2020 Faculty Fellows
The Humanities Center Congratulates Our 2020-2021 Faculty Fellows
The Humanities Center offers its warmest congratulations to our 2020-2021 Faculty Fellows, Dr. Lauren Miller Griffith, Assistant Professor of Anthropology, and Dr. Christopher J. Smith, Professor and Chair of Musicology. With these competitive fellowships, the Humanities Center will sponsor these faculty members' release from scheduled teaching for the Spring 2021 semester so that they may devote more time to major research projects. Please see our fellows' biographies and project descriptions below.
Junior Faculty Fellow: Dr. Lauren Miller Griffith, Anthropology
Lauren Miller Griffith, Ph.D., is an Assistant Professor of Anthropology at Texas Tech University. She studies performance and tourism in Latin America and the U.S. Specifically, she focuses on the Afro-Brazilian martial art capoeira and how non-Brazilian practitioners use travel to Brazil to increase their legitimacy within this genre. Her work on capoeira has been published in Annals of Tourism Research, the Journal of Sport and Tourism, and Theatre Annual and she is the author of In Search of Legitimacy: How Outsiders Become Part of the Afro-Brazilian Capoeira Tradition (Berghahn Books 2016). Her second book, titled Apprenticeship Pilgrimage (with Jonathan S. Marion), was published in January of 2018 (Lexington Books). Dr. Griffith's newest work is on the relationship between globalized art forms and locally focused civic engagement.
The dominant discourse surrounding capoeira, a now-global Afro-Brazilian martial art, is that it was created by enslaved Africans as a means of physically and psychologically resisting oppression. The circulation of this discourse has become an important part of contemporary praxis, and many capoeira groups in the U.S. have a distinct emphasis on social justice in the way they run their academies and in the causes they support. Through interviews, participant observation, and analysis of social media posts, I have seen that capoeira can be a complement to one's existing social justice orientation, a catalyst for becoming more involved in social justice, and a potential cure for certain societal ills. My newest book, tentatively titled Graceful Resistance: The Appropriate Appropriation of Capoeira (under advance contract with the University of Illinois Press), will examine capoeira as a form of something I call performative resistance. In this text, I will argue that for many Americans, capoeira is more than "mere" leisure, it is a way of bringing about social change. I will use my fellowship from the Humanities Center to finish drafting my manuscript.
Senior Faculty Fellow: Dr. Christopher J. Smith, Musicology
Dr. Christopher J. Smith is Professor and Chair of Musicology and founding director of the Vernacular Music Center at the Texas Tech University School of Music. He holds degrees from the University of Massachusetts and Indiana University Bloomington. His research interests are in American and African-American Music, 20th Century Music, oral-tradition music & dance idioms, improvisation, music and politics, and performance practice. He has published essays, articles, and book chapters on these and related topics since 1992. His monograph The Creolization of American Culture: William Sidney Mount and the Roots of Blackface Minstrelsy (Illinois) won the 2015 Irwin F Lowens Award from the Society for American Music, and his newest book Dancing Revolution: Bodies, Space, and Sound in American Cultural History (Illinois, 2019) won an Earle H Johnson subvention, also from SAM. He is the founder and music director of the Elegant Savages Orchestra, a "symphonic folk" ensemble, and serves as a lead artist, music director, and house composer for the Bassanda Project, a movement & music collaboration with modern dance chore ographer Nicole Wesley (Texas State University). As an instrumentalist, he concertizes on Irish bouzouki, tenor banjo, button accordion, slide guitar, saz, lute, gittern, Turkish lavta, and percussion. He is also a former nightclub bouncer, line cook, carpenter, lobster fisherman, and oil-rig roughneck, and a published poet.
I will be using my fellowship for work on the forthcoming monograph, Labor, Energy, and Data: A Music History of the Anthropocene, co-authored with Thomas Irvine. Cultural exchange in the era of the Global Modern has been driven by pivotal moments in the history of technology: new communications (printing, mass production, electricity, digital technology), weapons, and modes of transport (wind, steam, coal, diesel, nuclear) have enabled exploration, colonization, and appropriation since the invention of the printing press. For example, the explosion of activity and achievement in Enlightenment empirical knowledge is exactly concurrent with the Ages of Exploration and Colonization. Cheap and lucrative new knowledge happened because exploration sought to mine assets. For the scholar, the Global South was a source of readily-available and -claimable zones of new expertise and "learning," and—later in the period—for the most decent-minded of the scholars, a race against time to "preserve" knowledge, species, and phenomena whose environmental survival was being eroded by industrialization. Yet at the same time the opportunity for face-to-face and hand-to-hand exchange—sharing a cooking ingredient, a musical idea, or an idea about worship—was mostly or entirely unrecorded in conventional histories. What is thus proposed is a rereading of the "secret history of cultural exchange(s)" as a series of watershed encounters, when new technologies, and the geopolitical advantages they conferred, had the additional and unexpected result of accelerating the exchange of expressive culture. Though a product of the opportunism, power-imbalance, appropriation, and suppression of the Ages of Exploration and Colonization, that exchange of expressive culture would transform the modern world, and shape 500 years within the history of the Anthropocene.