Student Spotlight: Dissertation Proposal Presentations

A big congratulations goes out to the program’s four people who presented their dissertation proposals at the end of the Spring 2015 semester: Savannah Fetterolf, Lewis Levenberg, Sara Marie Massee, and Mika’il Petin.  Enjoy staying up to date on these exciting projects by reading their abstracts below. 


Savannah Fetterolf is working with Alison Landsberg, Michele Greet, JP Singh to complete her dissertation.  Her working title is “The Canon According to Google: The Google Art Project in the Age of Digital Re-presentation,” described in her abstract below:

Most widely known for its search engine, Google has developed a number of products – including Google Books, Google Maps, and Google Translate, to name just a few – all of which expand on the company’s mission to “organize the world’s information and make it universally accessible and useful” – as described by the company itself. On February 1st, 2011, Google launched another such product - the Art Project, an online search platform managed by the Google Cultural Institute, the branch of Google dedicated to “building tools to preserve and promote culture online” with content sourced from over 150 partner museums located in 40 countries. Through the Art Project and the formation of partnerships with museums worldwide, Google has now expanded its services in a way that alters not only the circulation of art images, but also the way that art is viewed. Although museums have been digitizing collections since the 1990s, none of these projects are as comprehensive as the “metamegacollection” of art amassed by Google. Though it appears that access to art is mediated only by the Internet and the computer screen, the Google Art project carefully manages the experience through the systematic organization of the collection, which ultimately provides a standardized viewing experience. This is a process of decontextualization which serves as an equalizing force, negating curatorial control and allowing the art to stand on its own within the confines of the Art Project website. Ultimately, this dissertation seeks to explore the impact of the Art Project on the circulation and consumption of fine art (i.e., moving fine art outside of its traditional museum boundaries).


Lewis Levenberg is working with JP Singh, Denise Albanese, and Sharon Leon to complete his dissertation.  His working title is Banality and Bandwidth: West African Nations' Interventions in Regional Internet Architecture, described in his abstract below: 

This project asks why nation-states would act to influence international network architecture. It seeks to better understand how socio-cultural factors affect technological development. It focuses on case studies from Equatorial West Africa. In this region, internet-building appears concentrated primarily on large-scale backbone networks rather than on proliferation of local computing and networking resources; this is an historically unusual pattern. Additionally, nation-states in the region appear to pursue unexpectedly active roles in the processes of policy-making, international negotiation, and internal governing, confounding their characterizations as weak states. The study combines analyses of regional network data, legal and political archives, and multimedia records to determine how nation-states behave in this context; it is likely to adopt a structural critique to explain why this may be the case. By adding cultural, historical, and geopolitical context to questions of technical detail, this study may provide counter-intuitive insight into the abilities of nation-states to impact an infrastructure that is so often conceived of as global. Solving this puzzle would also allow us to more accurately and holistically understand whose interests are served by current patterns of network development, and whose are sacrificed.


Mika’il Abdullah Petin is working with Jessica Scarlata, Amal Amireh, Tim Gibson, and Mark Hopson to complete his dissertation.  His working title is “‘I’m Not an American: Sovereign Masculinity and Images of Black Muslim Men during the War on Terror,” described in his abstract below:

For most of the country’s history, the presence of Islam in the United States has implied ambivalence towards democracy in the cultural mainstream. Most popular characterizations of Muslims––which Black men in particular have been representative of from the early 1960s until the late 1990s––signified cultural and political dissonance from the margins of U.S. empire. However, it seems that the contentious relationship between the State and the combination of Blackness and Muslimness has changed in the visual culture after September 11th, 2001. The purpose of this research is to discover why does the timing of the U.S.-led War on Terror authorize a sudden national belonging of Muslims. The goal is to learn whether or not these latest representations are discursive instruments of war in popular television and film. This proposed research will draw on a range of related though disparate concepts from visual culture, critical race theory, and feminist theory. With the support of ideas by Stuart Hall, Simone de Beauvoir, Michel Foucault, Judith Butler, Bonnie Mann and others, I will argue that a renewed interest in the nation’s domestic and global policies exists in part because of sovereign masculinity. Additionally, making some sense of the relationship between war and the situation of producing/reproducing masculinities that Black Muslim manhood has somehow become noticeably involved in will answer what is being asked from us through such imaging.


Sara Marie Massee is working with Denise Albanese, Dina Copelman, and Amelia Rutledge to complete her dissertation.  Her working title is “‘The American Historical Imaginary: Discourses of Authenticity and Memory in Mass Culture,” described in her abstract below:

According to Fredric Jameson, late-capitalist America is a land without history, one where meaningless citation of older styles (“pastiche”) has replaced our ability to think about the bearing of the past on the present (1991). Yet Roy Rosenzweig and David P. Thelen have claimed that far from disappearing, history is thriving in America – if we define history to mean engagement with the past through daily practices, such as watching movies with historical settings, conducting genealogical research, or taking photos to preserve memories (1998). American consumption of media set in the past is certainly increasing, as exemplified by the unprecedented viewership achieved by television shows like The Tudors (2007-2010) and Downton Abbey (2010-present). Still, the disparity between Jameson’s and Rosenzweig and Thelen’s conclusions raises questions about what the rising popular interest in historicism means – culturally, socially, politically, and economically.

At the crux of the conflict between Jameson and Rosenzweig and Thelen is a disagreement about what counts as “real” history and whether popular culture is a valid vehicle for it. Indeed, uncertainty about this issue haunts many of the very texts in question, as they negotiate between multiple, often conflicting notions of authenticity. While “authenticity” is a constructed idea and therefore never achievable, discourses of authenticity frequently become enmeshed in other kinds of conflicts since each definition of it implies different standards of historical, social, aesthetic, and  political value.  

My dissertation will explore both the increasing popularity of history and the tension between various discourses of authenticity at work within historicist texts, drawing on memory studies and concepts from medievalism scholarship to make sense of these phenomena. Through an analysis of mass-produced texts depicting three distinct historical locales (Tudor England, colonial America, and the nineteenth- and early twentieth-century British country house) as well as an analysis of journalistic and audience responses to those texts, I will identify the historicist propositions that circulate within mass culture and explore the cultural, social, political, and economic implications of the ideologies that underpin them. I will consider two texts for each era: Showtime’s The Tudors (2007-2010) and the Maryland Renaissance Festival for Renaissance England, Colonial Williamsburg and George Washington’s Mount Vernon for colonial America, and the BBC’s Downton Abbey and two filmed versions of Pride and

Prejudice for the English manor-house. 

This project seeks to re-assess Jameson’s pastiche model in light of alternative media theories and more current examples of mass-produced history. In doing so, it will provide an analysis and a critique of the ideological work that historicist media do, both as a group and individually, according to the period and location they represent. This project will also add to our understanding of historical consciousness by questioning how audiences of mass history understand the texts they consume. Finally, this project will explore why Anglo-American history is so popular in the United States right now and what it means for Americans to consume British heritage media.