates can obscure the more mundane and intimate scales of human care for underground features and ecological spaces, whether human-made or natural. With support from the HRC, I will develop key aspects of a new research project which examines environmentalist and environmental justice politics of underground spaces in the US: caves, mines, urban infrastructure, aquifers and sinkholes, and abandoned oil and uranium wells. If ecology has conventionally relied on relationality, phenomenological experience, and/or defense of life as motivating frames, how do activists develop emotionally-rich meanings and motivations to defend spaces that are characterized by separation, non-life, and the inability for humans to experience or access them? While this is a long-term and multi-sited research project, my residency at the HRC will be used to develop an initial publication resulting from fieldwork conducted in the summer of 2022 with the Paha Sapa Grotto and the Black Hills Cave and Nature Conservancy concerning cave conservation in South Dakota.

Kathleen Chapman, Ph.D., Department of Art History, School of the Arts

“Wild, Domesticated, Modernized: Animal Art in Wilhelmine Germany”

As more art historians begin integrating ecocritical and related environmental humanities-based  approaches into their analyses of works of art, they tend to concentrate on contemporary art. This focus is perhaps unsurprising, given the significant number of practicing artists who address  environmental concerns in their work. As a specialist in German modernism, however, I focus on  much older artworks that may, at first glance, seem merely to present many of the troublingly  anthropocentric assumptions about non-human animals and the natural world that have pushed us  toward the catastrophic consequences of human-driven climate change. I argue that re-examining modern art by drawing on interdisciplinary approaches of environmental humanities scholarship can show us more than examples of destructive, objectifying conceptions of animals. Such historical work highlights how art produced under planetary conditions far less threatening than today’s can offer insights into modes of understanding and relating to animals that can inspire  new ways of interacting with animals in the present. I highlight histories of inter-species  entanglements as these connections are celebrated, denied, or simply registered in the works of selected artists. These artworks remind us that there is no purely human history, no purely human  culture—history and culture are always comprised of both human and non-human agents.

Rocío Gomez, Ph.D., Department of History

“From Peru to Pittsburgh: Vanadium Mining, Toxic Legacies, and Extractive Colonialism” 

By the 1940’s, the Vanadium Corporation of America (VCA) owned the majority of vanadium lodes around the world. Based in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, the company supplied the metal to steel mills in the city as well as its experimental laboratory. While historians of the environment may view the VCA as US-based corporation that contributed to the steel boom, they neglect the extractivist colonialism in Peru the company engaged in the creation of a vanadium monopoly. A metal added to make steel more flexible, the vanadium lode of Mina Ragra in the Peruvian Andes proved to be its crowning jewel. USGS geologists and scientists alike flocked to the region to aid in the exploitation. Local miners participated in the extraction process while waiting scientists in Pittsburgh received shipments of vanadium. This article (and book chapter) explore the exploitation of Mina Ragra, the role of toxic legacies of vanadium, and the infrastructure created to facilitate extraction. This transnational history of the environment, mining, and chemistry underscores the borderless character of extraction as well as its toxic legacies through archival materials, industry newsletters, and images.

Jennifer Rhee, Ph.D., Department of English

“The Ecological Materialities of Artificial Intelligence in the Racial Capitalocene”

My project will argue for a definition of artificial intelligence (AI) that accounts for its ecological environmental harms. I will connect the racialized hierarchies extended by predictive AI technologies, imbricated as they are in racial capitalism, to their unevenly distributed environmental impacts and the devalued and often dangerous human labors that structure AI’s global supply chains. Working at the interdisciplinary intersection of feminist science and technology studies, ecocritical media studies, and critical AI studies, I will provide a detailed account of an AI system’s global supply chain, from mineral mines in the Congo and the U.S., manufacturing factories in China, server farms throughout the U.S. and Europe, and massive e-waste sites in Ghana and Pakistan. I will also bring this account of a supply chain into conversation with literary and artistic works that conceptualize AI around supply chain labors, e-waste, toxic pollution of mining and manufacturing sites, and climate change. I will highlight how these creative works redefine AI around its ecological impacts by thematizing its environmental harms, highlighting the racialized dimensions of its global supply chains, and at times imagining alternate environmental and technological futures.

Andrea C. Simonelli, Ph.D., Department of Political Science

Climate Migration as Earth Systems Migration: Global Relocation in the Anthropocene

Climate change has and will continue to impact earths’ geophysical conditions and the relative stability society has come to expect. There is a general acknowledgement that millions of people will eventually need to relocate due to the deterioration of the conditions which support life and livelihoods. Migration and displacement are becoming more prevalent in national and international dialogues about climate change. However, human displacement will not occur in isolation; it is a phenomenon which is much more broad than traditional anthropocentric literature suggests. Flora and fauna depend on a reasonable stasis in their habitable zones and without such, will also migrate. Climate migration is a migration of earth’s systems- both human and ecological. Removing the imagined silos between the variety of organisms and non-sentient systems dependent on a stable climate will allow for a fuller understanding of the scale of global rearrangement needed to effectively adapt to the complexities of the Anthropocene. This project seeks to reconceptualize climate migration and displacement through a systems’ perspective. Political borders and current governance structures pose a challenge to the eventual migration, dislocation, displacement, of people, animals, societies, and ecosystems.

Prior Fellows