Newton International Fellowship Awards 2021

Funded by

Alessandra Basso
Inequality into numbers
University of Cambridge
Equality is a sign of social inclusion and many think that it should be one of the aims of economic and social progress. Questions of social justice and claims for equal distribution often appeal to inequality measurements, which are expected to objectively arbitrate in the design, selection and implementation of policy in these areas. The measurement of inequality, however, is far from straightforward, and therefore the impact of these measurements is challenged by debates concerning their methodology and reliability. Is inequality measurable? Can we compare heterogeneous measurements of inequality? How can we evaluate the accuracy of these measurements? Solving these problems can improve the quality and the social impact of scientific research on inequality. The project provides new inventive solutions to these hotly debated questions. To do this, it elaborates a new methodological framework for interpreting and improving inequality measurements, by drawing on insights from the recent philosophical literature about measurement.

Two main insights can be drawn from this literature: the idea that the measurement of a phenomenon and the representation of such phenomenon coevolve, and a notion of measurement accuracy that depends on the coordination between representational and concrete aspects of measurement. In the measurement of inequality, the coordination between representation and procedure is context-sensitive, and this generates a proliferation of different measurements: in the absence of an agreed-upon methodology, each country makes its own choices, giving rise to a disparate set of indicators that are not always comparable, are hard to aggregate, and can tell conflicting stories. As a result, the literature has struggled to answer simple questions like ‘is there a converging trend in average income levels across the world?’ or ‘have the European countries been more successful than the United States in promoting inclusive growth and reducing inequality?’

To address these problems, I will reinterpret published data on cross-national inequality by using a new methodological framework. Besides analysing the recent literature on inequality measurement, I will also collaborate with social sciences in UK, take part to partnerships of academic researchers and implementers, and participate in discussions about how to improve existing measurement of inequality – or design a new one. For instance, the proposed research explores the feasibility of improving the way in which social scientists compare across heterogeneous measurements, and it aims to develop a flexible notion of measurement accuracy that can account for the variety of purposes to which these indicators are put.

Dr Alexandre Cerveux
The function of music in the acquisition of knowledge according to medieval Latin, Hebrew, and Arabic philosophical texts
University of Oxford
This research project investigates the way in which music features in the process of knowledge acquisition from medieval texts from Arabic, Hebrew, and Latin traditions. This project is based on a corpus of philosophic-scientific texts composed between the 10th and 13th centuries, a period that corresponds to the introduction of Aristotelianism within scholarly centres from Baghdad to Oxford. The progressive and profound imposition of Aristotelian rationalism created an important paradigm shift in philosophical studies and redefined the inner geography of the field of knowledge.

This project aims to determine why, at a time when rationalism tends to compartmentalise knowledge, music is still involved in the teachings of different disciplines (i.e. philosophical, psychological, medical...). Indeed, despite an increasing rationalisation of the discourse on music, the elements of another frame of thought, based on the Pythagorean-platonic model, continued to be cultivated and employed in philosophical texts, albeit with an important new purpose. There are two hypotheses that this project intends to investigate: first, these elements permeated various teachings in order to facilitate the process of learning, notably through metaphorical thinking, and to transmit and explain certain concepts (e.g. harmony, love, divine retribution…); second, these elements were also associated with a more speculative, even subjective understanding of music that coexisted with the rational approach. In order to prove these hypotheses, the texts will be approached from a cross-cultural perspective and from the point of view of the history of ideas.

This project is innovative in that it compares different scholarly and linguistic traditions that are based on the same antique cultural foundation. The main innovation of this project consists in identifying the common themes of the discourse on music in Arab, Hebrew and Latin philosophical-scientific texts, and in comparing their respective interpretations and purpose. By interrelating the readings of the texts, this project shows that music is a tool in the acquisition of knowledge, and brings to light new aspects of medieval thinking.

