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Fellowships Snapshots 2016

December 14, 2016

For the 2016-2017 academic year, The Graduate School awarded 99 competitive fellowships to incoming and continuing Ph.D. students, totaling nearly $5.1 million in support. Here is a look at the research being pursued by some of the recipients.


Katherine Goodman Stern Fellowship

Moral and political disagreement is a pervasive and persistent fact of public life. People everywhere disagree about how their societies ought to be governed and what policies their governments ought to adopt. In contemporary political philosophy, the existence of such disagreements is widely seen as an inescapable fact that our theories of democracy must take into account. However, for various reasons, philosophers have largely focused their attention on reasonable disagreements—disagreements that arise when citizens are more or less rational, informed, and well intentioned. Unreasonable disagreements—those arising from ignorance, bias, and irrationality—are frequently ignored or idealized away within contemporary philosophical theories.

My dissertation argues that this fixation on reasonable disagreements within political philosophy is both unwarranted and counterproductive. It is unwarranted because the theoretical motivations for focusing on such idealized disagreements do not withstand scrutiny. It is counterproductive because it papers over challenging questions about how to deal with pressing problems like political polarization and partisan gridlock. I argue that both the theory and practice of democracy must be developed to take account of such troubling features of political life.


International Dissertation Research Travel Award

My dissertation, “The Whole Booke of Psalmes, Protestant Ideology, and Musical Literacy in Elizabethan England,” explores the ways in which England’s popular hymnal helped teach the common people a Protestant musical aesthetic during the long English Reformation. My research seeks to understand how choices made in the publication of this book demonstrate a Protestant concern for musically educating the common people—now that all people can sing in church, they must be taught how to sing. Unlike previous work on this psalter, which has focused on texts and tunes, my dissertation focuses on paratext—prefatory essays and other prefatory material—and aspects of music printing beyond the notes themselves.




Domestic Dissertation Research Travel Award

My research in Sönke Johnsen’s lab combines the fields of biology and optics to ask questions about how animals camouflage themselves in the open ocean where there is nowhere to hide from predators. I study transparent crustaceans (shrimp or shrimp-like animals) that are so clear you can read a newspaper through their bodies. My research explores the question: How do complex-bodied animals that have hard shells and other internal organs maintain transparency across their entire body volume? In other words, how do these clear shrimp structure their bodies to achieve invisibility?


Romance Studies
James B. Duke International Travel Fellowship

My dissertation focuses on the reception of Dante mainly in the 14th and the 15th centuries through the study of lyrical anthologies. The corpus of Dante’s lyric poetry is a matter of significant debate among critics and philologists. The contemporary discussions about the ordering of his poems, and the shifts in the attributions, emphasize the crucial function of editors and anthologists. Indeed, each and every grouping of poems implies a choice made by an author or by an anthologist, and each choice, in turn, implies a redefinition of the meaning of the sequence and of its author.

Dante’s rime has evolved as one of the most successful corpus of lyric poetry in the whole history of Italian literature: ca. 500 manuscript books have been counted. My corpus consists of ca. 15 manuscripts.

Determining the qualities and the composition of each book is a long process. Due to the scarceness of bibliographic tools, it is necessary to determine in detail the contents, or to whom the works might be attributed, and proceed to an exhaustive analysis. It will be then necessary to create a pattern of meaning among them. In all the stages, it is crucial to be able to consult the codices in person; each one must be seen in its concreteness for being fully understood. Thus, I am spending 2016-2017 academic year doing research in Florence, Italy, and in other libraries (first of all the Vatican Library) in order to accomplish my research goals.


Biomedical Engineering
Katherine Goodman Stern Fellowship

As an M.D./Ph.D. student in the Department of Biomedical Engineering, I have pursued a research project that combines both my passion for clinical neurology and my desire to apply innovative technology to understand the basis of and treat neurological disorders. My dissertation research has explored the connections between the particular synchronized, oscillatory neural firing activity that emerges in Parkinson’s disease (PD) and symptoms of slowness of movement (bradykinesia) in PD. This oscillatory activity occurs in a 13-30 Hz frequency band, termed the beta band, and is exaggerated in brain motor-processing loops in PD patients. I developed a pattern of electrical stimulation to mimic this pathological activity. I applied this patterned electrical stimulation to a sub-cortical target in the brains of healthy rats and assessed the effects on both neural activity in downstream brain structures and motor behavior.

At the completion of these studies, I will have advanced fundamental knowledge about the pathophysiological mechanisms of Parkinson’s disease. I believe that investigating this hypothesis has profound implications not only for a better understanding of the pathophysiological mechanisms of PD, but also for future investigation of novel, more effective treatment paradigms for the benefit of PD patients.


Phillip Jackson Baugh Fellowship

I’m currently working on several projects about the organizational, interpersonal, and cognitive dimensions of cancer patients’ treatment decisions, both on my own and at the Duke Cancer Institute. My dissertation examines the relationship between hospital-level variables (ownership structure, specialty centers, and ranking/status) and patterns in the provision of palliative and end-of-life services to Medicare beneficiaries with cancer. The goal is to determine the effects of these organizational attributes on the rates, equality, and cost-efficiency of these services.

