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Three history professors receive funding from Humanities Research Awards

History Professors Yoav Di-Capua, Alison Frazier, and Tracie Matysik are recipients of the new Humanities Research Awards from the College of Liberal Arts.

Posted: January 20, 2010
Tracie Matysik, Yoav Di-Capua, Alison Frazier

Tracie Matysik, Yoav Di-Capua, Alison Frazier

For three years, recipients will receive $5,000 per year for a total of $15,000 to be used for their research project in the humanities. All the professors will also be meeting to discuss their results with each other throughout the three-year funding cycle.

Upon completion of the funding cycle, professors will be presenting their research findings to the University of Texas at Austin community. Six departments are represented out of the 10 recipients and three are from the Department of History.

Dean Randy Diehl created the grants as part of an ongoing effort to fund humanities research. “Humanities scholarship is a critical part of the mission of the College of Liberal Arts, and in times of budgetary difficulties it is especially important for the college to help underwrite excellent scholarship,” Diehl explains. “The Humanities Research Awards will support the work of some of our most productive faculty members.”

Di-Capua, Frazier, and Matysik describe their research projects:

Yoav Di-Capua, assistant professor of history
“Arab Thought on the Eve of Dystopia, 1939-1967”

"In the next few years I hope to write a collective intellectual biography of the post-colonial generation. This was an optimistic group of secular and religious thinkers, members of the “proud generation” who sought to re-invent a new Arab subject: confident, modern, independent, self-sufficient, and, above all, free.

Yet, after two decades of intense public involvement, many of its members experienced intellectual life as a process that involved alienation, suppression, statelessness, besiegement, material poverty and disillusionment with the political process. By delving into their collective experience I hope to provide not only a rich and detailed account of mid-twentieth century Arab thought but also inquire into the limitations of the Arab secular tradition."

Alison Frazier, associate professor of history
“The Beginning of the World in the Italian Renaissance: Conversations about Creation, 1300-1500”

"For a brief moment in fifteenth-century Italy, formal commentary on creation (Gen. 1-3) expanded beyond clerical and monastic circles, to the laity. The intellectual environment that supported this novelty is not entirely clear, but changing lay education and a new lay self-confidence in the wake of schismatic and conciliarist politics surely played a part.

Priests and confessors contributed as well, for the creation narrative was traditionally tied to exegesis of the Creed; thus even elementary pastoral guidance required attention to the hexameron, with the result that confessors and preachers encouraged lay exegesis as part of pastoral care. To understand the situation better, my new project analyzes key instances when laypeople, taking advantage of a variety of genres and media, including Jewish, Greek patristic, and Muslim writings, tried to interpret the physics, metaphysics, and ethics of creation for themselves."

Tracie Matysik, associate professor of history
“Spinoza Matters”

"My primary research project at present is a book-length project entitled “Spinoza Matters: Pantheism, Materialism, and Alternative Enlightenment Legacies in Modern Germany.” It is a book on Spinoza reception in Germany, with an emphasis on the years 1830-1933. My research suggests that Baruch Spinoza was the second most important philosopher in Germany in that period (behind Immanuel Kant), a fact that has gone completely unrecognized by historians of the period in large part because the seventeenth-century Dutch-Jewish philosopher of Portuguese descent did not belong exclusively to any of the dominant schools of thought that succeeded one another over the course of the nineteenth century.

"Indeed, his inheritors saw him as undercutting many of the prominent divides that contemporaries took to mark their century: religion vs. secularism, idealism vs. materialism; ethics vs. science and laws of natural necessity. His thought was important on this front primarily because of his articulation of philosophical monism, the idea that there exists only one substance of which mind and matter are simply two attributes, or two forms of expression.

"Especially after 1850 and after the materialist turn in German intellectual culture, this conception of monism helped thinkers question the mind-body dualism that they found not only in dominant religious and idealist thought, but also in what some termed “crass” materialism that viewed thought as a mere by-product of matter.

"In my book, I seek to demonstrate the prevalence of Spinozist thought that ran through the nineteenth and into the twentieth century, at once demonstrating a much more continuous line of thought throughout that period while simultaneously demonstrating it to be a line of thought that regularly called into question the already-mentioned binaries that contemporaries found stifling."

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Yoav Di-Capua
Alison Frazier
Tracie Matysik

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