Collaboration and Conversation at the Fox Center

by Ryan Kelly, 21C History and Art History

My fellowship at The Fox Center for Humanistic Inquiry was vital to my research process because it filled this hole created in the strange times we all confronted this past year. By assembling a welcoming and supportive community of brilliant scholars ready and eager to engage critically in conversations about your research and theirs, they have created a place where scholars at all different stages in their careers can collaborate and challenge each other. I immensely enjoyed learning about all of my fellow honors students’ projects, as well as hearing from so many of the post-doctoral scholars working at the Fox Center. The exchanges we shared benefited each of us in our projects and provoked us to view our work from new perspectives.

When I began this school year, I was disappointed about the missed opportunities caused by the pandemic. Further, I had become exhausted by the limitations of the virtual class format, and missed the collaborative and conversational dynamic of in-person seminar classes. I have always been a scholar that benefits from working alongside others, and when those opportunities evaporated, my love for the research process frankly did as well.

The opportunity to present my honors project in front of a large virtual crowd of scholars across disciplines forced me to hone my language and learn to present my work in a way that appealed beyond the history community. This is a vital skill for any scholar to develop, and was helpful personally for me because of the relative obscurity of my thesis topic. My thesis, An Illness of the Body and Soul: Visual Cultures of the French Disease, seeks to define a visual iconography of the French Disease in its first two centuries in Italy. The work is sensitive and highly contextual, and working with the FCHI has taught me how to navigate conversations about my work with scholars that do not have a certain level of background knowledge about visual cultures of early modern Europe. Instead, I was forced to develop dynamic strategies to present the context concisely and effectively, and demonstrate to an interdisciplinary audience why my research matters. Beyond this, presenting my work to a group of diverse scholars gave me new questions to ask and new ways to view it, and helped me to recognize my research’s place in wider historiographies and academic conversations.

I am tremendously grateful to the Fox Center for Humanistic Inquiry for giving me the fuel I needed to complete my research: provocative and fruitful conversations with fellow interdisciplinary scholars. Thank you to Dr. Walter Melion, Keith Anthony, Colette Barlow, my undergraduate colleagues, and every scholar I had the pleasure of speaking with during my fellowship. 

Ryan Kelly is a senior joint major in history and art history, with a co-major in the visual arts. His honors thesis examines visual cultures of syphilis in early modern Europe to construct a visual iconography of the disease in Italy. This work emphasizes early modern understandings of the diseased body, and how visual representations of illness worked to reinforce conceptions of disease as an indication of the subject’s inner state. Additionally, his project hopes to expand the scope of “plague imagery” in scholarship by suggesting a deictic relationship between image types, and analyzing depictions of causal actions which were believed to manifest illness in the body.

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