Together with collaborators at the Duke Cancer Institute, I'm working on two separate projects about cancer decision-making. The first examines the relationship between emotional well-being and self-assessed prognosis in high-risk patients with acute myeloid leukemia. The second is a large, mixed-method pilot study about the involvement and importance of caregivers in the treatment decisions of patients with advanced cancer. We are surveying patients, doing cognitive interviews with them, and conducting stimulated recall interviews, in which we replay a recording of a decision encounter the patient had with their physician, and ask them to walk us through their thought process at particular places in the recording.


Public Policy Studies
Domestic Dissertation Research Travel Award

Protestant relics saturated mourning practices in the early American Republic. Protestants put relics – corporeal and non-corporeal remains of the dead – to work as powerful religious objects. My dissertation examines relics to understand exactly what was Protestant about them. Relics in the early republic worked in a different sacred economy than that of early modern Catholicism. Protestant relics operated as material memories in a sacred economy of exchange that legitimated an American past, present, and future. Relics embodied memory, dead loved ones, and connected heaven to earth. They induced conversion experiences and increased piety in the living. Relics also worked as political objects that authorized and challenged national thought, behavior, and practice. In fact, Protestant relics were central to the most popular novel of the antebellum period: “Uncle Tom’s Cabin”. Little Eva distributed relics, in the form of locks of hair, to enslaved friends and family on her deathbed. I will use my Domestic Dissertation Research Travel Award to conduct archival research at the Kentucky Historical Society in Frankfort, KY, the Highlands Museum in Ashland, KY, and the John D. Rockefeller Jr. Library at Colonial Williamsburg in Virginia.


Public Policy Studies
Ottis Green Fellowship

My dissertation focus is structured around two main themes: efficiency and distributional or equity concerns. In particular, I apply them to two main topics: environmental conservation policies and distribution of surplus within value chains. In the first case, I try to look at the efficiency of some policies aimed at locating protected areas and how such policies shift resources among different groups of people. In the second case, I investigate the power dynamics among actors involved in sequential productive processes (i.e. value chains composed of different producers where each of them is in charge of a single task that leads a product from conception to the final consumer). The final purpose of this effort consists in creating a framework tractable enough to simulate the efficacy of environmental or labor standards and its effect on the distribution of profits among the actors involved.


Romance Studies
Julian Price Graduate Fellowship

My dissertation project focuses on the ways in which social conflicts have been represented in French and Italian literature and cinema in the second half of the 20th century. In particular, I have chosen some specific moments in history—the post-World War II years (and the chaos that reigned in Italy at the time), the Algerian War and its impact on French culture and society, and the rise of struggles of workers and students between the end of the 60s and the 70s. I specifically research the rhetorical paradigms implied in the representation of conflicts, and the ways conscious strategies interact with political meanings embedded in the paradigms themselves, which can often be traced throughout the history of western culture.

I use a comparative approach between French and Italian narrative and cinema. During the present academic year, I will focus on the French side of my dissertation, and will therefore do research on the cinema of the end of the fifties and sixties in its controversial relation with the Algerian War. I will also focus on later films and narratives that directly reflect the chaos and the conflict through which French society went since the end of the 60s (May ’68) and in later years.


International Dissertation Research Travel Award

The International Dissertation Research Travel Award allowed me to complete the research that I began on a 2015 fellowship through the Deutscher Akademischer Austauschdienst at the University of Göttingen. My dissertation research involves the changing demographics of readership in 18th-century England and Germany, focusing especially on the revival of medieval romance forms in a modern publishing context, and Duke’s fellowship allowed me to return once more to use the on-site archival resources.

In addition to this research, the funding continued to support me for the writing of my dissertation. This summer, I was hosted by the University of Vienna in Austria, and I used the resources at the Faculty of English Literature to prepare a journal article on Wordsworth’s early romance poetry, as well as my dissertation chapter on Walter Scott. At the same time, I was able to continue my German-language research and instruction in Vienna, as well as to take a short research trip to Wales to research the early (1740s) landscape paintings of Richard Wilson.

Christina Davidson

Graduate School Administrative Internship

My research examines the intersection of race, religion, and nationalism in the Dominican Republic. In my dissertation, “Converting Spanish Hispaniola: The A.M.E. Church in the Dominican Republic, 1870-1898,” I employ a diasporic framework in order to study the history of the first Protestant church in Santo Domingo, the Dominican capital. I argue that in a country where elites have used state power and historiography to define national identity as Catholic, Spanish, and white, Protestant history reveals non-Catholic religious ties between Dominicans, African Americans, Haitians, and West Indians and offers a counter framework for understanding the Dominican Republic within the African Diaspora.

