Full-Year Fellows (2023-2024)


Erica Moiah James

Clark-Oakley Fellow and Assistant Professor of African, Black and Caribbean Art, University of Miami

"Soft, Beautiful, Ordinary Violence: British Military Painting in the Eighteenth and Nineteenth Century Caribbean"

Erica Moiah James is an art historian, curator, and assistant professor at the University of Miami. Her research centers on Indigenous, modern, and contemporary art of the Caribbean, Americas, and the African Diaspora. As the Clark-Oakley Fellow, James plans to develop several chapters of her next book, which focuses on eighteenth and nineteenth-century global Caribbean art in conversation with contemporary practices and art historical methodologies. As an extension of the book project, she will also develop an exhibition of some of the earliest known paintings and prints of the Caribbean made by British military artists.


Joel Lee

Associate Professor of Anthropology

“Caste 'Passing' in Urban North India"

Does subterfuge undermine the structural violence of caste? Anchored in two years of research with women and men who, though born into communities stigmatized as ‘untouchable,’ navigate public life in urban north India as brahmins or other privileged castes, this ethnographic study seeks to illuminate a phenomenon as widespread as it is under-researched, and to amplify the distinctive critique of caste put forward by those who risk clandestinely transgressing its rules.


Francis Oakley (Senior Fellow)

President Emeritus and Edward Dorr Griffin Emeritus Professor of the History of Ideas

Professor Oakley recently completed a reinterpretation of the history of political thought from late antiquity to the mid-seventeenth century; the three volume series is titled: "The Emergence of Western Political Thought in the Latin Middle Ages". Yale University Press published volume one in 2010 with the title: "Empty Bottles of Gentilism: Kingship and the Divine in Late Antiquity and the Early Middle Ages (to 1050)." The second volume was releases in 2012: "The Mortgage of the Past: Reshaping the Ancient Political Inheritance (1050-1300)." The third volume, "The Watershed of Modern Politics: Law, Virtue, Kingship, and Consent (1300-1650)" was published in 2015. Professor Oakley's memoir, "Far from the Cast Iron Shore," was published in 2018.


Mark Reinhardt

Class of 1956 Professor of American Civilization

"Spectacular Theory: Visual Politics from Plato’s Cave to Drone Warfare"

My book explores how politics shapes ways of seeing and picturing even as images and visual practices shape the subjects, objects, activities, and boundaries of political life. Political science marginalizes that dynamic of mutual shaping, while visual studies often approaches it through a reductive conception of politics. I aim to put pressure on both fields by exemplifying a more robust approach, engaging theorists, artists, images, and imaging technologies across history. The later chapters argue that the visual-political relationship is now changing profoundly, through technological shifts in imaging to which the most fruitful political and theoretical responses are not obvious.


Tyran Steward

Assistant Professor of History

"The Benching of Willis Ward: The Making of a Black Conservative in the Jim Crow North"

The Benching of Willis Ward provides a historical retelling of the 1934 benching of Willis Ward and its fallout. Yet, the study is interdisciplinary and appeals to a broader array of scholarly disciplines, including American Studies, Cultural Studies, Labor Studies, Political Science, Sport Studies, and Women's, Gender, and Sexuality Studies. As such, the project engages robustly with scholarship in these areas. Furthermore, it is worth noting that The Benching of Willis Ward has garnered attention for its influences within public history, most recently being utilized in a 2021 report produced by the President's Advisory Committee on University History at Michigan to determine whether or not the school should remove former Athletic Director Fielding Yost's name from the Yost Ice Arena.


Chad Topaz

Professor of Complex Systems

"Criminal Justice, Racial Inequity, and Data Science"

My project consists of two parts, one aimed at scholars and activists, and the other aimed at the public. First, I am working on a project called Judicial System Transparency for Fairness (JUSTFAIR). This project will compile a comprehensive database of criminal sentencing records from every state court system in the U.S. and will provide unprecedented insight into racial disparities in the judicial system. Simultaneously, I am developing a book titled "Counting on Justice: How Data Can Right Wrongs." The narrative nonfiction piece showcases first-hand accounts of how data science has been harnessed to address racial inequities in the American criminal justice system, told through the unique lens of a white, male, LGBTQ+ data scientist and activist. Overall, my Oakley Center project highlights the potential of data science as a tool to illuminate and rectify social injustice.


