Issue 17, November 2019
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Faculty Spotlight: Dr. Alison Miller

“It’s all about modernity,” says Dr. Alison Miller, Assistant Professor of Art and Art History, standing in front of a wood block print depicting a royal concubine and a tryptic of Chinese soldiers in traditional garb surrendering to Japanese soldiers in modern military uniforms. Miller’s intellectual excitement is palpable, telling the story of how Japan, which had been a closed society for 250 years until the mid 19th century, recreated itself as a modern power within a few short decades. Central to the transformation were depictions of public life, including depictions of the royal family, which helped construct an identity that was important to societal cohesiveness. “These wood block prints were relatively inexpensive,” Miller says. “Think of them as the 19th century version of magazines.” The ubiquitous images helped transform ideas of modern life that enabled the entire society to change in short order.

While the overall focus of Miller’s scholarship is the relationship between gender, modernity, and visual culture, the work currently has two different strands. What Miller calls the Empress project is part of her book project: Envisioning the Empress: The Feminine Imperial Image in Japan, 1868-1952. “The book examines the political significance of the images of the three modern Japanese Empresses: Shoken (1849-1914), Teimei (1884-1951), and Kojun (1903-2000), focusing on how their visual representations impacted the construction of women’s gender roles in a broad social context.” In an article published in Nursing Clio, a peer-reviewed history blog, Miller writes, “Monarchy is concurrently derided as outdated and prized as timeless, yet the survival of this system shows that it is neither. The Japanese imperial household has remained as a symbol of power, history, and tradition due to its ability to change in response to social norms. Its traditions may be invented, but its popularity is real, and the policies, rituals, and public face of monarchy reflect our world in oftentimes conflicting ways.” Miller points out that Japan has a new emperor this year, so it is an exciting time to study monarchy.

The other major strand of her work is what she calls the Silk project. “The Silk project shows how woodblock prints were utilized as a form of aestheticized oppression: women's labor was inexpensive, and crucial to Japan's industrialization. Their low-cost labor was what drove silk exports. In the 1870s, women comprised 75% of industrial workers, and their work was the primary source of the foreign currency that laid the foundation for modern Japan. The prints convinced families to send their daughters off to far away factories, and also convinced society that the filatures were acceptable environments.”

Miller's work has been supported by the Florence Tan Moeson Fellowship, the Library of Congress, and an IES Faculty Research Abroad Grant. In the spring semester, Miller will continue studying the prints now held in special collections, plus more prints that will soon be purchased. Thanks to external funding from the College Art Association, she will be able to take her Japanese Print Culture class to Minneapolis to study similar prints held at the Minneapolis Institute of Arts.

Student Spotlight: Richard Pryor III

Richard Pryor III, a senior history major from Kent, Ohio, engaged in a historical treasure hunt this past summer as part of the Sewanee Summer Undergraduate Research Fellow (SURF) program. He assisted Dr. Roger Levine, Associate Professor of History, in researching a little-known play, Bongola, written in the 1920s, that Levine had found at an archive in Cape Town, South Africa. To the best of Richard’s knowledge, there are only three copies of this play in existence in the world, one of which Richard was able to see at the National Archives in London.

Richard’s summer challenge was to research the play, placing it in the time period and trends of the time and determining the authors and productions. Bongola addresses race relations and intermarriage prior to apartheid but during the time of the Black Peril fear and in the midst of gender and sexual fears related to rape.

Richard determined that the authors were a playwright named Lillian Cornelius and a hotel clerk, C. Owen Payne. He discovered that the play had been performed only at the Q Theatre in London. He is intrigued about the role the two authors played in the development of the play, and he has a hypothesis about that, but has not yet been able to find support for it. Richard’s summer research project took him to major university libraries in Chicago, New Haven, and Boston.

Richard feels that because of his SURF experience, he has a much better sense of what historians experience as they engage in intense research. This insight has not driven him away from incorporating history into his career. He is contemplating a few possibilities for life after graduation right now, including an academic priesthood in the Episcopal church. Richard recently completed a thesis on missionary work and understanding of race and gender in the 20th century, and he hopes to be able to do an honors thesis next semester.

Input Sought for New NIH Data Management and Sharing Policy

The National Institutes of Health (NIH) is seeking public input through January 10, 2020 on the draft version of a new NIH Policy for Data Management and Sharing. The NIH wants to balance promoting access to NIH-funded research findings and minimizing researchers’ data management burdens as it updates policies that were developed in 2003. The NIH has developed a web form to capture comments.

Summer Research Scholarships for Undergraduates

The Appalachian College Association (ACA) will open the application period soon for its Ledford Scholarship Program, which provides financial support for summer research projects conducted by undergraduate students under the mentorship of a faculty member. ACA funds support student stipends and research and travel expenses. Undergraduate students from all academic disciplines are eligible provided that they meet the following criteria: current full-time student status; a GPA of 2.0 or better on a 4.0 scale; commitment to return to an ACA member institution for at least one semester following the research term; and, have graduated from a high school or been home schooled in a designated Appalachian or contiguous county as defined by the Appalachian Regional Commission. The 32 awardees from the 2018-2019 competition are listed here.
NSF Revises Multiple Programs to More Efficiently Advance its Mission

The National Science Foundation (NSF) recently issued a Dear Colleague Letter (DCL) describing the repositioning of eight basic research programs in the Social, Behavioral, and Economic Sciences (SBE) Directorate. According to the DCL, the repositioning is intended to “…respond to new and emerging areas of scientific inquiry; help SBE researchers better connect their basic research plans to pressing national priorities; and make the value of basic research in the SBE sciences more apparent to a wider set of stakeholders.” Popular programs being revised include the former Law and Social Science Program (now Law and Science) and the Science, Technology, and Society Program (now Science and Technology Studies). All program changes will be reflected in new guidelines issued after January 1, 2020.

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