I applied for the Graduate School Administrative Internship because I am sincerely interested in the development of graduate education at Duke. Prior to joining the Graduate Student Affairs team, I gained experience in online communication and project management through my graduate training. For example, along with other graduate students in History, I cofounded the Digital History Working Group and led workshops on digital tools for historians and humanities researchers at Duke. Additionally, I collaborated with a graduate student from Harvard University to create the Digital History group on, which ran four blog series during my tenure as the group’s co-administrator. These projects and others enabled me to develop the skills needed for the GSA internship. As an intern, I manage the professional development blog and collaborate with the GSA team on professional development and diversity initiatives. I enjoy working in this capacity because I can actively take part in improving the graduate experience at Duke.


David M. Rubenstein Rare Book & Manuscript Library Internship (African and African American Studies)

My dissertation draws on criminal court records and public discourses on violence to explore the intersection between violence, local governance, and legal culture in New York City between 1810 and 1830. My project shows that the public nature of violence and the ability to access local legal forums on a regular basis allowed New Yorkers who could not possess civil rights to use criminal courts as a means to participate in community governance and to imagine a relationship to the polity that was meaningful.

Scholars of 19th-century legal history have recognized that women, slaves, and those without property exercised a limited legal voice within local courts, particularly in criminal offenses and matters of public law. Since decisions in public matters were made in the interest of preserving the “peace,” the voices of everyone were necessary to the functioning of local courts. Officials were concerned with the prevalence of violence in NYC and the high number of assault cases being processed in legal forums. Assembly debates reveal that the state associated violence with certain groups and sought to mark those they perceived as incapable of exercising political rights as immoral, namely African Americans. This same discourse appeared in crime narratives, which vividly portrayed violent criminals as non-citizens. Thus in time, violence played an important part in a much larger concerning who did and did not belong, both with respect to individual communities and to New York’s society.

Sinan Goknur

Art, Art History and Visual Studies
International Dissertation Research Travel Award
Aleane Webb Dissertation Research Fellowship

My dissertation project, tentatively titled “Enter Sideways: Strategies for Political Survival after the 1980 Military Coup in Turkey,” examines the ways that political art collectives and social movements coalesced in the aftermath of the 1980 military coup in Turkey, influenced each other’s politics, and made oblique entries into the spheres of politics and culture that have been otherwise made largely inaccessible to them. In particular, I am focusing on the history of arts-based political strategies in Turkey from the 1980 military coup to 2013 Gezi uprising that was heavily associated with other Occupy movements around the world. I have been doing archival research and networking with artist-activists in Istanbul, Turkey. I am tracing the history of radical art collectives as well as mapping their political priorities, collaborations and actions throughout the post-80s coup period in Turkey.


International Dissertation Research Travel Award

Lemurs are primates that come only from Madagascar, and are among earth’s most endangered animals. Deforestation, bushmeat hunting, and the illegal pet trade all threaten wild populations, and understanding how lemurs will respond to increased habitat and climactic change is critical to their survival. In my research, I study lemur health in relation to diet, habitat quality, and the community of friendly microorganisms that inhabit lemur digestive tracts, or the gut microbiome.

I work with a family of leaf-eating lemurs, the indriids, some of whom can subsist on a diet consisting almost entirely of leaves. To survive on a lettuce-based diet, indriids rely on their gut microbiomes to do a lot of work. Gut microbiomes help their hosts digest dietary fiber (e.g. cellulose) and convert the material into compounds that promote host health (e.g. short-chain fatty acids). Gut microbiomes also synthesize vitamins, ward off invading parasites, and ‘talk’ to the immune system.

To better understand the structure and function of the indriid gut microbiome, I collect a lot of poop. At the Duke Lemur Center, I collect poop from our population of captive Coquerel’s sifakas. In Madagascar, I collect poop from multiple indriid species (indri, sifakas, woolly lemurs) living in primary and degraded habitat in the eastern rainforest. Ultimately, I hope to understand how indriid habitats and diets shape their gut microbiome that, in turn, influences their health and survival.


International Dissertation Research Travel Award

I am a second-year Ph.D. student in the Biology Department currently working on incorporating systematic, ecological, biogeographic, and bioinformatic approaches to understand the evolution of the tropical plant genus AnthuriumAnthurium is one of the largest plant genera on earth, yet the process through which this diversity came to be remains unknown. Many tropical herbs, such as orchids, have complex flowers and an array of scents that are thought to drive speciation through specialized pollinator interactions; however, the flowers of Anthurium are small and more or less identical across species. What Anthurium lacks in floral diversity it makes up for in growth form and leaf diversity. A large group of Anthurium colloquially know as “bird’s nest anthurium” (Anthurium section Pachyneurium) comprise the largest known group of litter-trappers, which are plants that capture organic debris from the canopy of tropical forests and in doing so create their own nutrient-rich, above-ground soil. I seek to enhance our understanding of how species of bird’s nest anthurium are evolutionarily related to each other, what genetic or abiotic factors/phenomena may have stimulated this genus to diversify, whether or not species of Anthurium that are found in the same forests share similar fundamental niches, and explore the genetic and abiotic mechanisms that control litter-trapping in this widespread group of filter-feeding plants.


