HRC Postdoctoral Research Fellows 2018-19

Zhishuang Chen, Language and Linguistic Science

I completed my PhD in the Department of Linguistics in 2017. My research focuses on the directional serial verb constructions in Mandarin Chinese. These constructions are used to express directed motion events. They involve one verb denoting manner of motion/displacement, such as zou ‘walk’ and song ‘send’, and one or two verbs indicating the direction/path of the motion, such as lai ‘come (indicating the direction is towards the speaker)’. For example, song lai tang (literally: send come soup) express the idea ‘bring the soup’. I investigated a series of syntactic and semantic characteristics of these constructions, including various word order alternations allowed by these constructions and the semantic differences among the alternations. More importantly, I developed a theory, which integrates the ideas of two influential syntactic frameworks (Minimalism and Neo-constructionism) to account for these findings.

During the fellowship I will develop certain chapters of my thesis into papers. Besides, I will expand the empirical coverage of my theory by looking at some languages which also adopt serial verbs (e.g. Cantonese and Min). I will compare the serial verb constructions in these languages and the ones in Mandarin in terms of their word orders, interpretations and restrictions in usage. Another interesting direction I would like to explore is the English Verb-Particle constructions, which contain a verb and a particle, e.g. turn on. In these constructions, the object of the verb can potentially occur after the verb or the particle (e.g. turn on the TV, turn the TV on). This feature is similar to a word order alternation found in Mandarin directional serial verbs: the object can follow either the first verb or the second verb (e.g. ‘send come soup’ and ‘send soup come’). It would be fascinating to further investigate the other similarities between the two constructions and work out a unified analysis to explain the behaviour of the two constructions. 

Harriet Evans, Centre for Medieval Studies

I am a medievalist, working at the intersection of textual and material culture in the North Atlantic with a specific focus on animals and the animal-human interactions exhibited in the constructed spaces of medieval Iceland. I completed my PhD at the Centre for Medieval Studies in 2017, and the primary aim of my work under this Fellowship is to complete a monograph of my doctoral research. This monograph, which is currently titled: Animals and humans in the shared spaces of Viking Age and Medieval Iceland, is an interdisciplinary study of domestic animals in the Old Norse-Icelandic world, and the first research on animals in Old Norse literature to focus explicitly on the spaces of animal-human relations.

In my post-doctoral research, I want to bring together medieval animal studies and translation studies to examine the links between embodied, connected societies and the formation and transmission of ideas about animals. During this Fellowship, I aim to prepare the groundwork for this larger research project on the translation of medieval texts, as well as expand my thesis research on the legal categorisation of animals in Old Norse texts and consider cross-cultural comparisons with other medieval laws. While based at the HRC, I also hope to develop a seminar series in the Spring comparable to the work of the Leeds Animal Studies Network at the University of Leeds, with a specific focus on interdisciplinary, cross-period discussion of animals and humans in the humanities.

Leah Hsiao, History of Art

I completed my PhD in the department of History of Art in 2018. My thesis was about the Chinese-American architect I. M. Pei, where I used four case studies to examine the representation of identity and the language of architecture. My interest in Pei started from his connection to the Bauhaus legacy, as Pei was a student of Walter Gropius at Harvard Graduate School of Design between 1942 and 1946. Alongside my research on Pei’s museum projects, I have been developing my interest in the Bauhaus and its legacy by engaging with several research projects and publications during the years of my PhD.

During the HRC fellowship, I will combine my interests in Pei and the Bauhaus, and examine the trajectory of modernism and the Bauhaus legacy particularly in the Oriental culture. To do so, I will focus on two projects that Gropius was involved with, one of which related to Pei’s graduate project in 1946, which was supervised by Gropius. I expect my research to first develop into two journal articles, which will have the potential to become book chapters later on. Besides this, I will also further my research on Pei and the Bauhaus through different conference opportunities and relevant publications.

Patrick Jones, Music

I am a composer, and completed my practice-as-research doctorate in 2018. My submission was a portfolio of nine original scores written for varying combinations of acoustic instruments (from duet to symphony orchestra) and intended for concert hall performances. These were accompanied by a commentary that discussed the music in terms of a series of dialectical relationships: motion and stasis; line and circle; continuity and discontinuity; change and repetition; unity and disunity; transition and juxtaposition. The pairs helped to illustrate the process of exploring a wide range of formal possibilities, and in particular how my approach to structure changed from piece to piece. All the music in the portfolio is linked by its engagement with the question of how to construct an abstract narrative with sound, but each individual work approaches this question in different ways.

During my time as an HRC Postdoctoral Fellow, I will continue to explore the musical manifestations of these ideas in a piece for the Berkeley Ensemble, which will be performed in London later in the year, as well as work on a number of projects with postgraduate musicians at the university. I am also keen to meet other researchers at the HRC and discuss potential future collaborations.

Simon Quinn, History

I completed my doctorate in the department of History at the beginning of 2018. My doctoral research draws on an extensive corpus of soldiers’ narratives from the British military’s campaigns in Egypt between 1798 and 1801 to explore how this unprecedented moment of cultural contact was perceived and narrated by men of diverse backgrounds from across the British Isles. It makes a significant contribution to recent work on ‘military orientalism’, a term coined by Patrick Porter to describe how ‘Western’ military commentators have viewed ‘Eastern’ modes of warfare.