Dr Kingsley Daraojimba
Social settlement dynamics and environmental process in pre-colonial Nigeria: growing the Igbo-Ukwu cultural landscape
University of Cambridge
In southeastern Nigeria, material evidence of early social complexity was first revealed by the discovery of exquisite metal objects and ceramics at Igbo-Ukwu in the 1960s. In exposing the richness of this new culture, pioneering research by Thurstan Shaw also unveiled a sophisticated technological innovation in copper-alloy casting, using lost-wax techniques dated to the 9th century CE, at three sites. Over half a century after this discovery, the settlement sequence and the environmental context of such developments remain poorly understood. Recent fieldwork, pioneering systematic surveys, stratigraphic excavations and sampling, by the applicant (2019 & 2021) revealed an unexpected wide-scale occupation and patterned artefact distribution in the greater Igbo-Ukwu landscape, with intact and exceptionally well-preserved stratified deposits. A multi-scalar sampling strategy has produced a new and unparalleled assemblage of artefacts and environmental samples for analysis.

Building on and expanding the applicant’s research, the proposed project will examine the intersection of human-environmental interactions in the Igbo-Ukwu cultural landscape by i) reconstructing the environmental context of settlement development; ii) reconstructing the spatial and temporal sequences of settlement and industrial activities in the landscape; iii) undertaking diverse material science analyses of recovered ceramics, plant remains, and soil and sediment samples in collaboration with scholars at the McDonald Institute, University of Cambridge. To pursue these aims, the research will draw on the applicant’s specialisms in palynology and ceramic analysis; and Cambridge’s extensive archives and leading expertise in material sciences, bioarchaeology, and geoarchaeology. Study of archival holdings, including Shaw’s unpublished notes, diagrams, photos, correspondence, held by Cambridge University Library, will contribute to the spatial mapping of the site and reconstruction of its changing configuration and composition over time. Analyses of samples from the applicant’s recent and targeted fieldwork will combine training in elemental, macro-soil analysis (pXRF), and soil micromorphological analyses at Cambridge. These will generate new data to characterize local environmental conditions through time; to define relations between resource availability and technology; and to chart the footprint of human activities and environmental change; and to define the spatio-temporal context of relatively known civilisation.

At the end of the project, it is expected that existing relationships between the Universities of Cambridge and Nigeria will be expanded and that the capacity building for the applicant will be beneficial to his research. The knowledge exchange and the applicant’s laboratory-based research experience will contribute to expanding archaeological science capacity in Nigeria, especially at the applicant’s home institution.

Dr Victoria Fomina
The Rebel Frontier: Regionalism and Contested Legacies of Soviet Industrialization in the Russian Far East
University of St Andrews
During the Soviet era, the Russian Far East witnessed rapid economic modernization and population growth stimulated by the construction of new industrial centres, like Komsomolsk-na-Amure, Magadan, and Nakhodka. Following the dissolution of the Soviet Union, these once flourishing industrial frontiers had to struggle to find their place in the market economy and articulate a new identity disentangled from the Soviet past. This project draws on the case of Komsomolsk-na-Amure, a former “closed” military-industrial complex, to explore popular responses to deindustrialization and processes of memory and identity-making in Soviet-era planned cities. Built in the 1930s to bolster the Soviet Union’s defensive capacity on its eastern borders, Komsomolsk was widely celebrated in the Soviet press as a “city of the future.” Yet, the economic downturn and fragmentation of the city’s key industries since the 1990s, along with decaying infrastructure and declining demographics, have endangered this once-proud title. The collapse of Soviet state ideology has forced the local community to come to grips with the city’s dark past, as an urban settlement created by Gulag prison labour, the lingering legacy of the camps, and the spread of prison culture among the city’s youth.

Drawing on archival research, discourse analysis, and interviews with local memory activists, this project investigates how nostalgia for a Soviet “golden era” as well as informal ethics derived from prison subculture come together to shape the political imaginaries and memorial culture of Komsomolsk residents. It will follow a broad range of official and popular forms of memory-making – from government-sponsored historical education projects to activist struggles to protect the city’s industrial heritage to contested Gulag memorialization initiatives. The central goal of this research is to explore how divergent evaluations of the city’s past inform competing projects for the city’s future development and the geographic imaginaries that distinguish the Russian Far East from the federal centre. By showing how vernacular conceptions of justice inform political vocabularies and visions of state-society relations in the Russian periphery, my project sheds light on the lingering consequences of the mass popularization of the ethics of informality throughout the Soviet era and the 1990s and its implications for the practice of state power and popular sovereignty.