Environmental Policy
International Dissertation Research Travel Award

Focusing on the Middle East and North Africa, my research aims to explain how and why governments provide basic services (such as water and sanitation), the role of non-state actors and opposition groups in service provision, and how governments use service provision to respond to protests about poor service quality. More specifically, my goal is to understand how political factors can explain disparities in the types and quality of services that citizens receive. 



Domestic Dissertation Research Travel Award

My dissertation project—“Geographies of Freedom: Black Women’s Mobility and the Making of the Western River World, 1814-1865”—examines the ways in which free and enslaved black women’s heightened mobility in the middle Mississippi River Valley allowed them to navigate the physical and legal boundaries of slavery and freedom in ways that not only expanded their liberty but also placed them at the center of increasingly contentious debates around the institution of slavery in the context of US expansion.




Medical Scientist Training Program 
Pharmacology and Cancer Biology
Jo Rae Wright Fellowship for Outstanding Women in Science

My research attempts to identify the unknown proteases involved in generating soluble TβRIII (sTβRIII) and elucidate the roles of cell surface versus sTβRIII in lung cancer biology.

Lung cancer is the second most commonly diagnosed cancer among both men and women in the United States, and it is the most common cause of cancer-related deaths. Despite advances, much work remains to successfully treat lung cancer, as the five-year survival rate is a low 18 percent.

Transforming growth factor β (TGF-β) is a protein that has established roles in most human cancers, including lung cancer, with specific roles in regulating proliferation, migration, immune responses, and metastasis. It signals through cell-surface proteins called receptors, including the type III TGF-β receptor (TβRIII). Interestingly, TβRIII undergoes receptor shedding, producing a soluble protein that can also bind ligand and function as a ligand sink for TGF-β. This phenomenon sequesters ligand, preventing binding of TGF-β to cell surface receptors, blocking TGF-β-induced downstream signaling and influencing subsequent biological effects.

I’m working to elucidate the critical but yet unknown contributions of both cell surface and soluble TβRIII to downstream biological effects and identify proteases responsible for generating sTβRIII. Gaining a mechanistic understanding of sTβRIII production and its role in signaling and biology will allow us develop better TβRIII- and TGF-β-targeted therapies for lung and other cancers.


International Dissertation Research Travel Award

I am studying emotional responses and mother-infant interactions of Malawian mothers with preterm and full-term infants. Specifically, I am exploring mothers’ experiences with depressive, anxiety, and posttraumatic stress symptoms as well as maternal worry about child’s health and how this influences the mother-and-child relationship in Malawi.




Genetics and Genomics
International Dissertation Research Travel Award

I am interested in how plants can naturally survive in harsh, and often toxic, environments. In particular, I am studying how a California native wildflower, the yellow monkeyflower, can live on old copper mines, while most other species cannot. Copper is essential for most living organisms, as it is required by many proteins in our bodies to function. However, too much copper, as is found on these mines, can be lethal. Therefore, many fine mechanisms must be in play to ensure plants can get just the right amount of copper from the environment. I can find answers about what these mechanisms are by looking at the plants’ DNA.

Using a variety of new, high-throughput, next-generation methods as well as traditional ecological genetic techniques, we have narrowed down our search for genes that underlie copper tolerance to a few candidate genes. With collaborators in the United Kingdom, we are now testing the functions of these genes to see if and how they control copper tolerance in the yellow monkeyflower. I hope to gain a better understanding of how new adaptations to harsh environments evolve, and whether the mechanisms of copper tolerance are similar across different species.


Environmental Policy
International Dissertation Research Travel Award

I am a Ph.D. candidate in environmental and resource economics. My research focuses on environmental, agricultural, and natural resources policies in lower-income countries.

In the past year, I have been investigating the relationship between roads and forests with the support from the Duke Graduate School. Roads are usually thought to harm forests by expanding areas of profitability for agriculture and thus encouraging forest clearing. Given that roads promote important economic development, this suggests a development-environment trade-off. Yet I hypothesize that certain settings may give rise to the opposite relationship: Roads may both promote development and reduce pressure on forests. Using detailed satellite, census, and survey data from India, I am identifying economic and geographic settings in which jointly positive socio-economic and environmental outcomes occur.

In this, I hope to inform better placement of infrastructure, in India specifically, and in emerging economies more broadly. Very large investments in road infrastructure are expected in emerging economies in the coming decades. These countries are also home to the world’s great forest expanses. For this reason, the implications of better-targeted infrastructure are considerable for biodiversity conservation, greenhouse gas emissions, water quality, and socio-economic development.


Psychology and Neuroscience
E. Bayard Halsted Scholarship in Science, History, and Journalism

During my graduate work in clinical psychology, I’ve been interested in studying how to treat and prevent obesity using behavioral strategies. As part of the Duke Obesity Prevention Program and the Duke Global Digital Health Science Center, I’ve learned about how to utilize mobile technologies to deliver interventions for weight loss and weight gain prevention. These include tools such as mobile applications, text messaging, interactive voice response (IVR) technology, smart electronic scales, and wireless activity monitors. Technology-based interventions are able to reduce barriers to treatment (e.g., time and transportation constraints) and have greater dissemination potential than traditional weight management interventions delivered in-person.

