Top postdoctoral scholars bring expertise to campus

Princeton NJ -- Four new postdoctoral scholars in fields ranging from Islamic studies to astrophysics have joined the University this fall as the second group of participants in the Society of Fellows in the Liberal Arts.

Gathered on the porch of the Joseph Henry House are the newest members of the Society of Fellows in the Liberal Arts: (back) Heather O'Donnell and Jonathan Gilmore; (front) Jonathan Tan and Paul Heck.



The program is intended to attract top recent Ph.D. recipients in the humanities, social sciences and natural sciences to the campus to provide new ideas on interdisciplinary approaches to scholarship while enhancing their own teaching and research. The new fellows were selected from among 550 applicants.

The new fellows are joining five fellows from the inaugural year of the program who are continuing their work at Princeton in 2001-02. Like the first group, they were appointed to three-year terms. Ultimately, the total number of fellows in the society will be between 18 and 24.

"The Society of Fellows has attracted another extraordinary group of scholars to the University," said Alexander Nehamas, the Edmund Carpenter II Class of 1943 Professor in the Humanities, who directs the society. "Several new fields, including astrophysics, are now represented, and the quality of our fellows' work is as impressive as the breadth of their range of interests.

"I hope they will continue to be integrated in the intellectual life of the University," he said. "They are already making immense contributions to the departments and programs with which they are associated, and everyone will gain from their presence on the campus."

The participants will be teaching half time, dividing their activities between the Humanities Council and the department of their academic specialty. They also will meet regularly for discussions and seminars with the society's Faculty Fellows as well as work on their own research.

This year's fellows are:

Jonathan Gilmore, who received his Ph.D. in philosophy from Columbia University in 1998. His dissertation, "The Life of a Style: Beginnings and Endings in the Narrative History of Art," was published last year by Cornell University Press. Gilmore previously has held visiting assistant professorships in art history at Northwestern University and in philosophy at Barnard College.

This semester, Gilmore is part of a faculty team teaching "Interdisciplinary Introduction to Western Culture: From Antiquity to the Middle Ages." In the spring, he will teach a class on the philosophy of art, aesthetics and politics. His research project, titled "Censorship, Aestheticism and the Political Invention of Artistic Form," addresses the roles that law, morality and politics play in the history of art.

Paul Heck, who received his Ph.D. in Islamic studies from the University of Chicago in 2000. He wrote his dissertation on "Qudama b. Ja'far (d.337/948) and his Kitab al-kharaj wa-sina'at al-kitaba: Administrative Contributions to Knowledge." He has held a postdoctoral research fellowship at Georgetown University, working on the "Encyclopaedia of the Qur'an" project and teaching in the Department of History.

Heck will teach two courses in the spring semester: a graduate seminar in Near Eastern studies on "The Formation of Islamic Political Thought"; and a course in the humanistic studies program on "The Bible in the Western Cultural Tradition." His research project focuses on the "crisis of knowledge" in the Buyid period (fourth and fifth Islamic centuries) and examines the cultural, political and religious elements that shaped the competing claims to epistemological validity made in different disciplines.

Heather O'Donnell, who received her Ph.D. in English from Yale University in 2000. Her research project, inspired by her graduate work on Gertrude Stein, focuses on a number of American writers who achieved fame in the 1920s and 1930s. She considers the relation between aesthetic claims of American modernists and the logic of a newly emergent celebrity industry that aimed, like modernism itself, to articulate and dictate terms of value. Her publications include recent essays on Henry James and William Faulkner.

O'Donnell is teaching a junior seminar in the English department titled "Intertextuality Now," focusing on contemporary rewritings of canonical texts. Next semester, she will be part of a faculty team teaching the sequel to the Western culture course Gilmore is teaching this semester. That class is titled "From the Renaissance to the Modern Period."

Jonathan Tan, designated as a Spitzer-Cotsen Fellow, a theoretical astrophysicist who received his Ph.D. from the University of California-Berkeley. For his doctoral thesis, he conducted research on a variety of problems related to the formation of stars, ranging from the creation of an individual star to the birth of many in clusters and galaxies. He has also explored a dynamical model for gamma-ray bursts, based on the acceleration of shock waves from certain supernova explosions.

At Princeton, Tan is extending the scope of these projects, as well as contemplating new questions in the physics of the interstellar medium. He will develop a new course in the spring on the topic of his research, the formation of stars and galaxies.

The Society of Fellows in the Liberal Arts is made possible through the generosity of Trustee Lloyd Cotsen. The fellows are housed with the Humanities Council in the Joseph Henry House.


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