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Spring 2018 E-newsletter
• Take-Home Assignment: How Faculty Adapt DPD Program Tools for Their Home Institutions
• DPDF Alumni Lend Their Voices to Global Issues of State Violence Affecting Marginalized Populations
• A Research Matters Excerpt: "From Dossiers to Dissertation: A Profile of Chris Chang"
• DPDF Ecological History Group Marks Five Years of Collaboration

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Take-Home Assignment: How Faculty Adapt DPD Program Tools for Their Home Institutions

The DPD Program's university focus at present is based on its ten-year student research and training fellowship and companion faculty field competition. Indeed, the University Initiative’s two antecedent components have been instrumental in building pedagogical tools for graduate students that are now being adapted creatively by faculty at partner institutions. While these local adaptations are useful as building blocks for the institutions’ programming, they also serve—perhaps just as importantly—as models for how strategies and tools that the DPD Program cultivated over the years can be adapted more broadly. Below, we take a closer look at a couple of examples.

The Application: Not Just a Means to an End

For Sumanth Gopinath, associate professor of music theory at the University of Minnesota and lead faculty of his institution’s Interdisciplinary Dissertation Proposal Development (IDPD) Program, the process of applying to the IDPD Program is a pedagogical exercise in and of itself. He requires all his PhD students to go through the application process “so as to push them to think carefully and critically about their projects.” His motivation? “I saw the way in which DPD participants were forced to think through their work in a remarkably thorough way in the spring and fall workshops; indeed, this was a kind of training that I wish I'd received while in graduate school, and didn't.”

The University of Minnesota and other University Initiative partners modeled their internal DPD Program’s applications after the application for the final year of the SSRC-based student fellowship competition, which ended in 2016. The application’s sections—such as describing your topic for a non-specialist audience and justifying your sites, sources, and methods—intentionally mimicked key components of a proposal to help students think through the structure of their arguments and project design. In using the application with his own PhD students, based in music theory, Gopinath found few differences in how they worked through the challenge in comparison to students across other disciplines with whom he worked in the DPD Program. “The problematization of their thought process was as valuable to them as it was to students in other fields/disciplines, at least as I saw it—asking about the broader purpose of your project, defining it clearly, thinking carefully about methods, etc., is in almost all cases I can imagine a useful activity. The feedback I received was that my students found the process very helpful, which is a good sign!”

His advice to other faculty considering using an application as a pedagogical tool for graduate students? “Have their students apply for the SSRC DPD Program or something like it,” if it exists in their university, and otherwise encourage them to go through some other kind of grant or fellowship application process at this stage in their graduate school careers.

The DPD Workbook: Clarifying Key Elements of Proposal Writing

During the final two years of its student fellowship program, the DPD Program developed a workbook for students to complete in preparation for their initial spring workshop. Based on feedback and observations from students and faculty in previous years, The DPD Workbook was designed to compartmentalize essential elements of a research proposal to help students focus on the content for each element as stepping stones to a full proposal. Grace Peña Delgado, professor of history at the University of California, Santa Cruz, and lead faculty for her institution’s Dissertation Proposal Development (DPD) Program, appreciated how this layout “helps to demystify the more challenging demands of writing a dissertation prospectus to pass one’s PhD comprehensive or qualifying examination.” She also noted that the Workbook can also have a “half-life” for graduate students beyond their advancement to candidacy and in preparation for future grant proposals. “The Workbook can live on in the life of the graduate student because it asks the student to deeply consider the research focus or choice, sources, methods, as well as challenges students to write for general academic audience.”

Back at Santa Cruz, Delgado and her co-lead faculty Miriam Greenberg (professor of sociology) will focus their on-campus DPD workshops on two core aspects of the Workbook: “Defining Your Issue” (geared toward clarifying and justifying students’ topic of focus and research question) and “Explaining Your Choice of Research Focus, Sources, and Methods.” As a complement to the latter section, the workshops will provide unique training opportunities in oral histories and interdisciplinary data management led by an advanced graduate student fellow and library staff at UC Santa Cruz.

In addition to implementing tools like The DPD Workbook on their own campuses, Delgado recommends that faculty “spend time getting to know students’ personal and intellectual motivations that steer their research efforts: What is at stake for them in conducting this research? As academics we are intrinsically and personally driven toward certain topics and perspectives: Likewise, what drives our graduate students?”

For all the resources the DPD Program and campus-based programming can offer, Delgado also implores faculty to think not only about their pedagogical tools but also their pedagogical approaches. “Empower student learning. Create as many peer-learning experiences as possible and avoid long stretches of time where faculty dominate the teaching and conversation. I say this because we often forget that graduate students are best served learning from other graduate students; it is our task to teach and transmit those skills or approaches so that they may be furthered among students.”


