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2022 Grant Recipients

Asian American Art Inititaive

Marci Kwon (Art and Art History); Aleesa Pitchamarn Alexander (Assistant Curator, Cantor Arts Center)

Asian American/diaspora artists remain largely in the shadows of art history and the public imagination. Co-directed by Marci Kwon (Assistant Professor, Art and Art History) and Aleesa Pitchamarn Alexander (Assistant Curator, Cantor Arts Center) Asian American Art Initiative (AAAI) is dedicated to the collection, preservation, exhibition, and study of artists of the Asian diaspora. The history of Asian American/diaspora art is not simply the history of Asian Americans, but of race, capitalism, labor, settler colonialism, imperialism, legal exclusion, incarceration, gendered violence, and war—and their entanglement—in the Americas. 

Since its founding, the AAAI has built a historically significant collection of work by Asian American/diaspora artists at the Cantor Arts Center, and collaborated with Stanford Libraries and Special Collections to acquire collections and publish a digital catalogue raisonné of the artist Martin Wong. Stanford is now one of the richest repositories of primary source material on Asian American art in the country, and one of the only institutions where works of art may be consulted alongside archival material. The Humanities Seed Grant will allow the AAAI to build a digital hub to make images, documentation, and in-depth research of AAAI works accessible to the public that will function as a living archive of Asian American/diaspora art. The grant will also allow the AAAI to activate the collection through a series of collaborative conversations among artists, scholars, and community members, and innovate alternatives to the museum’s traditional top-down presentation of expertise.

Critical Making Collaborative

Shane Denson (Film and Media Studies/Art and Art History); Jean Ma (Film and Media Studies/Art and Art History); and Matthew Wilson Smith (German Studies/Theater and Performance Studies)

Led by an interdisciplinary group of scholars, the “Critical Making Collaborative” aims to probe contemporary crises facing the humanities, and humanity itself, by studying and creating new forms of public-facing scholarship. We will explore how critical rigor and scholarship manifest in videographic texts, multimodal objects, digital and analog forms of expression and experimentation, online and offline curation, and hybrid interventions in virtual and real spaces. 

We situate our collective efforts within the broad space of “critical making”—a term that, in conversation with related terms such as “research-creation,” “practice-based research,” “artistic research,” and “digital humanities,” asserts the scholarly value of making in tandem with the more traditional notion of “critical thinking.” We will focus on our collective crises and uncertain futures: climate change, Big Data, AI, and political polarization, to name a few. We aim to envision and produce scholarly artifacts, media, performances, and networks that transcend disciplinary silos, speak to problems of precarity and accessibility, and assert the relevance of the humanities beyond the ivory tower. 

Considering Disability in Online Cultural Experiences

Patricia Alessandrini (Music/CCRMA:Center for Computer Research in Music and Acoustics); Jonathan Berger (Music/CCRMA); Chris Chafe (CCRMA); Matthew Wright (Technical Director of CCRMA); and team.

Artistic areas such as music, visual art, theater, and dance have been exploring online experiences for performers and audiences during the COVID-19 pandemic, through formats such as virtual museum visits or networked musical performances, often experienced through ad-hoc repurposing of video conferencing or video game software. While these online experiences have played a vital role in providing remote access to cultural artifacts when in-person activities are restricted, there is a need to  expand these experiences beyond commonly-used software environments and the standard formats of a phone, tablet or computer screen and stereo sound, especially for the visually and/or hearing impaired.

This project considers ways in which online cultural experiences may be rendered more inclusive for Disabled people, especially those who may not be able to engage with visual and/or auditory media without mediation through other perceptual means. The core team of researchers based at the Center for Computer Research in Music and Acoustics (CCRMA) will work with cross-departmental and international partners--including ShareMusic & Performing Arts and the Institute For Research & Co-ordination in Acoustics & Music (IRCAM)--to identify Disabled people’s needs and desires for online experiences and what enhancements might be most effective in meeting those needs through exchanges, workshops, lectures and symposia. In the process of making online experiences more accessible, we hope to propose formats and paradigms that offer immersive, interactive, engaging and meaningful experiences for all.

