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Rich Lessons of the Humanities: Emerging Researchers to Watch

Connecting human history and culture in the past, present, and future, the humanities provide human beings with a sense of place in the world. They teach us to think critically about who we are.

At UT, the humanities are spread across six academic departments—classics, English, history, modern foreign languages and literatures, philosophy, and religious studies—housed in the College of Arts and Sciences, the largest and most diverse of the university’s colleges.

Thousands of undergraduate and graduate students every year explore the questions addressed by researchers seeking to better understand the history of our societies, our languages and cultures, ethics and morality, and much more.

Below are emerging researchers in each of the humanities disciplines at UT:

Brandon Winford, assistant professor of history

Brandon WinfordWinford is a historian of late 19th and 20th century United States and African American history who researches civil rights and black business history. He recently published his first book, John Hervey Wheeler, Black Banking, and the Economic Struggle for Civil Rights. Winford is the cofounder of the Fleming-Morrow Endowment in African American History, an annual fund for lectures and student prizes in the fields of civil rights and military history.

“Black business-activists shaped the future of the South. They made the New South’s prosperity possible by showing that every southerner could contribute to the region’s growth and survival amid the turmoil of the 1960s. My research as a historian sheds light on the contributions of men like Wheeler. By advancing African American history, we can better understand American history.”

Bernard Issa, assistant professor of Spanish

Bernard IssaIssa teaches Spanish linguistics and specializes in second-language acquisition. His research into how language learners pay attention to grammatical information in their second language when interacting with instructional materials has been funded by the National Science Foundation. Issa’s broader research examines how variables such as motivation, attention, working memory, and instructional context, such as study abroad, influence learning a second language. He serves as the First-Year Spanish Language program director and language training coordinator for graduate students in Hispanic studies.

“My research investigates how internal and external variables affect the success of one of the more intricate and multifaceted learning tasks for the adult mind: learning a second language. Research in the field contributes to theories about how adults learn complex information. It has practical implications for best practices in teaching and learning second languages, with the goal of promoting conditions for successful second-language learning in various contexts. This, in turn, increases the learners’ ability to communicate with communities around the world.”

Stephen Collins-Elliot, assistant professor of classics

Stephen Collins-ElliotCollins-Elliott is a social archaeologist of pre-Roman and Roman Italy and North Africa. His research focuses include ancient food production and consumption, computational modeling, economics, and ceramics. Collins-Elliott is author of The Rise of Rome and the Culture of Mass Consumption, ca. 400 BCE–50 CE, which reexamines the development of a market economy in the central Mediterranean during Rome’s imperial ascent. In 2017 and 2018, he received Harvard’s Loeb Classical Library Foundation Fellowship. Before arriving at UT, he was a Fulbright scholar to Italy.

“Understanding and learning from our past is an essential part of understanding who we are and want to be in the present. Developing computational approaches in archaeology helps broaden our vision, enabling us to ask deeper and more complex questions in that enterprise.”

Manuela Ceballos, assistant professor of religious studies

Manuela CeballosCeballos is an Islamic studies specialist who researches medieval and early modern Islamic mysticism (Sufism) in the western Mediterranean. She has published research on mysticism and violence; the coexistence of Jews, Muslims, and Christians in Islamic Spain; and the Muslim and Christian encounters that contributed to contemporary notions of nationhood and nationality in Morocco and Spain. Currently, she is working on a monograph that examines how ideas about ritual purity and bloodlines influenced Christian and Islamic mystical movements in Morocco and Iberia. In 2018, she was recognized by the College of Arts and Sciences for excellence in teaching. Ceballos is a native of Medellin, Colombia.

“My research examines how ideas about the body contributed to the construction of social and spiritual hierarchies and maintained communal boundaries in multireligious environments. Discourses about blood and bloodlines in 16th-century Spain and Morocco are not the same as conversations about bodily difference today, but they do help us understand how people can come to endow certain bodies with power and authority while justifying the oppression of others.”

Hilary Havens, assistant professor of English

Hilary HavensHavens is a literary scholar who studies British novels written during the eighteenth century. Havens recently published her monograph, Revising the Eighteenth-Century Novel: Authorship from Manuscript to Print, which focuses on the works of Samuel Richardson, Frances Burney, Jane Austen, and Maria Edgeworth to challenge the individualistic view of authorship that arose during the Romantic period. She is the editor of Didactic Novels and British Women’s Writing, 1790–1820 and is currently co-editing the correspondence of Richardson and Edward Young for the Cambridge Edition of the Correspondence of Samuel Richardson. Her research has been supported by the National Endowment for the Humanities.

“Revision is not merely my research focus but also an important pedagogical tool. I trace 18th-century authors’ revisions in my scholarship while encouraging my students to develop and internalize their own revision processes in their essay writing.”

Kristina Gehrman, assistant professor of philosophy

Kristina GehrmanGehrman is a philosophy researcher who studies the human condition. She has published extensively on ethics and environmental philosophy. Her research focuses on concepts that deal with human action, motivation, purpose, and value. As a UT Humanities Center research fellow, she developed a series of papers addressing whether ordinary facts about human nature might provide an objective basis for the differences between right and wrong. Gehrman joined the Department of Philosophy in 2014.

“My research is about the contemporary, real-life applicability of Aristotle’s ethics. While Aristotle had compelling ideas about morality, character, wisdom, and the good life, parts of his philosophy are totally implausible. Humans have learned a lot over the 2,400 years since Aristotle. Can we rely on Aristotle’s ethics to shed light on our own contemporary moral problems and questions? This is what I aim to figure out.”


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