Graduate Student Projects



Rachel Cypher
PhD Candidate, Anthropology | University of California, Santa Cruz
Project: Belonging in the Pampas: Haunted Landscapes, Indigenous Exclusion, and Ecological Imperialism in Argentina

Lara Ghisleni
PhD Candidate, Anthropology | University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee
Project: Landscape and Mobility in Late Iron Age and Early Roman Southern England 

How is the landscape populated and connected? What continues, changes, and co-exists, and how do these negotiations take place? This dissertation addresses intercultural interaction, social change and continuity, and the intersubjective constitution of identity, exploring how moving through the landscape creates the contexts for community formation and transformation. The specific focus is daily activities and land use during the Late Iron Age (100 BCE–CE 43) and Early Roman (CE 43–CE 150) periods in Dorset, southwest England, and the Middle Thames Valley, southeast England. The project investigates how activities and spatial configurations at seven case study settlements in each region articulate with the wider landscape, tracing synchronic and diachronic patterns of landscape utilization and inter-connection. The type, intensity, and distribution of activities are examined in relation to spatial contexts for interaction, manifested in settlements, field systems, enclosures, trackways, and roads. Geographic Information Systems spatial analysis explores and models potential routes connecting, and possibly disrupting, settlements and communities over time. The narrative is framed by a multilinear approach that engages with the heterogeneous processes of transformation and persistence within and across community and cultural boundaries, exploring how paths of interconnection activate the contexts through which social networks and land use practices are created, transformed, and challenged.

Annemarie McLaren
PhD Candidate, History | Australian National University
Project: When the Strangers Came to Stay: Re-imagining Cross-Cultural Negotiations in Sydney’s Western Hinterland, 1788 to 1838.

The history of cross-cultural relations in Sydney and its immediate environs have been revised in recent decades with energy and colour. Yet, while we now know far more about the sorts of cultural negotiations taking place between Aboriginal people and the colonists in the early years, much of research has remained focused on the initial years of settlement. This project focuses on the second phase of cross-cultural negotiation in early New South Wales. How did Aboriginal–Colonial relations shift after Europeans were no longer strangers and visitors but became a permanent presence radically changing the social, environmental and economic landscape? What was the continuing role that exchanges of objects such as blankets, brass plates and clothing had in the colonist’s interactions with Aborginal people? What can we make of the rise of Indigenous guides and cultural brokers, of Indigenous involvement with the governor’s annual feast and his school for Aboriginal children? In turn, how did Indigenous responses and understandings impact the decisions made by settlers and the governing authorities in cross-cultural relations? In tracing the movement and interactions of people and material cultures in Sydney’s hinterland in the first fifty years and striving to join the dots, the early accounts, newspapers, letters, court-records and images suggest colonial lives and, in particular, cross-cultural negotiation, of greater dynamism, unpredictability and dialogue than usually imagined.

Eva-Maria Müller
PhD Candidate, English Literature and Culture | University of Giessen, Germany
Project: Empor! Empire! Emporiums! Settling and Selling Mountains in Contemporary Literature of the Canadian Rockies and the Austrian Alps

Ashkan Rezvani Naraghi
PhD Candidate, Urban Studies | University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee
Project: Spaces of Transformation and Transformations of Space: Places of Insurgency in Tehran, 1906-1953

Alexandra Roginski
PhD Candidate, Anthropology | Australian National University
ProjectA Touch of Power: Encounters in Australian Popular Phrenology

From the early nineteenth- until the mid-twentieth centuries, the science of reading character and intellect from head shape held an evocative cultural position in Australia, the UK and the US as a form of racial typing, divination, self-advancement and public performance. In contemporary postcolonial Australia, its material legacy most resonates through the Aboriginal remains collected as part of the nineteenth-century obsession with skulls, many of which continue to be held in museum and university collections around the world. In my doctoral work, I undertake a broad analysis of the history of popular phrenology in Australian society and spaces, creating – among other things – new understandings of how Aboriginal people encounter the science and sometimes repurpose it for their own ends. Drawing on archival evidence, I explore two key phrenological lectures – one taking place in 1850 in Melbourne, and one presented in 1884 at a mission on the Murray River. Although these lectures centred on negative racial stereotypes, the Aboriginal participants nevertheless appeared to gain value from these encounters as performers or consumers of this new knowledge. In a separate strand of research, I am investigating the contemporary legacies of phrenology for Indigenous Australians who make repatriation claims. This angle builds on my book about my provenancing work with the remains of a man named Jim Crow (The Hanged Man and the Body Thief: Finding Lives in a Museum Mystery, Monash University Publishing, 2015). Through community engagement in the Hunter Valley region of New South Wales, I have documented Jim Crow’s return and reburial, and now examine how history and myth form new foundations for contemporary Indigenous identity. I combine social and cultural history with ethnography, oral history and museum studies to suggest that history, never properly “past”, often plays an explosive role in the present.