For my dissertation, I am exploring how self-monitoring (i.e. tracking) can be optimized for weight loss. I am conducting a research study that aims to examine what and in what order behaviors should be self-monitored. Participants will use a popular commercially available mobile app for self-monitoring diet and body weight.

Ultimately, I hope to learn more about the behavior change process and understand what mechanisms (e.g. self-efficacy or mastery experiences) promote greater engagement in behavioral interventions.


Aleane Webb Dissertation Research Award
International Dissertation Research Travel Award

The giant panda is the icon of conservation both in China and internationally. With tremendous efforts from the China government and international communities, the wild population of pandas has slowly increased and the threat status has been downlisted as Vulnerable by the International Union for Conservation of Nature recently. However, does this conservation effort jeopardize the survival of other endemic species in China? Do pandas serve as the protective umbrella for others?

I study the protective role of pandas on other endemic species and the effects of livestock grazing on giant panda habitats, and I try to understand the social-economic drivers for increasing livestock. At the same time, I am collaborating with WildTrack and SAS to develop a cost-effective method to identify panda individuals from their footprints. My work combines GIS, remote sensing, spatial modeling, social surveys, and economic analysis. I would like to use interdisciplinary tools to tackle the conservation issues for pandas and other endemic species in China.


Psychology and Neuroscience
Katherine Goodman Stern Fellowship

Adolescence is popularly characterized as a period of peak risk-taking, when puberty transforms timid children into reckless teens who flirt with the dangers of sex, drugs, and rock and roll. Public-health data broadly supports this: Progressing from childhood to adolescence more than triples one’s likelihood of dying. Laboratory studies, however, rarely find risk-taking to peak in adolescence, and instead mostly find children and teens to be equally risky.

My research seeks to understand this disconnect between laboratory findings (children and teens take equal amounts of risk) and public health findings (compared to children, teens engage in more risky behaviors in their everyday lives) and, in the process, yield insights that can help develop interventions to reduce teens’ everyday risk-taking. In most laboratory studies, experimenters provide participants with perfect knowledge of a decision’s probabilities and potential outcomes, and participants are tested in isolated, highly controlled testing environments. In contrast, everyday decisions generally feature outcomes with unknown exact probabilities, and teens’ daily decisions often occur in the presence of friends. My dissertation work uses laboratory tasks designed to more closely approximate everyday decision-making by investigating how people make decisions when outcomes probabilities are unknown and how decision-makings differ when decisions are made alone versus when with a friend.


David M. Rubenstein Rare Book & Manuscript Library Internship (Research Services)

I am a doctoral candidate in English, bridging literary, historical, and digital approaches to sonic scholarship. My current research on music in early Afro-Atlantic literature exhibits methods for recovering sounds of the pre-recorded past. I founded and direct the Sonic Dictionary, and am co-editor of the web collection Provoke!, as well as a book on digital sound studies under contract at Duke University Press. My essay on music in Caribbean travel narratives is forthcoming from Early American Literature. In “Musical Passage: Voyage to 1688 Jamaica,” my collaborators and I bring to life rare music documenting African performances in the early Americas.


Psychology and Neuroscience
The Graduate School Administrative Internship

In my research, I focus on how people’s fundamental need for acceptance affects their thoughts, feelings, and actions. More specifically, I examine how situational and personality factors influence people’s responses to social rejection, as well as the mechanisms through which rejection has its’ effects.

In my dissertation work, I have been examining the relative importance of acceptance versus social status for emotional well-being. Feeling low in social status predicts poor mental and physical health outcomes, above and beyond the effects of class and income. However, few of the studies on the effects of subjective social status have controlled for peoples’ feelings of acceptance, leading some researchers to suggest that the reported effects of perceived social status on health may actually reflect effects of perceived acceptance. In my dissertation, I aim to shed light on the unique contributions of acceptance and social status to emotional well-being through a mixture of experimental and naturalistic research.”


Myra and Williams Waldo Boone Fellowship

My dissertation research is focused on studying strength and resilience in older African American women with HIV/AIDS over the life course. Aging with HIV/AIDS is complex process for African American women influenced by physiological aging (e.g. menopausal changes), chronic antiretroviral use, racial and gender discrimination, social roles (e.g. caregiving duties), poverty, and HIV-related stigma. I have been utilizing life-history interviews to focus on how interpersonal relationships and social support can contribute to the experience of these women managing such a complex illness over time. It is my goal that findings from this exploratory research may be used to inform subsequent research that develops interventions that build on personal capacity.

Elisabeth Narkin

Art, Art History and Visual Studies
Evan Frankel Fellowship

I am investigating the manner in which architecture actively shaped and was transformed by the French royal family. My dissertation, “Rearing the Royals: Architecture and the Spatialization of Royal Childhood in France, 1499-1610,” examines architecture’s role in the monarchy’s symbolic self-representation, quotidian existence, and dynastic strategies at the châteaux of Amboise, Blois, Fontainebleau, and Saint-Germain-en-Laye. Using a wide range of visual and textual sources from French, Spanish, and Italian archives, the project fuses archival research and close readings of buildings.