Dr Andy Hilkens
Community, communication, cooperation and conflict: John bar Andreas (d. 1155/56) and Syro-Armenian polemics in the eleventh and twelfth centuries
University of Oxford
The rich culture of Christian communities in the Middle East, where the origins of Christianity lie, remains relatively unknown. The investigation of the cultural heritage of these “forgotten” Christianities that are currently under threat and are in danger of disappearing will help to place them in the spotlight and preserve their heritage. In the aftermath of the arrival of Latin Christians in the Near and Middle East in the late eleventh century, members of the different Christian churches in the East sought to emphasize the distinction between their own community and other Christian churches and members of other faiths. Arabic, Armenian, Greek, Syriac and Western European Christians quarrelled with each other over a variety of issues pertaining to theology, Christology and (liturgical) practices that they considered to be diverging from (what they considered to be) the norm.

This project is part of a larger investigation that aims to move away from the traditional Byzantino-centric or Roman-centric views by exploring intra-Christian contacts in the medieval Middle East from the perspective of Syro-Armenian studies. It will investigate for the first time the history of relations between Syriac Orthodox and Armenian Orthodox Christians through the lens of the contributions of the Syriac Orthodox bishop John bar Andreas (d. 1155/6), a largely unknown polemicist who was bilingual Syriac-Armenian. An investigation of John’s contributions to Syro-Armenian polemics will lead to a better understanding of the mechanics of religious conflict in the Middle Ages and its relation to Eastern Christian identity formation in the second millennium, against the background of Byzantine, Latin and Islamic political and religious pressure on these communities.

John’s contributions will be studied from three perspectives: the impact of his Syriac-Armenian bilingualism on his contributions, his possible use of earlier texts from the limited dossier of texts pertaining to Syro-Armenian polemics in this period, and also from a diachronic perspective, i.e. his impact on later Syro-Armenian relations, in the later twelfth century, through a possible influence on his younger contemporary Dionysius bar Salibi, who also wrote an anti-Armenian treatise, as well as in the (early) modern period, when John’s anti-Armenian writings were still being read by Syriac Orthodox Christians. An analysis of the manuscript transmission of his writings may offer us clues about Syro-Armenian relations under Ottoman rule, which have their impact in the present, on Syriac and Armenian communities in the diaspora in Europe and the United States.

Dr Roman Kuhn
Communicating Enlightenment in Ephemeral Poetry: Subversion, Sociability, and Gossip in 18th-Century Poésies Fugitives
University of Oxford
Poetry and especially “minor verse” has received little attention in Enlightenment Studies. In contemporary poetological discussions, in persisting generic hierarchies, and in sheer output and success, however, poetry played a major part throughout the 18th century. Particularly interesting is the emergence, at the beginning of the century, of a new generic macro-category, “poésie fugitive”, fugitive poetry. It embraced existing genres like the verse epistle, madrigals, chansons, etc., but gave them new visibility and focussed attention on their communicative setting and publication mode, for it claimed that those texts belong to a private domain but have “escaped” the author’s briefcase.

The project aims to examine fugitive poetry along three axes: (1) the history of fugitive poetry and its relation to Classical and 17th-century tradition, (2) the societal role of fugitive poetry and its modes of publication and transmission, and (3) the role it played in disseminating Enlightenment thought. A digital humanities component will help to establish a working corpus of texts and analyse intertextual relations between those texts.