DPDF Alumni Lend Their Voices to Global Issues of State Violence Affecting Marginalized Populations

Cover art for recent book publications by DPDF alumni. 

Since its inception, the DPD fellowship program has supported innovative and interdisciplinary dissertation research on the impact of state violence, war, and conflict on marginalized populations. According to the SSRC’s new Understanding Violent Conflict Program, “Today’s violent conflicts are networked and complex, trans-border, and multi-dimensional. While the increasing complexity of violent conflict makes these conflicts particularly prolonged, deadly, and intractable, it poses a particular challenge for those responding to conflict, as the international system remains ill-equipped to respond with adequate frames, analysis, and mandates across borders.” Among numerous scholars around the world formulating informed responses to violent conflicts that disrupt vulnerable populations, three DPDF alumni are contributing to the ongoing worldwide conversation about the complexities of this issue.

Jaime Amparo Alves, a 2009 DPDF recipient in the State Violence research field, recently published The Anti-Black City: Police Terror and Black Urban Life in Brazil with University of Minnesota Press—a March 2018 ethnographic study of São Paulo’s favelas revealing the widespread use of race-based police repression in Brazil. Alves is an activist in the Brazilian Black Movement, an assistant professor of anthropology at the College of Staten Island/CUNY, and an associate researcher at Centro de Estudios Afrodiasporicos (Universidad Icesi) in Colombia. Alves, bringing to bear his deep activism and research background, “delves into the dynamics of racial violence in Brazil, where poverty, unemployment, residential segregation, and a biased criminal justice system create urban conditions of racial precarity.” In an interview with Keisha Blain, senior editor of the African American Intellectual History Society’s blog, Black Perspectives, Alves explains, “The main message I would like to offer in this book is to call for an anthropological sensibility to the question of police terror against Black lives. Although there is a strong record on anthropological/sociological work on policing, there is still a need for a serious engagement with the question of how scholars/activists can ethically respond to police terror when the police kill in name of the preservation of the state of rights.” Alves also discusses his experiences as a Black man, domestic worker, and favelado in São Paulo dealing with the question of “how to create possibilities for Black urban life in a context saturated by police terror and everyday structural violence.”

Marie Berry, A 2010 DPDF fellow in the Interdisciplinary Approaches to the Study of Contentious Politics research field, published a book in March 2018 with Cambridge University Press titled War, Women, and Power: From Violence to Mobilization in Rwanda and Bosnia-Herzegovina. In response to mass violence in the 1990s in Rwanda and Bosnia-Herzegovina, rates of women’s political mobilization increased markedly, a phenomenon which counters the dominant media narrative of women as passive victims in the aftermath of war. Drawing from over 260 interviews with women in Rwanda and Bosnia-Herzegovina, Berry argues that “war can reconfigure gendered power relations by precipitating demographic, economic, and cultural shifts.” However, in Berry’s study, much of the gains women made in increasing their political power did not sustain in a postwar climate. Harvard sociology professor Jocelyn Viterna comments, “Berry traces the process by which the destruction of war pushed women to develop new network ties, new community organizations, and new collective humanitarian projects, which in turn institutionalized new forms of women's political participation.... Berry demonstrates how well-meaning international humanitarian assistance had the surprising and unanticipated consequence of flattening out women's nascent political gains.” Berry is a political sociologist with a research focus on mass violence, gender, and international development currently working as an assistant professor of international comparative politics at the Josef Korbel School of International Studies at the University of Denver, an affiliate of the Sié Chéou-Kang Center for International Security and Diplomacy, and the codirector of the Inclusive Global Leadership Initiative (IGLI).

Yael Berda, a 2009 DPDF fellow in the State Violence research field, is an Israeli human rights lawyer and scholar who is highly engaged in social justice activism and politics in Israel. Berda’s most recent book, published in November 2017 with Stanford University Press, is Living Emergency: Israel’s Permit Regime in the Occupied West Bank. Drawing on her work as a lawyer in Jerusalem representing more than two hundred Palestinian clients trying to obtain labor permits to enter Israel from the West Bank, Berda “offers a first-hand account of how the Israeli secret service, government, and military civil administration control the Palestinian population.” Through interviews with Palestinian laborers and Israeli officials and archival research of governmental organizations, Berda “reconstructs the institutional framework of the labyrinthine permit regime, illuminating both its overarching principles and its administrative practices. In an age where terrorism, crime, and immigration are perceived as intertwined security threats, she reveals how the Israeli example informs global homeland security and border control practices, creating a living emergency for targeted populations worldwide.” Eyal Weizman, professor of spatial and visual cultures at the University of London, says of Berda’s project: “Living Emergency is a groundbreaking analysis of the bureaucracy of occupation. And in Yael Berda, this intricate and obfuscated bureaucracy has met its match: Her meticulous research and brilliant insights call on us all to acknowledge the ways in which the contemporary rule of officials has developed across the globe.” Berda is assistant professor of sociology and anthropology at Hebrew University and recently served as a visiting lecturer on sociology at Harvard during its 2018 winter session.

