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Ph.D. Students in Art History, English Receive Mellon/ACLS Dissertation Completion Fellowships

ACLS fellowship recipients and their dissertation titles

Duke Ph.D. candidates Felipe Álvarez de Toledo López-Herrera (Art, Art History and Visual Studies) and Kathleen M. Burns (English) have received the Mellon/American Council of Learned Societies Dissertation Completion Fellowship for the 2021-2022 academic year.

The ACLS awarded 72 fellowships from a pool of more than 1,000 applicants. The prestigious award, funded by The Andrew W. Mellon Foundation, provides a $35,000 stipend and up to $8,000 in research funds and university fees to advanced graduate students in their final year of dissertation writing. Fellows will also take part in a career development seminar aimed at helping them prepare for postgraduate careers in and beyond the academy.

Here’s a look at this year’s Duke recipients:

Felipe Álvarez de Toledo López-Herrera

Art, Art History and Visual Studies

Dissertation: “ ‘Pinturas Infinitas para América.’ A Data-Driven History of the Market for Paintings in Seville (1500-1700)”

Between 1503 and 1717, Seville was the administrative center of a trade system that indelibly changed the societies of Europe and the Americas. Thousands of paintings numbered among the objects traded. This project examines the market for paintings in early modern Seville, Spain, from a humanistic and economic perspective. Thematically, it discusses the development of institutional structures that supported the market, the determinants of prices, demand for paintings in Seville and the Americas, and the evolving roles of merchants and dealers. Methodologically, it harnesses digital tools, including Natural Language Processing models and relational database management systems, to centralize the wealth of information distributed throughout the city’s archives. With the resulting font of aggregable data on the production, sale, and consumption of artistic goods in early modern Seville, it delivers a quantifiable case study of an early modern industry which had an impact on both sides of the Atlantic.


Kathleen M. Burns


Dissertation: “Vegetal Forms: How Plants Cultivate Life in Literature and Science”

“Vegetal Forms” unearths how plants cultivate cosmologies: the storied and material histories people tell to make sense of the world. Beginning with microscopy in the early 19th century and ending with geoengineering in the 21st, the project advances an alternative history of modern science in which plants are central to biological configurations of life and the human. Plant animacy—how alive, intelligent or active plants are understood to be—underwrites political discourses of who acts and who is acted upon and, ultimately, who can claim the category of humanity. From Charles Darwin’s “Insectivorous Plants” (1875) to Wanuri Kahiu’s “Pumzi” (2009), narratives of plants operate in systems of cultivation—plantations, greenhouses, gardens, and laboratories—to naturalize, or cultivate, the rights of living beings. Drawing upon a cultural studies methodology, “Vegetal Forms” relies upon uncanny plants to defamiliarize deep-rooted assumptions about what it means to be alive and to be human.