Benjamin Twagira

Assistant Professor of History

"Things to Remember: Urban Militarization and Material Culture in Kampala, ca. 1966-86"

My project is a social history of militarized Kampala, the capital city of Uganda, between 1966-86. It examines how urban residents responded to martial law and maintained their identity as Kampalans during this twenty-year period. In spite of the vast numbers of soldiers who were residing in Kampala, people were determined to make the city their own. In the process, I demonstrate how militarization transformed how Kampalans related to the materiality of the city.

Fall 2023 Fellows


April Owens '24

Ruchman Fellow, Philosophy & Cognitice Science

“Back to the Body: Embodied Perspectives on Subjectivity and Selfhood"

What is the relationship between subjective human experience on the one hand, and the physical body as studied by the sciences on the other? Traditional approaches to this question often aim to either reduce one to the other, or else consider them fundamentally separate. Both approaches have proven problematic. My project will integrate key insights from evolution, cognitive science, and phenomenology to show that our facticity as biological creatures shaped by evolution shatters the mind-body distinction and opens space for a constructive dialogue between disciplines that study the human condition. By grounding subjectivity in the natural world, I will highlight the importance of both empirical and phenomenological approaches to the study of the mind.


Shanti Pillai

Assistant Professor of Theatre

“Feminist Kinesthesia: Innovative Women and Contemporary Performance in India"

My book project, Feminist Kinesthesia: Innovative Women and Contemporary Performance in India, explores how three highly influential artists, performer Maya Krishna Rao (1953), director-playwright Veenapani Chawla (1947-2014), and choreographer Padmini Chettur (1970), expand the public visibility of women as cultural innovators who respond to the social world as well as promote shifts in attitudes towards identity and the body. My ethnographic research demonstrates that their groundbreaking approaches exceed their staged works. In developing methods of improvisation and devising, founding arts institutions, and formulating inclusive pedagogies, these three artists have promoted experimentation, the interrogation of tradition, and non-hierarchical modes of knowledge transmission. Moreover, in navigating national and international ecologies of presenters, audiences, and students, these women assume leadership roles in their tenacious commitment to an artistic career when resources for experimental work are scarce. I illuminate their labor through my original analytic, feminist kinesthesia, to reference cultural production that builds innovative relationships between movement, space, and gendered conventions in performance, rehearsal, and everyday life.


Olga Shevchenko

Paul H. Hunn '55 Professor in Social Studies

“Moving Pictures: The Immortal Regiment and Mass Mobilization of Affect"

I am working on a project that builds on my interest in Soviet-era family photographs as moving objects in multiple senses of the word. This project looks into the history of the Immortal Regiment marches, - yearly public events in which millions of people walked the streets of their cities and towns carrying photographs of their ancestors during the buildup of Russia’s aggression against Ukraine from 2015 and onwards. I plan to trace the transformations images undergo on the intersection of intimate family histories and ideological projects of national resurgence and ask, How do photographs move people into action?

Spring 2024 Fellows


Hikaru Hayakawa '24

Ruchman Fellow, History

“Reterritorializing Indigenous Environmental Practice in the Late Twentieth Century: Leslie Marmon
Silko’s Sacred Water: Narratives and Pictures and Nils-Aslak Valkeapää’s The Sun, My Father"

My project focuses on Indigenous environmentalism and Indigenous relations with the settler colonial environmentalist movement. At times, environmentalist depictions of Indigenouus peoples and characterizations of their knowledge have been misleading and essentializing, erasing Indigenous peoples from modernity and projecting them into a primitive past. This project seeks to understand how Indigenous peoples have “reterritorialized” their distinct environmental practices and cosmologies that have long been appropriated by the settler colonial imagination. I take a trans-Indigenous and decolonial approach, focusing on “felt” histories in Indigenous literature.

rothstein headshot

Sidney Rothstein

Assistant Professor of Political Science

“Imagined Agency: Tracing Tech’s Political Power in Digital Transformation"

My goal in this project is to uncover how the tech sector has come to play such an important role in economic policy-making in so many countries. Focusing on the first two decades of the twenty-first century, I analyze the politics of economic growth in Europe and the Americas, identifying how social blocs formed to promote a growth model based on the promise of innovation in digital technologies but which has often intensified the winner-take-all dynamics characteristic of contemporary capitalism. By tracing the formation, influence, and endurance of these social blocs, I aim to deepen our understanding of the mechanisms driving political and economic inequality, and shed light on what it would take to push economic policy-making in a more equitable, sustainable, and democratic direction.

Previous Clark-Oakley Humanities Fellows