The Desagüe Project: An International Collaboration on the Environmental, Social and Human Effects of Mexico City’s Seasonal Disaster

Angela Garcia (Anthropology, Stanford University); Elizabeth F.S. Roberts (Anthropology, University of Michigan); Sandra Rozental (Social Sciences and Humanities, Universidad Autónoma Metropolitana-Cuajimalpa, Mexico City); Eunice Adorno (artist and photographer, Mexico City)

Mexico City’s ongoing desagüe, the massive drainage project initiated by Spanish colonists in the seventeenth century in the Valley of Mexico, set in motion an annual disaster, with severe flooding, especially in the poorer city center. The desagüe speaks to some of the most pressing concerns of our time: water scarcity, transforming ecologies, and chronic disease. Our bi-national study will illuminate the interaction between the desagüe’s environmental, social, and human-centered trajectories. Through anthropological research and artistic collaboration, we will develop an understanding of the desagüe’s ongoing impact on a case neighborhood, including residents’ livelihoods and health. Our findings will be presented in traditional academic venues, as well as in a multisensory artistic installation, highlighting new forms of ethnographic engagement.

Digital Legal Histories: The Case of Labor Practices in the American Theater

Amalia Kessler (Law); Brent Salter (Law)

This project of the Stanford Center for Law and History—drawing on methods from the digital humanities, including text analysis of documented legal codes, practices, and industry customs—will be the first stage of a broad and innovative legal and labor history of the American performing arts. Our immediate focus will direct resources towards the recovery, preservation, and visual online presentation of a vitally important archival collection recently recovered by the Dramatists Guild of America, the trade association of playwrights, librettists, composers, and lyricists. The Dramatists Guild collection, which extends over a century, reveals an expansive history of dramatic authorship in the United States. The visual online mapping of legal, artistic, social, and economic networks over time will be a feature of the research. A deeper understanding of diversity, inclusion, and access to the industry over the past one hundred years—through the lens of these theatrical networks—will also be a key goal of the project. The legal histories of remarkable women and artists of color engaged in dramatic authorship go largely untold, as do the legal histories of ordinary authors without dominant and enduring reputations.

The project will aim to provide tools to show how underrepresented artists negotiated with stakeholders over time and how these negotiations framed their experiences as artists. The project will draw on expertise across Stanford including the Law School, Theater and Performance Studies, History, Computer Science, and Stanford Libraries. The project is also thrilled to concentrate resources on the archival material of the Dramatists Guild of America that will celebrate the one-hundredth anniversary of its first Basic Agreement in 2026. The Guild has made an extraordinary commitment to the preservation of its archive, and this commitment will have a profound influence on our understanding of the history of dramatic writing in the United States. The tools we develop through this research—including text analysis methods and the creation of a range of online dissemination forums —will be deployable in other current and future legal history research at the intersection of law and the humanities.

Inside-Out Earth

Gabrielle Hecht (History); Paul Edwards (Science, Technology, and Society); Alina Bykova (History); and Jaime Landinez Aceros (Anthropology)

We are turning our planet inside out. At some point in the 2020s, the mass of everything ever made by humans will exceed the mass of all living things. Waste occupies an ever-increasing proportion of this anthropogenic mass: for all the rocks we dig out of the ground, for nearly every product we manufacture, we discard vast quantities of matter. These wasted substances do not magically disappear. Instead, they move around, rising into the atmosphere, spreading out across once-fertile land, seeping into waterways. Consequences include climate change, soil depletion, toxin biomagnification, environmentally linked diseases, air pollution, and much more.

This project adopts interdisciplinary methods to explore the wasting of the inside-out Earth. It homes in on four materials key to the energy systems that precede and power all Earthly eversions: coal, oil, uranium, and lithium. In collaboration with graduate students and established scholars at Stanford and elsewhere, the project examines how citizens, activists, and scientists in four parts of the world have confronted the accelerating waste generated by these materials, focusing on themes related to global environmental (in)justice. This phase of the project concentrates on two of the four areas covered by the project: (1) coal mines in the Arctic and (2) the lithium triangle in South America.