That all these axes and the research questions they generate play a central role in understanding fugitive poetry can be illustrated by the fact that this sort of poetry challenges us to rethink broader notions of 18th-century society and Enlightenment thought. Recent research has emphasized that elite salon culture and its communicative forms, inherited from the preceding century, played a central role until well into the century. On the other hand, studies in the development of a public sphere have stressed the fact that in the second half of the century, a profound change and expansion occurred that led to new relations between a larger audience and ‘public’ figures. However, with the vogue of fugitive poetry, these public figures were represented in print by their used-to-be-private poetry. Thus, not unlike modern gossip, fugitive poetry draws upon the very juxtaposition of the public and the private. While fugitive poetry can be integrated in a framework of societal change, the textual forms and genres that constitute it remain largely unchanged and those poems might therefore just be a missing link in order to understand these transformations not so much in terms of abrupt breaks but, rather, as complex and dynamic processes.

The results of our project will show in detail that “Poésie fugitive” is not at all fugitive and insignificant. Rather, it is a key to understand profound changes in 18th-century literature, society and thought.

Dr Savio Megolhuto Meyase
Documentation Of Complex Tone Systems In Endangered Tribal Languages Of Nagaland, Northeast India
University of Essex
The main objectives of this project are the documentation of the tonal inventories and the theoretical study of complex tones and of the microvariations in tone of the different varieties of Tenyidie (Angami) and the surrounding Tibeto-Burman languages spoken in the north-eastern tribal hills of India. This is a continuation of and an extension to my doctoral research on the Kohima Town variety of Tenyidie. This research showed that the tone system of Tenyidie, which comprises four level tones, displays a tone system that is novel and unique among the world’s tone languages, by providing evidence for tone features and the intricate interactions thereof. Languages with more than three tones are rare, and the phonological study of tone systems classed as complex are mostly limited to those with only three tones. Therefore, only very little is studied and understood theoretically about tonal systems with four tones or more. The linguistic study of most languages of the northeast of India, in general, is also scarce due to geographical isolation, poor economic and education systems, and political unrests over many decades.

The theoretical study of the tone systems will include the development and testing of the autosegmental tone representation that was used for the study of Kohima Town Tenyidie with other varieties and related languages within the region. I further aim to reconstruct the diachronic development of the tonal systems in these languages, as a contribution to revealing their genetic relationships and sub-classification, which are currently completely unexplored. Kohima (central) appears to have a different tonal system than Northern Tenyidie varieties, while the southern region has arguably a different language altogether, classed under Tenyidie for historical and cultural reasons. Chokri, Sopvoma [Mao Naga], Nzongkhwe [Southern Rengma] and Zeme, all languages in the direct neighbourhood of Tenyidie, also believed to have complex tone systems, will be documented and studied.

The main points of the project are as follows:
i. Documentation of the tone systems of the varieties of Tenyidie and related neighbouring languages (all UNESCO-endangered languages) and archiving the data (at ELAR).
ii. Theoretical study of novel tone systems that are found in the region of northeast India, particularly in southern Nagaland.
iii. Tracking the development of tone systems and their reconstruction based on comparison of relevant tonal and segmental inventories.

Dr Cristian David Soto-Herrera
Physical Laws and the Application of Mathematics
London School of Economics and Political Science
The proposed investigation addresses the problem of the effectiveness of mathematics in physical laws. Two are the main research fields: the history and philosophy of science concerning the raise and consolidation of laws in our scientific worldview, and the recent development of the philosophy of applied mathematics, which aims at shedding light on the contribution of mathematics to physical sciences. The investigation shall begin with an examination of the original statement of the unreasonable effectiveness of mathematics, which is due to the physicist Eugene Wigner (1960). It was only over the last three decades that philosophers and historians of science called into question whether mathematics’ effectiveness in the physical sciences had to be deemed unreasonable. The proposed research’s core working hypothesis submits that the problem of the effectiveness of mathematics in the physical sciences can best be investigated through the examination of local applications of mathematical structures to the relevant structure of specific physical domains. Cases of the articulation of physical laws will be examined.

