The University of Arizona

Faculty Members Awarded Arts, Humanities and Social Sciences Grants

By Alexis Blue, University Communications | June 9, 2010

More than $140,000 in grant money will fund interdisciplinary work in arts, humanities and social sciences.

Ellen McMahon
Ellen McMahon
Eithne Luibheid
Eithne Luibheid
Diana Archangeli
Diana Archangeli
James Greenberg
James Greenberg
Jadwiga Pieper Mooney
Jadwiga Pieper Mooney

Snails, the Cold War, the Rillito River, immigrants and the tongue are among the research subjects being funded by Arts, Humanities and Social Sciences Grants at the University of Arizona.

Five projects involving 14 UA faculty members are receiving support from the grants, available through a program established by Provost Meredith Hay last fall to support collaborative, interdisciplinary work.

"A lot of faculty members in the arts, humanities and social sciences are really excited there's actually some money in this area because it is an area where there's not a lot of funding by the government, by foundations or on campus," said Linda Waugh, who co-chairs the AHSS research review panel with Regents' Professor of Music Paula Fan.

"This is a really new opportunity for many faculty members," Waugh said.

The first AHSS grants were awarded in January to three projects. (Read about them in "Grants to Fund Collaborations in Arts, Humanities and Social Sciences.") The review panel saw an increase in applications for the second round of funding, said Waugh, a professor of French, English, anthropology, linguistics, and language, reading and culture. In both rounds, about 25 percent of applicants received funding, she said.

Waugh, who is also chairwoman of the Graduate Interdisciplinary Program in Second Language Acquisition and Teaching, said she anticipates there will be even more applicants in the future as campus researchers begin thinking about their work in more collaborative, interdisciplinary ways.

The principal investigators who received funding for their projects in this round are:

Ellen McMahon
Associate Professor of Art
$28,033

McMahon will work with Beth Weinstein, assistant professor of architecture, and Ander Monson, assistant professor of English, on a project that explores ways in which art, design and science can collaborate to raise public awareness of environmental issues.

With help from UA science consultants and the Rillito River Project, a public art project that aims raise awareness of the impact of global climate change on rivers in the Southwest, the team and students will create work for two public events, a book and a website examining the significance of the dry riverbed and the importance of water to the quality of human and nonhuman life in the region.

"We're bridging arts and science, but with arts in the lead," McMahon said.

Participants in the project, titled "Parallel Play: Interdisciplinary Responses to a Dry Riverbed," will produce art and architecture installments, as well as performance pieces, for two public events at the Rillito riverbed. The first event is the Sept. 11 "Bat Night," an annual Rillito River Project event that attracts thousands of spectators  to watch a colony of 40,000 bats take flight at the Campbell Avenue bridge, near River Road. The second event, "Parallel Play," will highlight University faculty and student research and will take place in the spring.

Texts, images, video and other materials produced through the collaboration will be published on a website and in a book titled "Parallel Play" by next May.

Diana Archangeli
Professor of Linguistics
$29,994

When it comes to understanding language, we often focus only on what we hear. But other signals also come into play with language recognition, such as the shape of the lips, vibration of the vocal folds or movement of the tongue.

Archangeli, whose research focuses largely on the movement of the tongue when we talk, is working to collect data on the role the tongue, lips, vocal folds, nasal airflow and other areas play in language recognition. Her eventual goal is to develop an improved speech recognition program that can ultimately be trained on more complex levels than audio alone.

As an early step in her research, she is partnering with Ian Fasel, assistant research professor of computer science, and Jeff Berry, a linguistics graduate student, on "The Arizona Articulatory, Acoustic, and Visual Speech Database" project.

The team will work to extract data from videos of the lips and tongue for the beginnings of a dataset that will eventually include audio, nasal airflow and vocal folds data, as well as ultrasound images of the tongue and video of the lips and face. 

They are also working to develop software to allow for more simplified, automated analysis of ultrasound speech data. Currently, ultrasound images of the tongue often have to be traced by hand, which slows research significantly, Archangeli said.

"This is a first piece in really opening up ultrasound language research," said Archangeli, adding that the AHSS grant will help position the researchers to secure external funding for larger studies in the future.