While all lifeforms on Earth make waste, only humans dispose of materials in such quantities, at such speeds, and of such toxicity that Earth systems cannot metabolize them without enduring damage grave enough to make the planet uninhabitable. Far from the side-show implied by the commonplace phrase “unintended consequences,” waste has become the main event of the inside-out Earth.

The Life Cycles of African Print Cloths and Fashion Sustainability in an African City

Ato Quayson (English); Grace Toléqué (Program Officer, Institute for Diversity in the Arts)

Much of the literature on fashion sustainability in Africa turns on the extent and damage of imported second-hand clothes on local economies. The debates on the damage to the local textile industry and the impact on environmental pollution abound in the existing literature. However, these debates often ignore the well-ingrained African cultural practices around the familial distribution of cloth fabrics among women that open up a contrast to the intense consumerist mode represented in the second-hand clothing industry.

The focus of this project will be on fashion sustainability in Accra, Ghana, taking into account the local cultural practices that have developed around the ownership and familial re-distribution of African wax print cloths, the local markets and traders that mediate the fashion value of various designs, and the global circulation of such cloths in which the market women and their consumers play a significant role. The project will produce a documentary around three different cloth traders and on three generations of women in their distribution of cloth within the family circuit in Accra, a graphic novel of the history of Makola Market (the hub of cloth vendors) to accompany the documentary, Tik Tok posts, and curated images on Instagram.  The project will also focus on work with community partners to highlight sustainability issues with respect to fast fashion, the ways in which they are processed and disposed of, and their impact on the local clothing industry.

Making and Unmaking Imperial Space: OpenGulf

Nora Elizabeth Barkat (History)

Contemporary historical accounts of the Persian Gulf region have been dominated by fossil fuels, rapid nation-state building, and global imperialism. This project uses multilingual digitized texts to investigate historical constructions of space in the Gulf region. By creating maps, blog posts, and pedagogical and scholarly materials that document people, places, and transactions in the 19th and 20th centuries, the project expands current understandings of the Gulf’s spatial history and human and non-human geography.

Research teams at Stanford and NYU Abu Dhabi affiliated with the OpenGulf project explore the colonial dynamics of spatial knowledge and data production. We use digital tools designed for analysis of English-language textual material to craft open-licensed datasets culled from a voluminous and digitally accessible early twentieth-century British Gazetteer of the Persian Gulf, Oman and Central Arabia. The visualizations these datasets make possible generate new research questions about the spatial and material elements of British colonial knowledge production and its legacies. Simultaneously, we employ the same computational tools to explore geographically rich texts created by other local and imperial actors in Arabic, Ottoman Turkish, Persian, and French. These non-English texts require extensive preparation for digital analysis and expose the limits and potential for using widely-accessible tools to analyze texts in non-Latin, script-based, right-to-left alphabets. Paying close attention to both the process and products of geographical data creation, the project generates multilayered, complex, and textured historical representations of Gulf space.

The Senegal Liberations Project

Joel Cabrita (History); Richard Roberts (History); and Fatoumata Seck (French and Italian)

Between 1857 and 1903, 28,930 enslaved Africans walked away from their African masters and sought freedom and freedom papers from French colonial officials in Senegal. Who they were, where they came from, and how they made their way to freedom are central questions we are asking. Most of the evidence we have on “liberated Africans” comes from those freed by European naval ships that captured slave ships at sea. Our project focuses on enslaved Africans who chose their own paths to freedom in the half century before French colonial officials abolished the legal status of slavery in 1903.  

The Senegal Liberations Project expands the Slave Voyages database by focusing on slavery and freedom in Africa.  Working closely with our Senegalese collaborators, the goals of Senegal Liberations Project are to make available to scholars, students, and teachers in Senegal and elsewhere a remarkable, but unused archival source:  the registers of official liberations. A central part of making this project is to create a database of those enslaved people seeking their freedom and to create a platform that enables students, researchers, and teachers to produce new knowledge about slavery and freedom in West Africa. Our project team involves close collaboration with scholars, teachers, and students at Stanford, in Senegal, and in California.