Experts on contemporary Russian cinema, South African history and music join USC Dornsife
Left to right from top: Christina Davidson, Jonathan Leal, Admire Meseba, Ellina Sattarova and Ariel “AE” Stevenson join USC Dornsife’s humanities division. (Composite: Letty Avila. Photos: Courtesy of each faculty member shown.)

Experts on contemporary Russian cinema, South African history and music join USC Dornsife

A new cohort of humanities faculty share global scholarship with colleagues and students this fall.
Margaret Crable

From the Dominican Republic to Russia to South Africa, the newest group of humanities faculty members joining the USC Dornsife College of Letters Arts and Sciences bring a global perspective on research. They recently shared more about their scholarship and interests.

Christina Davidson | Assistant Professor of History

photo of Christina Davidson

Academic Focus: My research focuses on intersections of race, religion and empire in the Americas. My current book manuscript explores diplomatic and cultural relations between the Dominican Republic and the United States in the late 19th century. I focus especially on African Americans’ engagement with Latin America through government and religious institutions.

What are your hobbies? I like to exercise, garden, read and watch movies.

What food or condiments will we always find in your kitchen? Fruit and oat milk.

Jonathan Leal | Assistant Professor of English

photo of Jonathan Leal

Academic Focus: In my scholarship and art practices, I think about music, narrative, race, borders, memory and community — how these concepts inform one another, challenge one another, beget new terms altogether. Sometimes that research finds form as literary scholarship, music criticism, media critique, creative nonfiction. Other times, the work finds shape as collaborative albums, EPs and music singles with fellow instrumentalists, as well as with singers, poets, scientists, painters and more. I’m fascinated and spurred by the ways variously aggrieved communities have found, used and reached for artistic forms to express themselves, to preserve and renew their histories and to imagine new social arrangements.

If you could invite one person to dinner, living or dead, who would you select? What would be on the menu? Hands down: Esteban Jordan, the Rio Grande Valley accordion legend (#Puro956!). On the menu: spicy pork tamales. The scene: Ee’re eating in a beautifully lit living room in deep South Texas, filled with vibrant colors and the peals of fellow guests’ joy. It is winter.

Read any good books lately? Many! A short list: Lost in Summerland by Barrett Swanson; Memory: Letters on Writing, Silence, and Grief by Victoria Chang; Body Work: The Radical Power of Personal Narrative by Melissa Febos; Fragments of an Infinite Memory: My Life with the Internet by Maël Renouard; and Elvia Wilk’s Death by Landscape. So good, all!

What food or condiments will we always find in your kitchen? Chiles of all varieties. They soothe the soul.

Admire Mseba | Assistant Professor of History

photo of Admire Meseba

Academic Focus: I am a historian of precolonial and colonial Southern Africa. I work on the region’s social, environmental and economic histories. I am especially interested in how relations of power have historically shaped access to resources, particularly land, and how, in turn, land has fired Africans’ political imaginations. I am also working on a second project on the multiple forces that have shaped international cooperation in environmental control in 20th-century Southern Africa.

What are your hobbies? Reading, watching TV.

Ellina Sattarova | Assistant Professor of Slavic Languages and Literature

photo of Ellina Sattarova

Academic Focus: My research interests include contemporary Russian cinema, the work of Russian necrorealists and the transformations of the trickster figure in Central Asian cinema. I am currently working on a book manuscript, tentatively titled Biopolitics in Contemporary Russian Cinema, in which I investigate the increasing interest of contemporary Russian filmmakers in the fraught relationship between human life and political power.

Ariel “AE” Stevenson | Assistant Professor of Gender and Sexuality Studies

photo of Ariel Stevenson

Academic Focus: I am a Black feminist visual studies scholar, which allows me to pursue many topics such as media studies, horror studies, film studies and phenomenology. My current work looks to elevate and add to the extensive and groundbreaking Black feminist work within film studies and Internet studies. In the future, I hope to join scholars like Rizvana Bradley and my colleague Zakiyyah Iman Jackson in developing aesthetic theory that is generated from thinking about Blackness and Black creators.

If you could invite one person to dinner, living or dead, who would you select? What would be on the menu? I would invite Solange [Knowles] to dinner at my house because I want to talk philosophy and architecture with her over some BBQ (for me a spicy chopped beef baked potato) and Revolver Blood & Honey beers.

Read any good books lately? I’ve been on a romance novel kick for some much-needed levity. While not at all light, I found Akwaeke Emezi’s You Made a Fool of Death with Your Beauty to be impossible to put down. For much later and California-related fare, I recommend Jasmine Guillory’s The Proposal. Once you’re invested in the world, it’ll be impossible to not finish the entire series.

What food or condiments will we always find in your kitchen? Salt & Straw ice cream (RIP goat cheese & black olive brittle flavor) and Target’s Favorite Day Monster Trail Mix.

Learn about other faculty who joined USC Dornsife this fall >>