The unique relationship between the French royal children and architecture affected politics, court rituals, and architectural forms. Existent literature analyzes the construction and décor of royal châteaux, however little is known about their functions, which later renovations and a formal focus obscure. I argue that buildings engaged in mutually influential relationships with their occupants, indoctrinating the children and their entourage of playmates and domestic officers into the monarchy’s social hierarchy and cultural regime at a time when European politics were shifting rapidly. By analyzing changes in the monarchy’s modes of inhabiting its kingdom, from fortified towers to the socio-architectural experiment that was Versailles, my dissertation emphasizes the relationship between architectural manifestations of power and the monarchy’s evolving political strategies.


International Dissertation Research Travel Award

I am a Ph.D. student in history, specializing in the intellectual and cultural history of East Central Europe. My work explores the political, philosophical, and artistic spheres in which Europe’s periphery—East-Central as well as Southern Europe—sought to challenge notions of modernization and developmental abnormality around the turn of the 20th century.

Currently, I am researching the emergence and institutionalization of sociology in the Austrian Monarchy. While traditionally regarded as an import of French and German origins, sociological thought in fact had local roots in this region. I argue that it served here as a means by which to undermine the historically based claims to national homogeneity being made by nationalist activists. Shifting our gaze away from Europe’s metropolitan centers and toward the geographic and social margins of the continent, I hope to demonstrate that the era of European nationalism and nation building was also the era of the critique of the nation-state.


Anne Firor Scott Public Scholars Fellowship

My dissertation is a community history of Mexican migrants in North Carolina and their families in Mexico. As a project built through the sustained and engaged collaboration of the migrant community, my dissertation investigates how the migration of Mexicans to North Carolina has exposed both Mexicans and U.S. citizens to different understandings of race. Specifically, I investigate how migrants’ racial formations begin in Mexico and are contingent on the cultural histories of their communities of origin and change after intersecting with other people in North Carolina. Through the use of oral history, I explore how Mexican migrants reshape new identifications in North Carolina based on their own evolving conceptions of race. This untold history of migration and racial formation reveals how Mexican migrants actively have engaged with racial ideologies.



Earth and Ocean Sciences
Jo Rae Wright Fellowship for Outstanding Women in Science

In my dissertation research, I seek to better understand landscape morphodynamics, or how the surface of the Earth changes over time. I am particularly interested in the feedbacks that govern land-water interfaces, such as along coastlines, rivers, and in marshes. Humans both modify and are impacted by the landscape, and I also investigate the important role that we play in these tightly coupled human-landscape systems. I use innovative numerical models to study the larger-scale emergent interactions and most critical variables of these complex systems, allowing me to clarify the most important feedbacks and explore large space and time scales.

Almost half a billion people live on or near river deltas, which are flat, fertile landscapes that have long been home to human settlement, yet these landscapes and their inhabitants are increasingly vulnerable to submergence and natural disasters. Recently, I have developed a new delta evolution model that links river, floodplain, coastal, and human processes. I will use the model to better understand the interactions and feedbacks that have shaped modern deltas, as well as to make predictions about how current anthropogenic influences (including climate change, land-use change, damming, and leveeing) will affect future delta morphology. I hope to better understand how we can work with the landscape, rather than against it, in order to improve living conditions and minimize harmful impacts of nature on humanity across the globe.


International Dissertation Research Travel Award

I am a composer in the Department of Music at Duke who specializes in scholarships relating to contemporary French concert music, in particular the music of French composer Pascal Dusapin. My dissertation research focuses on the confluence of music and literature in Dusapin’s oeuvre, especially works inspired by Irish author and playwright Samuel Beckett. In July, I traveled to Paris to interview Dusapin at his studio near Pigalle. The result was a far-ranging conversation that provided many new insights into the piece that is at the center of my research project, a violin concerto from 1996, “Quad”.

Dusapin’s “Quad” takes its title from Samuel Beckett’s television play by the same name from 1982. In the play, a fixed camera angle looks down upon a square platform on which four robed actors/dancers wordlessly pace out circumscribed patterns, softly accompanied by percussion instruments. My research project explores this work and the Dusapin violin concerto using theoretical tools outlined by French philosopher Gilles Deleuze in his essay from 1992, “The Exhausted”, which analyzes Beckett’s four TV plays. As Dusapin explained in our interview, his work is primarily a reflection on musical form as it relates to Beckett’s treatment of literary form in his late works. With “Quad,” Dusapin seized on Deleuze’s concept of the exhaustion of all possibilities in Beckett as a means to create in the music “an effect of enclosing” that echoes the aesthetic of Beckett’s TV plays.”