Four are the main expected results of the proposed research. First, an analysis of the general problem of the application of mathematics to physical science will be undertaken, and the distinction between global and local interpretations of the application of mathematics in the physical sciences will be introduced. Second, three frameworks for understanding the application of mathematics to the physical sciences will be examined, namely: the isomorphism-based mapping account; the similarity-based conception modeling in science, and the inferential conception of the application of mathematics. We shall put them to work in view of the articulation of mathematics-based law statements. Third, physical and mathematical modalities in physical laws will be distinguished, exploring the contributions of mathematics to capacity of laws to guide our epistemic interactions with the world in explaining, predicting, and intervening phenomena. And fourth, a framework will be provided to identify physical and mathematical structures in local analyses of mathematics’ applications to the articulation of physical laws. The overall conclusion will run as follows. Although the laws of nature have posited a number of riddles since their raise and consolidation in the works of Descartes and Newton, the analysis of mathematics’ contribution to the sciences enables us to account for the effective applications of mathematics in the articulation of physical laws, hence illuminating various issues in both the philosophy of applied mathematics and the philosophy of physical laws.

Dr Mete Sefa Uysal
Understanding the Legitimacy of Intergroup Violence using a Culturally Contextualized Lens: The Role of Honour Values in Intergroup Relations
University of Kent
Social image or reputation in one’s community has been shown to matter to a great extent in cultures that position honour as a core concern. Anthropologists and social psychologists have described honour as a core concern in the Mediterranean, Middle Eastern, Latin American, and South Asian, and Southern US contexts and as reflecting one’s self-worth, as well as the worth assigned to them by others in the society. Individuals in these contexts tend to engage in a variety of behaviours that may earn or maintain the respect of others, whilst vigorously defending themselves against threats to their honour. Most social psychological research on honour has focused on retaliation following honour threats directed to individuals in interpersonal interactions, expressed in violence and aggression to defend one’s social position. The proposed project moves away from this focus on interpersonal encounters and extends the examination of the role of honour to intergroup contexts. Specifically, it asks how different components of honour are associated with support for intergroup violence among people who adopt different cultural logics, with a goal to offer a culturally contextualised understanding of the legitimacy of intergroup violence.

Specifically, my objectives are to examine (i) the role of the multifaceted construct of honour in the context of the legitimacy of intergroup violence by focusing on its individual, relational, gendered, and group-level components; (ii) the contextual factors associated with the emergence of a cultural logic of honour that may shape legitimacy of intergroup violence; and (iii) the role of group honour in the support for violence in an ongoing intergroup conflict framed as stemming from differences in group identities or due to geopolitical reasons. I will focus on the Chinese government’s violence against Uyghur Turks as the case study for the last objective. I will conduct correlational and experimental studies to study these objectives in the UK, representing a dignity culture, Turkey, exemplifying an honour culture, as well as with ethnic and religious minority groups in the UK who originate from honour cultures.

The examination of honour in intergroup context will provide fresh and timely insight into cultural factors underlying support for intergroup violence and will build new links between the literatures in psychology, political science, and anthropology on collective violence, intergroup relations, and honour. It will also put the UK on the map in the literature on the social psychology of honour and provide an evidence base relevant to policymakers.

Dr Neha Vermani
Curating Nature: Domestic Gardens and Masculinity in Mughal South Asia
University of Sheffield
Building a bridge between gender history, the history of natural sciences, and medical humanities, my project offers a decolonised study of domestic gardens in early modern Mughal South Asia. In doing so, it marks a shift in focus from the more popular category of Mughal imperial gardens, which have been variously studied as funerary sites, tools of dynastic legitimacy, and symbols of the empire's territorial expansion.

Examining the hitherto unexplored theme of domestic gardens curated by the Mughal elite within their household spaces, I locate them as sites where the elite established and realised relationships with their immediate natural and built environments. The discourse on nature, the ways it affects the human body, and the techniques for controlling the body's rhythm by manipulating nature to achieve one's perfect and refined self are at the core of the bio-ethical texts of the period. These texts, an integral and indispensable component of the Mughal intellectual landscape, form an important analytical basis for my claim that domestic gardens, as sites of knowledge acquisition and toil for growing novel botanical produce, nourished the idealised masculine identity and body of the Mughal elite. Moreover, these botanical varieties were not produced for profit-making market circulation. They were used exclusively in the kitchens, apothecaries, and perfume-making workshops situated in courtly elites' mansions.

