2019-20: Energy

The Society for the Humanities at Cornell University seeks interdisciplinary research projects for residential fellowships that reflect on the theme of energy, its past, present, and futures.

Coming from the Greek energeia – work, activity, performance, force – and now synonymous with life and liveliness, verve and vitality, energy underlies the productive forces that animate the natural and social worlds as they scale from the macro- to the microcosm: from the music of the planets to dance, poetry, and art; from political movements to modes of labor (whether physical, mental, emotional, or mechanical); from the forces of history up to the carbon age and climate change.

In artistic expression, energy marks the ability to have an effect, to make things move: whether rhetorically by a turn of phrase, musically by organization and modulation of sound, or performatively in the coordination of words and bodies in space. Consider the ‘energy’ of a performance, the je ne sais quoi that sets one artwork, one interpretation, one version apart from others. In the social sphere, energy lies at the heart of labor power, whether human or machine, physical or mental, as well as in the multiple forms of unacknowledged labor: the energy invested in emotional, domestic, undocumented, or poorly paid work. Energy also fuels the political ideas that move people into the streets, to assemble and stand opposed – from #blacklivesmatter and #metoo to labor and equal rights movements. Finally, energy is bound up with mental life: from Freud’s energetic model of the psychic apparatus to the forces behind magical practices, magnetism, rituals, and religions – forces both immaterial and material that span the globe.

In its most timely inquiry, the issue of energy runs up against climate change. From carbon-based and nuclear sources of fuel to renewables such as solar and wind, our modes of dwelling on and sharing the planet (not only with fellow humans) require sustained reflections on energy: its history, uses, and abuses; its relation to ‘progress’ and colonialism; its futures as well as its costs. At stake in the question of energy are not only its political and economical valences, but also the social and cultural forces – the values, beliefs, attitudes, and images that shape our global past, present, and future.

More on Energy


Image: Daniel Zeller, Deregulated Uncontainment, 2007, ink and acrylic on paper; courtesy of the artist


Invited Society Scholars:
Kathi Weeks (Professor of Gender, Sexuality & Feminist Studies, Duke University)
Dominic Boyer (Director of CENHS-Center for Energy and Environmental Research in the Human Sciences, Professor of Anthropology, Rice University)
Cymene Howe (Associate Director of the Center for the Study of Women, Gender & Sexuality, Associate Professor of Anthropology, Rice University)
Brent Hayes Edwards (Professor of English & Comparative Literature and Jazz Studies, Columbia University)

Society Fellows:
Mary Grace Albanese (English, Binghamton University)
Yu-Fang Cho (English, Women's Gender & Sexuality Studies, Miami University of Ohio)
Willie Hiatt (History, Long Island University)
Dana E. Powell (Anthropology, Appilachian State University)
Ariel Ron (History, Southern Methodist University)
Erin Soros (Literature, Psychoanalysis, Creative Writing, University of Toronto)
Alena J. Williams (Visual Arts, University fo California, San Diego)

Faculty Fellows
Catherine M. Appert (Music)
Lori Khatchadourian (Near Eastern Studies)
Athena Kirk (Classics)
Rachel Prentice (Science & Technology Studies)

Jewish Studies Fellow
James Adam Redfield (Theological Studies, Saint Louis University)

Cornell Mellon Graduate Fellows
Alexandra Dalferro (Anthropology)
Samantha Wesner (History)

Mellon Post-Doctoral Fellows
Hannah LeBlanc (Science & Technology Studies)
Jon Ander Mendia (Linguistics)
Joan Lubin (English)
Amy Chun Kim (History of Art)