American photography and the Civil War among new faculty members’ expertise
A new group of professors join the humanities divisions of the USC Dornsife College of Letters, Arts and Sciences this fall. They bring a diverse array of academic expertise including knowledge of technology in the Middle East, how voters’ race and gender shape campaign messaging and the historical intertwining of art and the environment. Here they share more insights about their work and what they like to do outside the academy.
Academic focus: I focus on the modern art of the Americas and the history of photography. My current research project, Silver Pacific, focuses on 1840–90 and transforms the geographies typically associated with American photographic history to consider transpacific networks and overlapping ecologies.
Informed by the environmental humanities and technical art history, my analysis looks not only at the surface of photographs as images, but through to the photographs as objects — material encrustations of regional mineral wealth, extracted by (often migrant) human labor.
Favorite book you’ve read lately? How Much of These Hills is Gold by C. Pam Zhang.
Where is your favorite place to travel? Mexico City, the site of much of the research for my first book.
What food or condiments will we always find in your kitchen? Some kind of homemade salsa.
Academic focus: I just finished a book about the approximately 5,000 enslaved people who escaped from the south-central United States to Mexico in the decades leading up to the Civil War.
If you could invite one person to dinner, living or dead, who would you select? What would be on the menu?Mexico’s former President Anastasio Bustamante, who, among other things, earned the nickname “come huevos” (egg eater) for consuming as many as 36 eggs a day. Probably eggs would be on the menu.
What do you like to do in your spare time? Skiing, trail running, backpacking in the Eastern Sierra and searching for L.A.’s best donut.
Favorite book you’ve read lately? The Disappearing Earth by Julia Phillips.
Baumgartner is teaching HIST 352gp: “The American Civil Warp” this fall.
Kara Keeling | Associate Professor of Cinema and Media Studies and American Studies and Ethnicity
Keeling’s research focuses on African American film, representations of race, sexuality and gender in cinema, critical theory and cultural studies.
Ciruce Movahedi-Lankarani | Assistant Professor of Middle East Studies
I study how technology, development and the environment are connected in the modern Middle East. My current research focuses on natural gas energy in Iran, and how the infrastructures built to support its use reflected sometimes conflicting demands for cheap energy, national independence, industrialized convenience and environmental protection.
In general, I aim to put technological and environmental change in the Global South within their historical and social contexts. I’m interested in how peoples’ technological choices are both products of and transformative to their relationships with the natural world, even in some of the world’s biggest and most polluted cities.
What food or condiments will we always find in your kitchen? Sumac and saffron.
What do you like to do in your spare time? I enjoy being outdoors and active, and you’ll often
find me going out for a run or taking a trip to go hiking or backpacking.
Favorite book you’ve read lately? The Mushroom at the End of the World by Anna Lowenhaupt Tsing. It’s academic and very smart, but also just enjoyable to read.
Movahedi-Lankarani will be teaching MDES 201W: “The Middle East: Global and Environmental Perspectives” and MDES 313: “Modern Iran” this fall.
Kimia Shahi | Assistant Professor of Art History
I research, teach and write about American art, a field whose boundaries I’m perpetually interested in challenging and expanding. The questions I explore center on intersecting histories of art, science and environment in the 19th and 20th centuries. I’m fascinated by how visualizations of landscape and geography — including paintings, maps, photographs and illustrated texts — conveyed changing understandings of “nature” across cultural, scientific and ecological dimensions of American empire.
I’m currently working on a book about how seacoasts were pictured in the 19th-century United States. I’m also starting new research on images produced by the Environmental Protection Agency in the 1970s.
What inspires you? I’m equally inspired by engaging with art and being outdoors, which probably helps explain why I study what I study! Exchanging ideas and sharing conversation with family, friends, students and colleagues never fails to make me think in new and creative ways
Favorite book you’ve read lately? Dear Science by Katherine McKittrick.
What food or condiments will we always find in your kitchen? Pickled jalapeños.
Collis Tahzib | Assistant Professor of Philosophy
My research focuses on contemporary theories of liberalism. In particular, I am interested in various principles of liberal political morality, such as the harm principle, the principle of state neutrality and the public justification principle.
What do you like to do in your spare time? Since the start of the pandemic, I have taken up oil painting.
Where is your favorite place to travel? The Peak District in England.
Favorite book you’ve read lately? The Salt Path by Raynor Winn.
Tahzib will be teaching Phil 337: “Political Philosophy” and Phil 537: “Seminar in Social and Political Philosophy” this fall.
Jackie Wang | Assistant Professor of American Studies and Ethnicity
My research is on the economic, racial and technological dimension of prisons and police in the United States. I use archival methods to study the history of mass incarceration and surveillance technology.
What do you like to do in your spare time? I play harp and write poetry.
What inspires you? Water and dreams
If you could invite one person to dinner, living or dead, who would you select? What would be on the menu? Frantz Fanon, for couscous.
Wang will be teaching ASMT 530: “Readings in African American Studies” this fall.
Mengxiao Wang | Assistant Professor of East Asian Languages and Cultures
My research interests include premodern Chinese literature, theater, print culture, religions and gender studies. I am currently working on my first book manuscript that explores the interactions between theater and Buddhism in late imperial China.
If you could invite one person to dinner, living or dead, who would you select? What would be on the menu? Cao Xueqin; all the fancy food that appears in his novel, the Dream of the Red Chamber.
What food or condiments will we always find in your kitchen? Lao Gan Ma chili sauce.
What do you like to do in your spare time? Hiking, Zumba, watching films, playing with cats and singing Kunqu opera.
Wang is teaching EALC 145g: “Introduction to Chinese Culture, Art and Literature” and EALC 380: “Cultural Topics in East Asian Literature” (Topic: “Gender in Traditional Chinese Culture and Literature”) in fall 2021.
Jennifer Wild | Associate Professor of Cinema and Media Studies and French and Italian
In my research and teaching, I specialize in the history of French visual culture, art and film; the history and theory of modernism, the avant-garde and experimental film; cinema and the other arts; feminist and political form; and historical film experience and aesthetic reception.
A host of new social sciences faculty members join the USC Dornsife College of Letters, Arts and Sciences for the fall 2021semester. Here they share insights into their academic and personal pursuits.