Institute for the Arts and Humanities

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Postdoctoral/MFA Fellowship

Postdoctoral/ MFA Fellowship: 2015-16

For artists and humanists, these are extraordinary times: our sense of “the human” is undergoing remarkable transformations, with implications for the future of all life on the planet. But has “humanism” been part of the problem all along? How should we think differently–about the biosphere and the social world–if we are going to avoid realizing our deepest dystopian fears?

The Penn State IAH welcomes applications from scholars and artists who have received their terminal degrees (PhDs in the humanities, MFAs in the fine and performing arts, Masters or beyond in design fields such as architecture) within the past three years (after May 1, 2011). Terminal degrees must be in hand by July 1, 2015. Applications should include a CV, contact information for two references, a project description of 1000 words, and (for applicants in the arts or design) a hyperlink or other access to a digital portfolio. The fellowship stipend is $46,000 plus benefits and a $4,000 research fund. An office will be provided at the Institute. The successful candidate will be asked to teach a course, lead a faculty/graduate student research group, and/or organize a symposium. Further, it is expected that the fellow will take part in the intellectual life of campus by working with faculty and students, attending symposia and events, and contributing to meetings and discussions presented by IAH.

All application materials must be submitted through by January 16, 2015.

For more information, call (814) 865-0495 or write to

Employment will require successful completion of background check(s) in accordance with University policies. Penn State is committed to affirmative action, equal opportunity and the diversity of its workforce.

2014-15 IAH Postdoctoral Fellow

Heather Davis
"Plastic: An Ethology of Oil"

Dr. Davis received her Ph.D. from Concordia University in 2011. She is currently a Visiting Scholar in Aesthetics and Politics at the California Institute of the Arts and a Visiting Scholar in the Program in Experimental Critical Theory at UCLA; in 2012-13, she was a Postdoctoral Fellow in Women’s Studies at Duke University. Dr. Davis’s dissertation was titled “Art That Loves People: Relational Subjectivity in Community-Based Art.” Her current project represents a radically new direction for her work, and seeks to contribute to debates over the role of human activity in the so-called Anthropocene epoch, in which humans have arguably become capable of changing the biosphere as a whole.

Dr. Davis describes the project as follows:

Plastic is the ultimate sealant, providing a barrier for everything from food to computers to table tops. The first plastic, Bakelite, was created in 1907 and patented in 1909 by Leo Baekeland, who called it the “material of a thousand uses” and used the mathematical symbol of infinity as a trademark. Indeed, because plastic has been engineered to take the form of– and, supposedly, replace– any other object (miming the properties of everything from silk to ivory), it has often been understood as a substance without essence. But the commonplace idea that plastic is infinitely malleable is deceptive. In its first iterations, synthetic polymers were hard, brittle substances, and even now plasticizers are needed to make plastics pliable. Once the polymer bonds of plastic are produced, they remain recalcitrant in the face of change. A plastic product might break down into smaller and smaller pieces, but the molecules themselves remain the same. Plastic is a substance that stubbornly refuses to decompose, profoundly affecting and accumulating in its environment but never yielding to that environment’s influence.

New research on the relationship of plastic to the environment shows that microplastics have become the anthropogenic substrate for a diverse ecology of bacteria floating in the ocean, termed the ‘plastisphere’ (Zettler, Mincer and Amaral-Zettler 2013). What these findings suggest is that try as we might through philosophy and chemical engineering to escape the bonds of the earth, we are inextricably part of its endless processes of mutation and evolution.

Plastic has been a subject of discussion in a wide range of fields; however, the connection with the history of philosophy, specifically as the structure of synthetic polymers relate to the idea of autonomous identity, remains vastly underexplored. This interdisciplinary study will address the philosophic, aesthetic and material fallout of plastic, with particular attention to the transformation of ideas into matter. It draws upon the disciplines of environmental humanities, philosophy, cultural studies, and science and technology studies.

2013-14 IAH Postdoctoral Fellows

Craig Eley Craig Eley
“Hearing Humans Hearing Nature”

Craig Eley earned his Ph.D. in American Studies from the University of Iowa. His project while at the IAH is "Hearing Humans Hearing Nature," which comes out of research for his recently completed dissertation, "Making Silence Audible: Sound, Nature, Technology, 1890-1970." That project focuses on the history of commercially released environmental sound recordings and their impact within a broad range of technological and cultural practices, including film sound, museum display, ornithology, psychoacoustics, experimental music, and environmental activism. He is currently working on expanding and transforming portions of that dissertation into a digital humanities project on the history of the sonic boom. He is also working on Field Noise, an online commons for sound studies research and pedagogy.

In the spring semester, Craig will teach a class called "The Nature of Sound / The Sound of Nature," which will be a historical and theoretical inquiry into how humans have historically defined "natural" sounds and their relationship to them. In addition to traditional coursework, the class will include the opportunity for students to engage with and critically examine contemporary environmental sound practices such as field recording and sound walking.

Craig Eley's Class

Ida Meftahi Ida Meftahi
"Body National in Motion"

Ida Meftahi earned her Ph.D. in Near and Middle Eastern Civilizations from the University of Toronto, and holds a Master’s in Dance from York University, Canada. Ida has presented and published in fields ranging from Iranian and Middle Eastern Studies to Dance Studies.

During Ida's fellowship, she will be co- organizing a lecture series on Tehran, while developing a book built upon her Ph.D. dissertation. Through a transdisciplinary historiographical exploration of the dancing body, and discourse on dance in the twentieth-century Iran, Ida's research offers a genealogy of modern Iranian biopolitics and the political economy of public performance and entertainment.

In the spring semester, Ida will teach an interdisciplinary historical course on the performing arts in the Middle East. Utilizing literature on history and the performing arts of the Middle East; the pertinent theoretical perspectives on nationalism, modernity, gender and representation; and a variety of multimedia materials, the course will encourage the students to question and possibly revisit their understanding of the region.

Ida Meftahi's Class


View Past IAH Fellows