Rosalia Romero

Art, Art History and Visual Studies
James B. Duke Fellowship

My study, “Anarquismo fronterizo: Transamerican Anarchism and Visual Culture in Mexico, 1892-1934,” examines how anarchist artists, writers, and activists in turn-of-the-century Mexico produced a visual culture promulgating radical images about nationhood, borders, and modernity. My research centers on the visual and literary works of two key figures in Mexican anarchism, Ricardo Flores Magón and Gerardo Murillo (Dr. Atl), as well as their transnational anarchist networks that extended across rural Mexico, the United States, Europe, and South America. Magón (1874-1922) was an anarchist writer, activist, and head of the Junta Organizadora del Partido Liberal Mexicano, an anarcho-communist group of exiled Mexican anarchists living in the United States. Dr. Atl (1875-1964) was a landscape painter, early proponent of muralism, and promoter of Mexican folk art. I argue that the rich archive of political writing and visual materials produced by Magón, Dr. Atl, and their circles contains the outline of a transnational American avant-garde, grounded in the interrelation of art, anarchist movements, and revolutionary politics in Mexico and the Americas. The visual and literary works of this transamerican anarchist movement broke through cultural, linguistic, and national barriers, and circulated widely to facilitate solidarity across the Americas and in Europe.


Katherine Goodman Stern Fellowship

Much of what we know about the immune system comes from studies of model organisms (e.g., mice) raised under sterile and unnatural laboratory conditions. As an ecological immunologist, I am interested in understanding how the immune system operates in nature. For my dissertation, I study a wild population of meerkats living in South Africa’s Kalahari Desert. Within this unique system, I investigate (i) the role of the social environment in shaping individual immune responses, (ii) the consequences of maternal social status, including the prenatal endocrine milieu, for offspring immunocompetence, and (iii) the relationships between individual health and dispersal outcomes.

Thus far, I have found that there is a cost to being at the top of the meerkat social ladder: Dominant meerkats have more parasites than do subordinates, and dominant females have the weakest immune responses of all group members, which may be a consequence of their remarkable androgen concentrations. Via an experimental study, I found that blocking gestational androgens improves offspring health and survival. Yet, despite purported differences in maternal androgens, offspring from dominant and subordinate females do not differ in their immune responses. An “inherited” androgen-mediated immunohandicap may thus be offset by the social benefits accrued to pups of dominant females.


David M. Rubenstein Rare Book & Manuscript Library Internship (Archive Processing)

I study film music, with a particular focus on music for film franchises. My dissertation, “Scoring Star Trek’s Utopia: Musical Icons in the Star Trek Franchise (1966-2016),” uses Star Trek’s musical content to illustrate the layers of meanings that melodies acquire as we continue to consume them. These musical pieces, like the well-known fanfare that opens Star Trek: The Original Series, go beyond their original contexts to become detached musical entities. They become learned, cultural texts.

As these new meanings form, Star Trek’s music continues to be heard, recognized, and rapidly understood through constant reiteration. Changes in orchestration, tempo, rhythm, frequency of use, and differing audiovisual pairings do occur, but instead add new layers of meaning. In fact, they transport the musical element—and with it Star Trek’s beloved characters, relationships, and associated ideologies of liberal humanism and implied pan-United States utopia—to the forefront.

Here the ritual is key. Especially in the age of Netflix, we both re-watch old and consume new Star Trek entries, rendering them ahistorical. Through the evolution of melodies like the fanfare, these quasi-folksongs capture the American consciousness as it too shifts and evolves. Musically self-aware, this perspective forces a negotiation of Star Trek’s own mythology that illuminates the broader political realities of 21st-century American culture.


Evolutionary Anthropology 
International Dissertation Research Travel Award

My research focuses on the interpretation of paleoclimate and paleoenvironment in the fossil record via the distributions of ecomorphological traits (e.g. dental topography) in extinct mammalian faunas. In particular, my research focuses on these traits in smaller mammals common in forested habitats. Two main points of interest are (i) change in climate and environmental structure in relation to the radiation and diversification of early primates, and (ii) identifying general patterns of paleoecology in South America.


Katie Thomas

Domestic Dissertation Research Travel Award

I study cephalopod vision and bioluminescence in the dark habitat of the deep sea. The deep sea is the largest habitable space on earth, accounting for 97 percent of the volume where life exists, yet we still know little about the ecology of the animals that live there. A vast majority of that space is the pelagic open ocean, where animals can live and die without encountering any surface. In these dim waters, two types of light comprise the visual landscape: downwelling sunlight and bioluminescence. This visual environment likely drives the evolution of both vision and signaling in this habitat.

My dissertation work combines behavior, morphology, computational modeling, and comparative evolutionary methods to explore visual strategies and the evolution of bioluminescence in deep-sea cephalopods. My research explores vision and behavior in a deep-sea squid with dimorphic eyes, depth-dependent patterns in cephalopod pupil size and visual range, and the evolution of bioluminescence in deep-sea squids.


Mechanical Engineering and Materials Science
E. Bayard Halsted Scholarship in Science, History, and Journalism

My Ph.D. studies focus on the prediction of the spatial variation of sound pressure within enclosures and the sound transmission between acoustics spaces. My goal is to be able to apply a first-principle, energy- and intensity-based approach to sound field modeling that does not rely on empiricism and experience when applying engineering assumptions.