Eithne Luibheid
Associate Professor of Gender and Women's Studies
$25,797

Luibheid's project, titled "Immigrant Mothers with Citizen Children: Rethinking Welfare Policies in a Transnational Era," will examine the barriers facing immigrant mothers in Southern Arizona who seek public benefits for their citizen children.

In a time when nearly a quarter of children in the U.S., and a third of children in Arizona, have immigrant parents, either undocumented or long-time legal immigrants, some of those parents are reluctant to seek public benefits, such as welfare or food stamps, for their citizen children, out of fear they will be questioned about their own legal status, Luibheid said.

Reforms to immigration and welfare laws since 1996 have left many immigrants feeling a need to "stay under the radar," Luibheid said. Their resulting wariness to apply for benefits legally available to their children has created a class of poor young citizens, struggling with nutrition and other basic needs, she said.

"Lots of these families don't match your normative mom, dad and kid. Some members have one legal status, some have another," Luibheid said. "It's quite common for families to have different legal statuses, but there isn't really accommodation for that. Also, these are families that are often spread across borders."

Luibheid will work with Sally Stevens and Rosi Andrade of the Southwest Institute for Research on Women, and V. Spike Peterson, a professor in the School of Government and Public Policy, to interview 20 immigrant parents about their experiences seeking benefits. This will allow the researchers to analyze the impact of current laws on citizen children's access to public benefits, the cultural barriers to utilizing those benefits and how social welfare policies might be revised to address the growing significance of transnationalism. 

Jadwiga Pieper Mooney
Associate Professor of History
$30,000

Pieper Mooney will work with Fabio Lanza of the departments of history and East Asian studies, and Elizabeth Oglesby of the School of Geography and Development and the Center for Latin American Studies, to host a conference and publish selected presentations in a co-edited, special-edition journal to present cutting-edge research in the study of the Cold War.

The project, titled "De-Centering Cold War History: Street-Level Experiences and Global Change," will bring together scholars from across the globe to challenge what we traditionally know about Cold War history.

"The context of the project is to look at the Cold War in a new way, not treat it as an abstract superpower competition between the Soviet Union and the U.S. but to engage what we call street-level, local and regional histories of people who participated in the shaping of the Cold War," Pieper Mooney said.

"Our primary goal is to inspire fruitful dialogue and new forms of collaboration among interdisciplinary scholarly approaches and to forge new research directions in the study of the Cold War," states the international call for papers and conference contributors, which encourages scholars to join the three collaborators at the UA.

The gathering also provides an opportunity to "show off" the UA campus to international visitors, Pieper Mooney said.

The conference, which is free and open to the public, will take place in the Student Union Memorial Center Nov. 4-7. There will be panel presentations on Friday and Saturday morning, and Pieper Mooney also plans to invite a keynote speaker from the National Security Archive in Washington, D.C.

Students and faculty members who attend the conference will be encouraged to engage in their own research projects that might help de-center rigid Cold War narratives of the past, she said.

James Greenberg
Senior Research Anthropologist, Bureau of Applied Research Anthropology
$29,425

Greenberg will use his funding to study a species of marine snail and how its high value and some places, and low value in others, affects the sustainability of its population.

In collaboration with Rafael Sagarin, an assistant research scientist in the Institute of the Environment, Greenberg will specifically explore how effective certain regulations are in protecting populations of the snail Plicopurpura columellaris.

"While a lowly snail may seem insignificant, basic life history information about its population opens the window on this research that examines fundamental ideas about the intersection of state regulation, markets, and stakeholder communities and so has wide relevance to concerns about sustainable uses of the natural resources," Greenberg wrote in his grant proposal.

The snail in question in Greenberg's project, "Snail Paces: The Political and Cultural Ecology of the Dye-Producing Snail Picopurpura Columellaris from the Gulf of California to Galapagos," produces an intense purple dye used since pre-Columbian times in Mexico to color fabric. The dye, which can be extracted without killing the snail, was also a product of Indian slave labor during the Spanish colonial period.

Today, in Oaxaca, Mexico, there is a renewed interest in the dye-producing snails as a source of potentially sustainable craft dye.

Greenberg, whose research will begin in the Oaxacan region and later expand to include the northern Gulf of California and the Galapogos Islands, will examine the history of the snail species, how humans interact with the snails, what legal or social regulations are in place to control exploitation of the species and also how the snails impact the economic – for example, is their dye used directly, sold or used in trade?