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2024 Grant Recipients

The Apes and Us

Jessica Riskin (History), Caroline Winterer (History) 

From January to June 2024, the Stanford Library is displaying a public-facing exhibition curated by our team: The Apes and Us: A Century of Thinking About Our Closest Relatives. It features paintings and sketches of apes, monkeys, and images of human evolution by the Austrian artist Gabriel von Max (1840-1915), as well as books, images and artifacts pertaining to human evolution from Stanford’s own collections. The exhibit coincides with a new Sophomore Seminar currently being taught by us entitled The Ape Museum (History/Global Studies 41N). In February 2024, in conjunction with the exhibit, we hosted a workshop: The Apes and Us: A Century of Thinking About Humans among the Primates. The conference brought together primatologists, paleontologists, anthropologists, and historians to share thinking about the relations of humans to non-human primates. The Humanities Seed Grant will support work needed to put together an edited collection derived from the workshop to be published by the University of Chicago Press. We hope to show how collaborative ventures between humanists and scientists can lead to productive new conversations about areas of common concern to both.

Changing the conversation: A Public Seminar on Digital Civil Society

Angèle Christin (Communication), Lucy Bernholz (Stanford Center on Philanthropy and Civil Society)

The Digital Civil Society Public Seminar brings together humanists, social scientists, policymakers, civil society representatives, and technologists for ongoing, deep discussions as part of a new intellectual network. Digital technologies are transforming society and democracy, and inevitably changing the human experience. This requires new insights and discussion about the impact of these technologies to engage with them responsibly, equitably, and purposefully. To be successful, such exchanges must take place across traditional distinctions and disciplinary lines, bringing together students, researchers, activists, and technologists involved in rethinking what digital technologies can be–-and the future they can bring for humanity.

The Seminar supports a new intellectual network for civil society practitioners, Stanford scholars and students, policymakers, and tech industry employees hailing from local, state, national, and international communities. The seminar will discuss questions about AI and nature such as “How do digital technologies intersect with environmental goals, the nurturing of nature, and climate activism more broadly?” and, on AI and culture, “How does AI reconfigure power dynamics between artists, publishers, distributors, and audiences? What kinds of creativity emerge from these new configurations?” The seminar hosts cross-sector academic discussion as well as builds practical relationships between these different actors – all with a humanistic lens on the pressing issues in digital civil society. Modeled on the insights in the Lab’s 2020 report, Integrating Advocacy, the public seminar provides a reliable, cross-sector, educational opportunity that fosters new research while also creating active users of academic research in both civil society and industry.

Digitizing Syriac Manuscripts

Michael Penn (Religious Studies) 

Early Christians wrote in three main languages: Greek, Latin, and—especially in what is now the Middle East—a dialect of Aramaic called Syriac. Approximately ten million modern Christians trace their lineage to the ancient Syriac churches. In the last century, Syriac Christians were the targets of a genocide during World War I, the chaos following the second Iraq war decimated their churches in Iraq, and the civil war in Syria has been even more destructive to these communities. This has made it especially challenging for Syriac Christians to preserve their history, traditions, and patrimony. The challenge is compounded by the fact that the most important collection of early Syriac manuscripts remains mostly undigitized, and thus inaccessible to those who cannot travel to London. This Humanities Seed Grant provides the first round of funding to digitize the British Library’s Syriac manuscripts. This will enable historians, liturgists, musicologists, and theologians—both those within the Syriac communities and those studying the tradition from outside—to finally have open access to the earliest witnesses to this ancient, but now endangered, tradition.

Exploring Storytelling Practices for Immigrant Children Held in Federal Custody

Antero Garcia (Education)

Missing in the politicized coverage of and debates about immigration are the voices of the myriad young people who come into the U.S. each year. Most vulnerable within this group are the unaccompanied minors that are held in federal custody. Though these individuals are provided a Child Advocate to help champion their needs, they are largely invisible in broader public discourse.