I am immensely grateful for the opportunity to continue exploring this topic with the HRC Postdoctoral Fellowship. During the fellowship period I will prepare two sections of my thesis for publication in journals and develop a larger project and monograph British military encounters and the First Global War. This will consider British soldiers’ experiences in lesser known European and non-European campaigns in Holland, Denmark and various Mediterranean islands, as well as Egypt, Southern Africa, South America and the Caribbean. Together, this work will contribute to the new cultural history of the Revolutionary and Napoleonic Wars, locating the experiences of the hundreds of thousands of British soldiers who fought in these wars in their full global context.

Anna Reynolds, English and Related Literature

‌My PhD thesis ‘Privy Tokens: Wastepaper in Early Modern England’ investigated the relationship between waste paper as material practice and as figurative resource in the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries. I situated case studes of extant waste paper alongside the tropes and metaphors in a range of texts, and argued that these paradoxically ephemeral and enduring objects offered their readers and users a powerful ‘matterphor’ or ‘emblem’ with which to frame the world and their place within it. With the support of library fellowships from Durham University, the Bibliographical Society, the Harry Ransom Center, Princeton, and Marsh’s Library, I am currently undertaking detailed surveys of the binding waste in a number of early modern libraries. This will result in the first broad overview of early modern binding waste, and will allow me to outline a detailed chronology and pattern of repurposing old and unwanted pages.

During the HRC fellowship I will publish this overview of early modern binding waste and begin work on my postdoctoral project ‘Paper Fragments: A History of the Archive’. Focusing on the books, manuscripts, and papers of Anthony Wood (1632-1695) and the collecting practices of the ‘biblioclast and shoemaker’ John Bagford (1650/51-1716), I will trace a cultural biography of the archive in seventeenth-century England, exploring Wood’s and Bagford’s collections within the context of the metaphors and theories of the archive circulating in the period.

Charlotte Rowley, Archaeology

Early prehistoric archaeology (in my case focusing on the middle stone age, the Mesolithic, in particular) covers huge time period spans and very diverse, geographically dispersed evidence. Some sites are mere stone artefact scatters while others are huge palimpsests with evidence of structures and, in Europe, even some of the earliest known examples of cemeteries. My research focuses on how we can learn more about some of the more challenging or ephemeral sites using a combination of artefact analyses, soil science and spatial statistics.

At almost every Mesolithic site, regardless of its overall nature, it is likely there will be a stone artefact assemblage and the soils or sediments the archaeology is deposited in, so my research aims to make the most out of these two material resources. During my PhD, I worked on two Early Mesolithic sites, Flixton Island 2 and Star Carr, in the Vale of Pickering, Yorkshire. I considered the lithic assemblages and conducted geochemical analyses on the associated sediments: at Star Carr, to learn more about the structure evidenced there visually in the form of post-holes; at Flixton Island 2, to try to make sense of the dense ‘carpet’ of artefacts that had no clear patterning in deposition and no features to suggest how the site was being lived in. The two material datasets were considered together using a range of visualisation and analysis methods in SPSS and ArcGIS.

I plan to use the time during my HRC fellowship to publish the data generated during my PhD as well as working on a small pilot study analysing soils from two other, slightly later and in some ways more complex Mesolithic sites from elsewhere in Britain. This will clearly establish how the methodology generated during my PhD can be applied at these sites as well as feeding into and potentially challenging the understanding of them currently. The aim is to further develop the methods for accessing site-specific histories that is crucially needed if we are to understand how Mesolithic sites were used and dwelled in, and how that changed throughout the period, whilst avoiding forcing them into restrictive typological frameworks. 

Roderik Smits, Theatre, Film and Television

I am interested in the role of cultural gatekeepers in film and media industries. In the past four years, I examined the business of film distribution to analyse how gatekeepers such as sales agents and distribution companies exert control over the process of enabling and disabling access to films in international markets, well beyond the national or domestic markets within which they originate. I am currently developing a new research project to explore how new forms of cultural gatekeeping create opportunities for a greater diversity of films to secure distribution through online outlets across a spectrum of Video-on-Demand (VOD) platforms, such as Amazon, Netflix and MUBI, and therefore for audiences to have greater choice and increased access to a wider range of films.

The HRC Postdoctoral Research Fellowship will allow me to complete a monograph entitled Gatekeeping in the Evolving Business of Independent Film Distribution, which is under contract with Palgrave Macmillan for publication in 2019. I am also a project member of the AHRC-funded research project Beyond the Multiplex: Audiences for Specialised Film in English Regions, with teams from the Universities of York, Glasgow, Sheffield and Liverpool.

Elisabeth Thorsson, Philosophy

My research focuses mainly on the Early Modern period and the philosophy of John Locke. I have recently completed my PhD on Locke’s concept of reason here at York, in which I defended a thesis that Locke’s conception of the human reason is more aligned with Platonism than the instrumentalism introduced into 17th century thought by Hobbes. The HRC Postdoctoral Research Fellowship will allow me to develop aspects of this. I am currently re-working a paper I presented at the inaugural international John Locke Society conference in Oxford this summer. The paper derives from my thesis and is entitled ‘Revisiting Locke’s Thinking Matter: A Third Way?’ which argues that Locke cannot be seen as either a materialist nor a dualist of the mind. 

I am also interested in the relation between Locke and Lady Damaris Masham, who was the daughter of the Cambridge Platonist Ralph Cudworth. In this work, I aim to reconstruct the discussions that would have taken place between Locke and Damaris after the year 1690 – when they shared a household. This research I will conduct by looking at their respective correspondences to other people in that period, and how these topics and discussion could have been reflected in their work. This will be illuminating work both for Locke-scholarship, and for our knowledge and understanding of the intellectual life of Damaris, and their mutual influence on each other.