Current Research


This fall, professors Marshall Duke (left), Miriam Udel and Melvin Konner take "the world's first deep dive" into the often-overlooked body of Yiddish children's literature published between World War I and World War II. Emory Photo/Video

Children’s Literature and the Jewish Culture of Childhood Between the Wars

     We propose to take the world's first deep dive into  the vast and vastly understudied corpus of twentieth-century Yiddish children’s literature (YCL), treating it as both an important literary and cultural corpus and a repository of social-scientific interest. A carefully chosen selection from this body of nearly 1,000 free-standing works of prose, poetry and drama will form the primary set of data for an inter-disciplinary study of the Jewish culture of childhood in Eastern Europe and the Americas in the interwar and immediate post-war periods. We are a literary scholar (Udel), a psychologist (Duke), and an anthropologist (Konner) who all display a keen scholarly interest in narrative art and what it can tell us about society and culture, especially within the context of the modern Jewish experience. Bringing to bear our respective sets of disciplinary tools, we propose a three-year project that will examine Yiddish children’s literature in relation to both co-territorial literary corpora (serving as control groups) and broader questions of how a society under stress articulates aspirations for its children and forms the experiential structures of childhood itself. Our work will examine a set of texts marked by historical importance, psychological resonance, and, in many instances, aesthetic sophistication, and in so doing, it will also afford a new lens through which to examine the defining crises of the 1920’s and 30’s for Jewry in Eastern Europe and the far-flung Yiddish speaking diaspora of the Americas. This literature affords an intimate look into social organization through institutions ranging from the family to the school to the political party.

     Year One will involve a faculty-graduate seminar. In Year Two, we will team-teach an undergraduate course on the material, integrating our various disciplinary perspectives. In Year Three, we will host a conference pitched to a broad array of scholars in related fields and set in motion the production a documentary.

Please read more about this in the Emory Report.

"Patchwriting," lightly editing content in an attempt to reshape it as original thought, can be a slippery slope. Math and computer science professor James Lu will study the controversial method as one of Emory's new Interdisciplinary Faculty Fellows. Emory Photo/Video

Computation-Assisted Patchwriting

     Patchwriting is a process of composing based on copying and perfunctory-editing from digital sources.  Judged as plagiarism by most, patchwriting is often employed by students on writing assignments. But there are scenarios where patchwriting is both appropriate and smart, and few noted authors have spoken out for the idea not just for student writers, but for writing in general.

     The proposed project does not address the patchwriting debate. Not directly.  We pose this question instead: How can we facilitate patchwriting?  The goal is to produce both software tools to support patchwriting and understandings that will lead to informed articulation of effective patchwriting methods.   At the core of patchwriting is copying and pasting.  With colleagues and students in natural language processing, writing, and ESL, we will study computational techniques to help identify text pieces that the writer may find useful for copying.  Software prototyping will be a central pursuit for experimenting and evaluating algorithms, and for designing effective human-software interaction. We will conduct studies to understand cognitive processes for choosing certain pieces of text.  We will also examine the many effects of patchwriting, including the quality of the end product and the potential benefit to learning writing for ESL students.  A number these activities are natural candidates for interdisciplinary course offerings and teaching materials. 

     Results of the studies will allow us to return to the high-level discussion on the merits and ethics of patchwriting with greater clarity.  We will understand better the place, the time and the limitation for patchwriting.  We will have reflected deeply about cognitive processes of patchwriting, and the potential transfer of this knowledge to writing.  Results may also incite new notions of text ownership and information sharing.

Please read more about this in the Emory Report.

Already at work on their own research projects in Brazil, historian Jeffrey Lesser (left) and environmental scientist Uriel Kitron are combining their expertise for a new effort through Emory's experimental Interdisciplinary Faculty Fellowships. Emory Photo/Video

Metropolis, migration and mosquitoes: Historicizing Health Outcomes

in São Paulo, Brazil

     For the first time in human history most of the human population lives in an urban world, and this trend is accelerating. Urban growth, density, and inequality have meant that health and disease challenges have changed drastically during the last century. Using an interdisciplinary approach that combines urban ecology, ethnography, and archival data this project analyzes the spatial dynamics of migration, disease transmission, and access to health care in two pairs of neighborhoods in São Paulo, Brazil, one of the world's largest megalopolises. The proposed project focuses on how discourses about health and urban populations over time affect transmission of mosquito-borne diseases (Yellow Fever, Dengue, Chikungunya) and access to health care from the beginning of the twentieth century to the present.  We seek to understand how the histories of migration and local spatial development have produced particular scenarios in terms of disease and access to health care. We will search for patterns in the shared and contrasting experiences of our subject neighborhoods. We will gauge how local perceptions of these neighborhoods affect access to health care. Finally, we will analyze continuities and changes in disease reporting and in access to health care in urban settings over a one-hundred year period.

     The research and analysis will be conducted jointly with Emory students (both undergraduate and graduate).  Our proposal includes participation in Emory's Summer, 2016 program in São Paulo followed by the teaching of "Metropolis, Migration and Mosquitoes" in Spring, 2017 and  in Spring 2018.   Students with appropriate level of Portuguese will be invited to join Lesser and Kitron as part of their research team in Brazil during the summers of 2017 and 2018. The majority of funds that we are requesting will go towards funding the students.     

Please read more about this in the Emory Report.