My current research efforts are dedicated to developing models for the coupled structural-acoustic vibration of boundaries typical of real enclosures that reflect and transmit sound, and the resulting coupling of adjacent acoustic spaces.

The results from my proposed work are expected to provide considerable physical insight into the behavior of acoustic fields in coupled enclosures with flexible boundaries, particularly the mechanisms producing spatial variation in the sound field. The motivation for these research efforts is the need to predict sound fields and spatial variation as well as the need to reduce sound pressure levels in architectural acoustics, aircrafts, and automotive industries. The practical application of this work is the improved efficiency and robustness in designing acoustic spaces. For example, given an input distribution of acoustic power, it could be possible to specify the absorption distribution that minimizes the noise level at desired locations, such as the passenger seats in a vehicle or the effective treatment of noisy workspaces in a factory.


Ottis Green Fellowship

My research interests include philosophy of mind, existentialism, philosophy of literature, and ordinary language philosophy. I am writing a dissertation about the existentialist, Simone de Beauvoir, and the philosophical problem of other minds. Beauvoir is most famous for her masterpiece in feminist philosophy, The Second Sex. Underpinning the analysis in The Second Sex are questions about our relations to other people: How do we come to know other people? In what ways do other people know us—and more than just know us, in what ways do they have authority about us? Each of us decides who we will be in our choices and our actions, but we constantly come face to face with other people’s judgments about us, which often conflict with our images of ourselves. Beauvoir’s concept of ambiguity gives us a framework for understanding how we can and should live in this tension—as individual subjects and as people shaping the world for others. She also maps many of the ways that a reciprocal relationship between self and other can go wrong. Beauvoir’s understanding of ambiguity has useful lessons for contemporary philosophical discussions about self-knowledge and for issues in our ordinary lives.


Religious Studies
International Dissertation Research Travel Award

My dissertation research analyzes the role of Christian theology in regulating sexuality during apartheid and democratic South Africa. Through grants, I was able to conduct archival research and in-depth interviews with LGBTIQ activists and faith leaders in 2015 and 2016. My project critiques both the use of Christianity and progressive policy as “cures” for LGBTIQ people, and instead proposes a decolonial theology of sexuality.


Katherine Goodman Stern Fellowship

My research interests lie in the intersection of image processing and machine learning. As an applied mathematician, I love building and understanding mathematical tools to solve intricate real-world problems. In particular, I have been involved in several art-related projects, where I build image-processing algorithms to help art conservators and art historians better understand and leverage their image datasets. In my collaboration with North Carolina Museum of Art, I designed an algorithm to remove cradle artifacts from X-ray images of 17th-century European panel paintings so that art conservators can study X-ray images to obtain painting information (e.g. crack locations, paint loss and existed restoration) with much ease. My cradle-removal algorithm has been successfully deployed into a public software package called Platypus with the support of Kress foundation and my collaborators. It was officially released and has been downloaded by over 100 art conservators around the world. 


David M. Rubenstein Rare Book & Manuscript Library Internship (Business History)

In my doctoral dissertation, I study a diverse body of small-scale business entrepreneurs, including street food and public market vendors, in New Orleans. To understand their complex history from the colonial period to the present, I have worked with inventory lists, receipts, newspaper advertisements, photographs, travel narratives, and journals among other ephemera and material culture. Much of my archival research highlights the often-overlooked role of women, both enslaved and free, in the making of American culinary cultures and how these entrepreneurs sat at the heart of New Orleans’ local food and beverage economy. As the graduate intern at the John W. Hartman Center for Sales, Advertising, and Marketing History, I build upon my dissertation research to highlight the ingenuity of women entrepreneurs and entrepreneurs of color and their influences on American consumer culture.

Xiao Zhang

Katherine Goodman Stern Fellowship

My research focuses on developing synthetic methods of metallic and hybrid nanostructures possessing both plasmonic and catalytic activities and investigating their behaviors as photocatalysts.

Chemical industry heavily relies on catalytic reactions driven by heating to achieve practical production rates. The heating requirement demands a considerable amount of energy input and deteriorates the lifetime of catalysts. Coupling other forms of energy, such as light, with chemical reactions to reduce the energy input is crucial to the goal of sustainable and environmentally benign chemical processes.

In my dissertation work, I study the growth mechanism of rhodium nanostructures and develop controllable methods to synthesize them with tunable sizes and shapes. These rhodium nanostructures exhibit strong and tunable absorption capability of ultraviolet and visible light, a signature of plasmonic nanostructures. In combination with their excellent catalytic activities, high photocatalytic activities are observed on these plasmonic rhodium nanostructures for an important fuel generation reaction: carbon dioxide hydrogenation. Under light illumination, the reaction rate without any heating is higher than that at several hundred degrees Celsius without light. These plasmonic photocatalysts can reduce the energy input without sacrifice of production rate and be expanded to other chemical reactions.