Examination of inventories of these household departments and other textual records (spanning philosophical, prescriptive, narrative, scientific, administrative genres), along with material artefacts, visual sources, and archaeological data informs the project. This novel approach of engaging with an extensive and diverse archive further underpins the interdisciplinary nature of the project and offers new methodological paradigms that challenge Eurocentric frameworks for research in the fields of histories of gardens, households, natural and medical sciences, gender, selfhood, and consumption practices.

Chinese Sent-Down Youth and the Communist Movement in Burma (1968-1989)
University of Oxford
My proposed research is on the Chinese sent-down youth and the Burmese communist revolution from1968 to 1989. This study involves two major events that happened in this historical period as a backdrop: the Cultural Revolution of China, and the armed struggle of the Communist Party of Burma against the military government of Burma, which was part of the international communist movement in Southeast Asia in the late 1960s. With the radical development of China’s domestic politics and the Sino-Soviet split, under the guidance of Mao Zedong’s theory of world revolution, China began to “export revolution” to the neighbouring countries and across the world. In the wave of migration known as “up to the mountains and down to the villages”, thousands of young people crossed the border between China and Burma and volunteered to join the army of the Communist Party of Burma. They were both witnesses of the Chinese government’s export of Mao Zedong Thought as well as the Chinese model of the communist revolution, and witnesses of the rise and fall of the Burmese Communist Party revolution. Their destiny was severely affected by the political changes within China and Burma as well as the evolution of Sino-Myanmar relations.

Those youths were an almost legendary group but were not publicly recognized by the Chinese government. Due to the political sensitivity of the topic and the inaccessibility of archive materials in mainland China, this period of history has long been submerged in literary works and folklore. As such, firstly, my proposed project aims to explore the Chinese sent-down youth's life histories as well as experiences and recount their stories from an academic perspective. I will also examine their roles in the armed revolutionary movement carried out by the Communist Party of Burma, and how their fate changed belong with political changes within China or Burma as well as the evolution of Sino-Myanmar relations.

Dr Heena
Master-Servant Culture during the Colonial Transition: Domestic Servants in Awadh State (1720s–1860s)
University of Edinburgh
This research project explores the history of domestic servants in pre-colonial and colonial Awadh (North India). Awadh, ruled by semi-independent nawabs under the suzerainty of the Mughal emperor and later annexed by the British East India Company in 1856, offers a compelling ground to study the nature of domestic servitude and the role of the colonial encounter in transforming its meaning and practices. The state was a meeting ground for an encounter between the Indian practices of keeping servants and house slaves and the British notions of a legal master-servant relationship.

This project studies the relevance of the domestic servant culture in elite Indian and British households. By focusing on these two different households, it tracks the heterogeneity and shifts of the servitude culture from one household to the other and from one political regime (Indian rule) to the other (colonial rule). Its main objective is to understand how the servitude culture was mutated, re-defined, narrowed, and streamlined during the colonial transition through regulations and the development of a new colonial language of handling Indian servants. I will examine how colonial officials appropriated the already sophisticated infrastructure of servitude for their comfort, status, and legitimacy and transformed it in the process. How did the colonial state manage the large army of court servants after the annexation of Awadh? To what extent did European legal sensibilities and class hierarchies and existing Indian notions of bonded labour define the servant culture?

To achieve my goals, I will do a comparative study of the two types of households to understand how they recruited, treated, paid and punished servants. Within the rich historiography on India’s transition to colonialism and its effect on subaltern groups, the focus has been mainly on the subordination of peasantry and artisans (weavers) by the East India Company rule. My project orients the focus of the historiography onto the lowest strata of the society (domestic servants) without whose support the colonial rule and lives seem unimaginable. Colonial officials were accustomed to the services of their domestic servants to the point that they transported their servants to Britain when they returned home. During this colonial transition, the socio-economic position of servants shifted, and the project maps out these shifts and transformations from a social history approach to enable an innovative and original work on the pre-colonial and colonial history of domestic servitude using hitherto unexplored Persian, Urdu, Hindi and English records.

Sign up to our email newsletters