April 29, 1999
Vol. 18 No. 15

current issue
archive / search

    Seven faculty members receive Guggenheims

    Seven University faculty members received 1999 Guggenheim fellowships in the 75th annual United States and Canadian competition sponsored by the John Simon Guggenheim Memorial Foundation.

    Six Chicago professors and one visiting lecturer received funding based on distinguished achievement in the past and exceptional promise for future accomplishment.

    The 1999 Chicago faculty Guggenheim fellows are: Neil Harris, the Preston and Sterling Morton Professor in History; Robert Hooper, Visiting Lecturer in Art; David Jablonski, Professor in Geophysical Sciences; Ketan Mulmuley, Professor in Computer Science; Robert Nelson, Professor in Art History; Bruce Winstein, the Samuel K. Allison Distinguished Service Professor in Physics; and Wu Hung, the Harrie A. Vanderstappen Distinguished Service Professor in Art History.

    The 1999 fellowship winners, announced by Guggenheim Foundation President Joel Conarroe, include 179 artists, scholars and scientists selected from nearly 2,800 applicants for awards totaling $6,062,000.

    Conarroe said the institution that receives the most fellowships in a competition varies from year to year. “Chicago did extremely well. It was clearly Chicago’s year,” said Conarroe, referring to the seven fellows selected from the University, more than any other academic institution in the competition.

    Decisions are based on recommendations from hundreds of expert advisors and are approved by the foundation’s board of trustees, which includes three new members who are themselves past Guggenheim fellows––Joyce Carol Oates, Wendy Wasserstein and Ellen Taaffe Zwilich.

    The 1999 fellows include writers, painters, sculptors, photographers, filmmakers, choreographers, physical and biological scientists, social scientists and scholars in the humanities. Chicago’s new Guggenheim winners are a diverse group of scholars whose fellowship projects represent a wide variety of academic endeavors.

    Reflecting his interest in architecture and material culture, Harris will be using support from his Guggenheim fellowship to prepare a history of urban newspaper buildings.

    “Working from a census of several hundred notable structures, I hope to recover the place of the newspaper in the downtowns of America during their glory years,” Harris said.

    He published a book titled Building Lives earlier this year that examines the life cycle of buildings and their ceremonies.

    Hooper paints images that convey what he calls “the constructive consequences of doubt.” His Guggenheim fellowship will allow him to concentrate even more intensely on painting.

    Formulating a dialectical schema from painting’s conventions, codes and rhetoric, Hooper said his work “yields the participatory viewer a chiasma, an experiential form, in which the rational and subjective are synthesized at the moment of reading––the formal and the psychological are spanned, yoked and made manifest.”

    Hooper said he feels especially honored to receive the Guggenheim because it is a memorial grant, a concept that makes the award particularly pertinent for him. Currently, his work is shown at the Genovese/Sullivan Gallery in Boston.

    Jablonski will focus on writing a book that describes his views of how evolution works. The fellowship will enable him to meet with paleontologists and examine specimens at the Smithsonian Institution in Washington, D.C., and the British Museum in London.

    Jablonski’s specialty is macroevolution, which takes place above the species level. Macroevolution encompasses large-scale patterns of evolution, mass extinctions, diversifications and the origin of evolutionary breakthroughs.

    Evolution takes place on a variety of levels, Jablonski maintains, from molecules within cells, to bodies within populations, to species within lineages. “Traditionally, evolutionary biologists have focused on the bodies-within-populations level, and obviously that’s important,” he said. “But my book is about how there are processes operating on all levels that can impinge on the other levels.”

    Mulmuley will travel to India during his fellowship year to work with Milind Sohoni of the Indian Institute of Technology in Bombay. There they will continue a collaboration to develop a novel, algebraic-geometry-based approach to answering questions in computational complexity theory, which is the mathematical foundation of computer science.

    Mulmuley is investigating questions that originated in the theory of NP-completeness, which tries to identify a vast range of problems that cannot be solved efficiently by computers in fields ranging from physics to economics. Some existing mathematical conjectures suggest that a certain class of problems, such as the so-called NP-complete problems, cannot be solved efficiently by computers, but these conjectures seem very hard to prove at present.

    “No one had suspected that these questions coming out of the highly practical domain of computer science would have any links with deep areas of mathematics,” Mulmuley said. “That to me has been a real surprise that we found in our work.”

    Nelson’s project, “Remember Holy Wisdom: Hagia Sophia, Medieval Church and Modern Monument,” will study ethnic, national and religious groups’ attitudes that have transformed buildings into monuments. The Hagia Sophia in Istanbul, Turkey, holds significance for both Christians and Muslims in the region and is a cultural symbol as well. It has been a church and a mosque, and today, is a museum.

    “I am doing a case study of the reception of Byzantine art and architecture. How it was appreciated in the Middle Ages and in the modern period and why,” he said.

    Nelson will study the original Hagia Sophia and a Parisian copy of it, as well as replicas in the United States. His research will result in a book that will explore the social roles and representations that monuments play in society.

    Most scholars spend their sabbaticals working on projects related to their specialties, but Winstein is taking a different approach. He will devote the next academic year to learning all he can about a field of astrophysics quite different from his specialty in high-energy physics.

    Winstein will be working on cosmic microwave background radiation detectors with a Princeton University research group headed by David Wilkinson. Scientists study CMB radiation, the afterglow from the big bang, for information about the physical conditions in the early universe.

    “I’ve told them that I’m willing to do anything that is needed for the project. I’m very happy that they will accept me in their group, given that they shouldn’t expect any deep contributions. I’m just going to try to learn about this exciting new field,” Winstein said. “I believe that this experience will make me a better scientist, even if I return to doing high-energy physics.”

    Wu will spend the next academic year in China examining the transformation of Chinese culture from the traditional period to the modern period by investigating the changing conception and representation of ruins during the 4,000 years of the country’s history.

    Referring to his project, Wu said, “Theoretically speaking, it will reexamine the concepts of modernity and contemporaneity in the Chinese contexts. It will study the creation and use of a wide range of visual images, including pictorial, architectural, photographic and installational images, thereupon expanding the scope of inquiries in art history and visual culture.”

    The book he plans to produce will present a chronological history of Chinese visual culture from antiquity to the present and will help build a foundation for dialogues in his field. Wu will make Beijing University his base and will travel to historic ruins in several cities, including Hong Kong.

    According to Conarroe, since 1925, the foundation has granted more than $185 million in fellowships to nearly 15,000 individuals.

    Scores of Nobel laureates, Pulitzer Prize winners and National Book Award winners appear on the roll of Guggenheim fellows, including the University’s recent Pulitzer Prize for Poetry winner Mark Strand, who won a Guggenheim fellowship in 1975. Others include Ansel Adams, Aaron Copland, Langston Hughes, Henry Kissinger, Vladimir Nabokov and Eudora Welty.