Of Cultural, Poetic, and Medial Alterity: The Scholarship, Poetry, Photographs, and Films of Edward Sapir, Ruth Fulton Benedict, and Margaret Mead
PhD Research Grant
We are offering a PhD position, starting in August 2014.
Apart from the work on individual projects, there will be regular colloquia with the project team and conferences with network partners. Prospective graduate students will receive a three-year grant from the Swiss National Science Foundation; they will need to become members of the “Doktoratsprogramm Literaturwissenschaft” at the University of Basel and will be supervised by Prof. Philipp Schweighauser.
Successful candidates must have an excellent MA in English or equivalent. In order to apply, please send a CV with copies of your diploma, a letter of motivation and a writing sample (for example a chapter of your MA-thesis of 15 to 30 pages) to Prof. Philipp Schweighauser by January 1, 2014.
"Of Cultural, Poetic, and Medial Alterity: The Scholarship, Poetry, Photographs, and Films of Edward Sapir, Ruth Fulton Benedict, and Margaret Mead" is a 3-year research project that brings together literary scholars and cultural anthropologists to explore convergences between three types of alterity: cultural alterity (the otherness of the cultures anthropologists study), poetic alterity (the use of poetry in anthropological investigation), and medial alterity (the use of then non-conventional media such as photographs and films in anthropological investigation) in the work of three preeminent cultural anthropologists: Sapir, Benedict, and Mead, who conceptualized 'culture' and 'cultural relativism,' two of the most influential concepts in the 20th c. social sciences.
Out of the three, it is Mead who has become famous for experimenting with media other than the standard ethnographic text already in the 1930s, particularly photography and film. What is less known is that, together, our three anthropologists wrote over 500 poems, dedicated poems to one another, and published a good number of them in renowned literary magazines such as The Dial and Poetry. This prolific, collaborative poetic output, much of which engages with the objects of the writers' anthropological investigations, makes them a unique group in the history of 20th-century Cultural Anthropology: they were the only anthropologists of the era that left a sizeable (yet sorely understudied) body of poetry. Along with their ethnographic writings and relevant selections from Mead's ethnographic films and photographs, these texts and (audio)visual media form the corpus of our research project.
To date, neither our anthropologists' poems nor Mead's photographs and films have been the subjects of a sustained study: previous literary scholarship has analyzed but a fraction of the poems, largely from biographical perspectives that are in danger of reducing the poems to their authors' personal lives, and most of Mead's photographs and films still linger unexamined in the Library of Congress (LoC). The current project proposes to close this gap by asking what difference it makes whether one evokes the cultural Other in standard expository ethnographic prose, in poetic language, or in (what used to be) non-conventional media of ethnographic representation such as celluloid and photographic prints. In tackling this question, we present the first sustained study of Sapir's, Benedict's, and Mead's poetic oeuvres; make an important, canon-revising intervention in the history of US modernism as well as the 20th -century history of anthropology; and propose a reassessment of Mead's role in the development of visual anthropology that takes into account the aesthetic/aisthetic nature of her work.