New UNC faculty members share highlights of their work


April 11, 2014 | Angie Barker

History assistant professor Iqbal Sevea explained what the practice of walking among ascetics in northern India reveals about the socio-cultural and political development of modern South Asia.

Luca Grillo, assistant professor in classics, defended his love of Cicero’s De Provinciis Consularibus, a speech to the Roman Empire’s consular provinces, which other academics generally disdain as “tortuous” and “painful.”

Music assistant professor Chérie Rivers Ndaliko, an interdisciplinary scholar who works for social change in Congo, offered insight into how relief organizations with good intent often stifle the voices of the people they exist to serve.

The three were among 13 College of Arts and Sciences faculty members who shared glimpses of their scholarship at the Institute for the Arts and Humanities’ 2014 New Faculty Microtalks, held in February and March. The microtalks are designed to introduce the work of UNC’s newest faculty to the broader UNC community, promote interdisciplinary scholarship and help new faculty members feel more engaged and part of their new home.

IAH first hosted New Faculty Microtalks last spring. The success of that endeavor gave rise this year to the New Faculty Program, a mix of social and academically focused activities designed to engage new faculty in the College with the broader university community during their first three years at UNC.

“We launched the New Faculty Program with the idea of cultivating interdisciplinary conversation, scholarly collaboration, plain-and-simple friendship making and social networking, hoping to achieve in a year what might otherwise take several years on campus,” said Todd Ochoa, IAH associate director for new faculty development and assistant professor of religious studies, who directs the program and moderated the microtalks.

Those connections began almost immediately among the new faculty during the microtalks, as scholars heard common themes and focus areas emerge from their fellow presenters.

“I have all sorts of conversations I want to have now with some of the other panelists, which I think is precisely one of the purposes of this,” said participant Townsend Middleton, an anthropology assistant professor who spoke on tribal recognition in India.

Middleton found the microtalks valuable on several levels.

“One is just making connections – it’s kind of like intellectual speed-dating,” he said. “But, also, one of the things we have to do as intellectuals is constantly repackage our work. This was actually a very interesting way to do that. You have your elevator speech for the average person. But this is different. It enables you to speak in a more academic language but in a pared down way. I found it to be very helpful.”

Jennifer Gates-Foster, a classics assistant professor, said she had met fellow presenter Stephanie Elizondo Griest from English and comparative literature at other gatherings, and she knew generally about her research. But it was not until hearing Greist discuss her work on modern-day U.S. borderlands that Gates-Foster discovered the scholarly connection to her own work on ancient borderlands.

“This is incredibly valuable to get substantive information about each others’ lives,” Gates-Foster said. “There is a window, a very short period of time, when people are open to incorporating new friends and new connections when they come to town, and that door closes after a couple of years. So this is, literally, is the only part of UNC where I’ve met other humanities scholars I would otherwise never have seen. It has already given me friendships and recognition from other departments, which is great, and it makes such a difference in my transition here.”

Faculty members featured in the 2014 microtalks and their areas and topics were:

  • Andrea Bohlman (Music), “Solidarity, Song, and the Sound Document.”
  • Marisa Escolar (Romance Languages and Literatures), “Translating Censorship, Censoring Translation.”
  • Jennifer Gates-Foster (Classics), “Archaeological Approaches to Ancient Borderlands.”
  • Stephanie Elizondo Griest (English and Comparative Literature), “The Three Solitudes: Dispatches from the U.S. Borderlands.”
  • Kurt Gray (Psychology), “More Dead than Dead: Perceptions of the Persistent Vegetative State.”
  • Luca Grillo (Classics), “Irony, Imperialism and the End of the Roman Republic.”
  • Seth Kotch (American Studies), “Oral History and the Digital Humanities.”
  • Townsend Middleton (Anthropology),” Ethnology’s Second Coming: Tribal Recognition in India.”
  • Chérie Rivers Ndaliko (Music), “Music and Social Change in the Democratic Republic of the Congo.”
  • Iqbal Sevea (History), “God’s Name is a Steamship: The Body and Piety in the Age of Modern Technologies of Circulation in North India.”
  • Jessica Tanner (Romance Languages and Literatures), “Mapping Prostitution in Fin-de-Siècle France.”
  • Jina Valentine (Art), “An Autopoetics.”
  • Clara Yang (Music), performing selections from Robert Muczynski’s “Maverick Pieces.”

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