Given the precarious context of immigration in this country, this project explores how ethical storytelling practices can affirm and support the sociopolitical identities of immigrant children who are held in federal custody. Working in partnership with the Young Center, a national organization focused on advocating for the best interests of unaccompanied immigrant children, this project seeks to amplify the voices of immigrant youth in this country. This project will develop a series of storytelling resources and practices that child advocates can utilize with the youth they support. In addition to helping elucidate the ways youth stories can illuminate the needs of youth within the U.S. legal system, these stories can also spotlight the unheard voices that are too frequently caught in the crosswinds of immigration debate. This humanities-focused research deepens the public’s understanding of the circumstances, hopes, and desires of some of the most overlooked individuals in this country’s social fabric. In doing so, it explores how storytelling might better weave the lives and social commitments of individuals together.

How Immigration Advocates Understand Changing the U.S. Immigration System

Asad Asad (Sociology) 

Immigration advocates are at the vanguard of efforts to change the U.S. immigration system, but little systematic attention has been paid to their visions for change and what those visions may imply for the future of immigration to the United States. Immigration advocates include people who offer direct services to immigrants, often through non-profit organizations. Examples include attorneys, organizers, and volunteers. The kinds of services they provide vary, but they can include medical, financial, legal, educational, and/or social support. 

Over the past several years, our research team has interviewed dozens of immigration advocates about their work, including whether and how they believe their efforts will one day change the U.S. immigration system—and, if so, how.  With support from this Humanities Seed Grant, this project will bring to campus three immigration advocates representing a range of immigrant-serving nonprofit organizations with diverse perspectives on what it means to change the immigration system. They will participate in a public conversation about their visions for change, their expectations regarding whether they can achieve those visions, and where immigration advocates believe they should dedicate their efforts in an evolving political environment. 

The Sonic Resistance Archive: Music, Poetry, and Memory in Afghanistan

Robert Crews (Department of History), Mejgan Massoumi (Lecture and Fellow in Civic, Liberal, and Global Education), Munazza Ebtikar (St. John’s College, University of Oxford)

In the wake of the Taliban takeover in Afghanistan in 2021, music and poetry, integral components of Afghanistan’s cultural identity, have faced severe suppression. Recognizing the threat these art forms pose to their control, the Taliban have destroyed musical instruments, and targeted musicians, singers, and other cultural producers, driving many into exile. Despite this ongoing repression, artists persist, utilizing underground networks and communities in exile to continue creating and sharing their work through modern technologies. 

Our project focuses on creating the Sonic Resistance Archive to document and study these diverse forms of cultural resistance. This digital repository will collect and preserve music and poetry produced since 2021, offering scholars and interested communities access to these invaluable cultural artifacts. Given the challenges of accessing and conducting fieldwork in Afghanistan, this archive will provide a crucial resource for advancing the study of Afghanistan’s music and poetry as forms of political expression and dissent. Moreover, the archive seeks to engage the broader public, including students, in the humanistic exploration of music and poetry's role in shaping Afghanistan’s society and envisioning its future. By documenting and analyzing these artistic expressions, the Sonic Resistance Archive not only safeguards Afghanistan’s cultural memory and heritage but also fosters a deeper understanding of the complex intersections among art, politics, and resilience in Afghanistan and beyond.

Spatializing the Sounding Renaissance

Jessie Rodin (Music)

The Renaissance lies scattered before us. For more than 200 years, scholars in disciplines ranging from art history and literature to political history, geography, and music have collected and catalogued vast amounts of information—but many of the most crucial documents are buried in undigitized publications not easily accessible to specialists in one field, let alone to their colleagues in another.

Our project moves outward from fundamental histories of music, musicians, and music-making dating back to the nineteenth century in order to uncover connections among seemingly unrelated people and events. We break down disciplinary walls by taking material that is usually separated into specialized subfields and assembling it in a single place. And we provide a space in which to evaluate these materials comparatively. In doing so we offer a new model for how we tell stories about the past.

To accomplish these goals we are building a mapping tool for visualizing Renaissance culture. The map will be web-based and dynamic, allowing users to explore intersections between heterogeneous types of information while giving access to primary documents that underpin that information. Users will be able to explore freely with the aim of discovering serendipitous connections, or hone in on narrower questions by privileging parameters like the lives of central figures, the movements of courts, the copying of books, and the shifting of political borders. Our map will leverage the methods of the digital humanities and the tools of data visualization in order to facilitate a new, spatially centered historiography.