Diana Rose
PhD Candidate, Visual Studies | University of California, Santa Cruz
Project: Living Time, Performing Memory: Maya Ceremonies of Foundation and Renewal

The post-Enlightenment idea of a linear and progressive notion of time has heavily influenced the way Maya culture – both past and present – is studied, irrevocably tying the Maya to the past. This ignores the current enduring conditions of Maya communities. They have faced conquests, displacement, and civil war – and continue to struggle under the onslaught of capitalist land usage, and governmental neglect. Maya culture persists despite the economic, political and cultural forces that conspire against it. In this project, I ask what devices have led to the Maya’s extraordinary cultural survival. I depart from scholarly practices built around notions of progress to ask how time, when lived and experienced in cultural forms that are neither linear nor progressive, can actually lend itself to endurance. The past is a living thing in the oral histories and sacred ceremonies that modern Maya people employ to maintain their beliefs and cultural traditions. Visual and textual evidence from ancient Maya monuments, murals and codices, shows that these are not just current manifestations; intricate strategies of renewal and endurance were crucial to the ancient Maya as well. I examine the ways ancient Maya elites embodied deities and collapsed temporal distance, coalescing the past and the present in ceremonies of renewal. Recalling the moment of origin by the ancient rulers was necessary in order to bring order again to their cosmos and kingdoms. In a cyclical view of time, actions like these propelled movement forward in a never-ending cycle of renewal (death gives birth to life). This study considers how the timely relationships, what I call living time, created through renewal ceremonies promoted cultural endurance in the past. And, it considers how this persists even into the present.

Snežana Vuletić
PhD Candidate, Cultural Studies | University of Giessen, Germany
ProjectFrom Disrupted Indigeneity to Diasporic Entanglements: Cultural Dynamics of the Narratives of Igbo Identity in the Novels of Chinua Achebe, Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie, and Chris Abani

Identities are socially constructed and context-specific categories. They are constructed in a particular timespace and, hence, come with particular social histories. Understood as creative but highly socially- and politically-engaged recreations and examinations of changing socio-political realities in Nigeria, novels written by Igbo authors in English have earned an important place within the debates about Igbo identity. The aim of my dissertation, therefore, is to bring to light the forms and functions of fictional narratives of Igbo identities.

Part I of my thesis explores how a strong anti-colonial sentiment and cultural nationalism of the 1950s in Nigeria shaped the way Igbo identities are re-visited, re-imagined, and re-narrated in Chinua Achebe’s trilogy (1958-1964). However, as Part II of my thesis demonstrates, while Achebe’s novels display a longing for a coherent and reliable narrative of Igbo identity in highly unstable and incoherent socio-political contexts, the novels of contemporary Igbo authors such as Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie’ Half of a Yellow Sun (2006) and Chris Abani’s GraceLand (2004) address the fissures, slippages, and inconsistencies involved in constructing Igbo identities in postcolonial states of crisis. Finally, Part III of my thesis examines how diasporic experiences as described in Adichie’s Americanah (2013) and Abani’s The Virgin of Flames (2009) render a return to stable Igbo identity impossible and call for alternative forms of identification in order for the narrative of the ‘self’ to be completed.

A shift from imagining Igbo identities as narratives to be re-told by indigenous authors in late colonial times to narratives to be questioned in the context of failed nation-statism to narratives to be patched or substituted altogether in the age of global mobility tells volumes about various social histories that have been shaping the narratives of Igbo identity in literature. Examining each of these narratives carefully will shed light, I venture to say, not only on power struggles, resistance movements, and cultural imaginaries that have shaped the contexts in which those novels were written but on the dynamic between literature and culture, too.


Photo: September 2014, UC Sana Cruz