Dean for Research awards emphasize innovation in the social sciences

Monday, Apr 23, 2018
by Catherine Zandonella, Office of the Dean for Research

Innovation Fund for New Ideas in the Social Sciences

This fund encourages innovation and scholarship on enduring questions through the development of new ideas, working groups, conferences, technologies or other scholarly work. The funded projects are:

Workshop on historical systemic collapse

Today's increasingly interdependent systems — of agriculture, hydrology, electricity, finance, epidemiology, infrastructure and other facets of civilization — elevate the risk that a failure in one area could lead to systemic failure in multiple areas. The goal of this project is to study historical collapses to gain insights that can be applied to the goal of preventing future catastrophic outcomes.

Although historical failures may lack the level of global integration of today's systems, many of the elements are the same, according to project leader Miguel Centeno, the Musgrave Professor of Sociology and professor of sociology and international affairs. Centeno and colleagues in the Woodrow Wilson School for International and Public Affairs will convene two workshops to bring together historians and social scientists from within the University and from around the world to discuss systemic collapse on ecological and social levels.

Through a glass darkly: Depicting alchemical change from 1400 to 1700

This project aims to bring together historians of science and art to explore the craft of alchemy and its practitioners in early modern Europe. Alchemical imagery is rich with fantastical green lions, red toads and other objects. These images provide the starting point for exploring how alchemists sought to understand the nature of chemical transformations — what we now call “reactions.” Alchemists went beyond simple mechanistic explanations to encompass theological and medical debates about the relationship between body and soul, visible and invisible, and other profound questions.

Through this project, Jennifer Rampling, assistant professor of history, seeks to connect the history of alchemy to broader intellectual and cultural conceptions of change in early modern Europe, by bringing together evidence from alchemical images, texts, archaeological evidence and experimental reconstructions conducted in laboratories. The result will be a monograph, a conference and an exhibition aimed at bringing to a wider audience the early modern struggle to master the outward properties of matter and its inner mysteries.