We hope you will add some of these thought-provoking works by DPDF alumni to your reading list! If you are a DPDF alum and would like to keep us updated on your upcoming projects and publications, please reach out to us at or on Twitter: @ssrcdpd.

A Research Matters Excerpt: "From Dossiers to Dissertation: A Profile of Chris Chang"

Chris Chang interview
Behind the scenes of the interview with Chris Chang at the SSRC office in Brooklyn, NY.

“Each dossier is the life history, as it were, of a person living under socialism,” said Chris Chang. Chang, a fellow in the 2013 research field Critical Approaches to Human Rights, was talking about his dissertation research on the dossier system in China during the Mao Zedong era, from 1949 through 1976. He has now spent the better part of a decade searching out and studying these historical documents, and the research has taken him all over China, connecting him with researchers, librarians, archivists, and document collectors. Chang is now back at his PhD program at Columbia University to complete his dissertation. He took a break from writing to join the Research Matters editors at the SSRC offices in Brooklyn to talk about what he’s working on and his experience as an SSRC fellow (DPDF 2013; IDRF 2014).

To see the full piece by Clare McGranahan (editorial and communications associate for the SSRC Communications team), which discusses Chang’s research inspirations, project progression, and growth as a scholar, visit Research Matters—a digital forum for content related to the SSRC’s fellowship and grant programs.


DPDF Ecological History Group Marks Five Years of Collaboration

by DPDF Ecological History Group 

Ecological History Group Photo
Ecological History directors and group members in Chaska, MN, in spring 2012, from left to right: Zachary Caple, Laura Martin, David Fedman, Nathan Ela, Samuel Dolbee, Jenny Goldstein, Stevan Harrell, Maria Taylor, Paolo Bocci, Caterina Scaramelli, Angelo Caglioti, Timothy Johnson, Gregory Thaler, Peter C. Perdue.

The conservation of a Turkish wetland, the decimation of the Ethiopian cattle herd by rinderpest, the mining of phosphorus for fertilizer in southern Florida, and urban farming in Chicago: although separated in time and space, these moments are not worlds apart—they are parts of a world together. Over the past five years, the DPDF Ecological History Group has been working across disciplinary boundaries to understand how socio-ecological systems form and change over space and time through dynamic interactions of biophysical relations, knowledge, and power. What began as a group of predissertation graduate students today comprises a growing community of postdoctoral scholars and junior faculty. Here, we recount some of our activities since the completion of the Dissertation Proposal Development Fellowship and highlight some of the themes that run through our work.

In spring 2012, under the auspices of the SSRC’s DPDF Program, Professors Stevan Harrell (Anthropology and Environmental and Forest Sciences, University of Washington) and Peter C. Perdue (History, Yale University) brought together 12 early-stage graduate students in Chaska, Minnesota, to forge an interdisciplinary cohort in the field of Ecological History. Aiming at “a systematic understanding of the relationships between humans and natural processes over extended periods of time,” the directors selected students from programs as diverse as History, Anthropology, Natural Resources, and Architecture, with research projects spanning historical periods from the nineteenth century to the present and field sites ranging from the Mesopotamian borderlands to Borneo.

The spring workshop in Chaska was followed by summer fieldwork supported by the SSRC and a fall workshop in Philadelphia. The 2012 program provided extensive support for group members to define their dissertation proposals, framed by the development of a common set of concepts for researching ecological history, focused especially on questions of historical and geographical scale and the dynamics of socio-ecological systems.

The friendships and conversations that began in 2012 have continued and deepened over the ensuing five years through informal meetings and periodic formal group events, including a symposium in Seattle in April 2016 and a workshop at Yale University in October 2017. These events have provided foci for renewing contact among group members and forging new directions in our collective understanding of ecological history.

Want to read more? The extended version of this research group’s report on their continued collaboration is available on Research Matters, a digital forum for content related to the SSRC’s fellowship and grant programs.