Residential Research Group Individual Fellowship (Fall 2015)

The History of Mortality: Interdisciplinary Approaches

The University of California Humanities Research Institute (UCHRI) invites individual applications from faculty, post-docs and graduate students across the disciplines interested in contributing to the Fall 2015 Residential Research Group Fellowship on the History of Mortality. The convener of this group is Karen Bassi, UC Santa Cruz Professor of Literature. Please see the research abstract included below for more information.

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Who Can Apply: UC Faculty, UC Post-Docs, UC Graduate Students (must be ABD) and non-UC faculty.
Level of Award: varies upon academic positions
Funding Source: UCHRI
Deadline: February 20, 2015 (11:59 pm PST). Apply online via FastApps (opens on October 1, 2014)
Group Residency Quarter: Fall 2015
Funding Decision: It is expected that awards will be announced in March 2015. Final awards are contingent upon available funding.

Research Abstract: “The History of Mortality: Interdisciplinary Approaches”

All humans face the fact and limits of their mortality. It can even be said that all forms of human cultural production are a defense against and a resistance to death. Extending from the Epicureans’ maxim that “death is nothing to us” (dated to the 3rd c. BCE) to current debates over end-of-life decisions, mortality is not simply a fact of human life but is freighted with the most pressing moral and ethical questions. Underlying these questions is the irony that the quest for immortality, expressed in a wide range of literary, philosophical, historical, and material culture forms, is contingent upon death.

The theme of the Residency is framed by the Promethean conundrum that humans know that they will die but must nevertheless go on living; Zygmunt Bauman succinctly refers to this paradox as “living with death” (1992, 12). Taking this condition as its governing principle, the Residency will be devoted to exploring the ways in which humans have responded to this fact. It begins from the proposition that the study of mortality, as the condition that gives human life its singular quality, is not to be equated with the study of death or “death studies.” The aim is to assess the effects of this distinction in the history of mortality’s deferral, its tendency toward euphemism, its susceptibility to quantification, its resistance to interpretation, and its relationship to the quest for immortality. Encompassing the temporal dimension that divides life from death, this history is relational rather than linear and invites both trans-historical and cross-cultural analyses. Possible topics include:

The history of mortality from antiquity to the Anthropocene, addressed to the ways in which social, political, and environmental variables affect the discourse of mortality in a given period and geo-political sphere.

  • The role of mortality in the evolution and dissemination of various cultural forms including literature, history writing, visual practices, religious beliefs, science and technology.
  • The ways in which race, class and gender are defined and differentiated in terms of the risks and consequences of mortality.
  • The rhetorical strategies that sustain various beliefs and practices aimed at accepting, denying, resisting, or deferring death.
  • The built environment (monumental architecture, funerary inscriptions, national memorials to the war dead, etc.) as responses to the fact of mortality.
  • The effects and consequences of virtual worlds and other cyber-spatial environments in which death is an ever present but temporary state.

We invite applications from scholars across the disciplines who wish to contribute to a comparative and collaborative study of human mortality. A particular challenge will be to devise a research methodology in which the ephemerality of human life is the basis for what Kurt W. Forster calls “the mortality of culture” (1982, 8). The culmination of the Residency will be twofold: a volume of essays organized around a set of thematic and theoretical topics as defined by the group and a set of syllabi and bibliographies for undergraduate and graduate courses.

Program Overview

Residential research groups (RRGs) are at the heart of the UC Humanities Research Institute activities, convening key scholars to work in collaboration on interdisciplinary topics of special significance. UCHRI promotes new scholarship in the humanities by fostering collaborative inquiry outside institutional and disciplinary structures. RRGs consist of teams of researchers, often unknown to each other before residency, assembled to work on a commonly-defined research agenda. They are composed of a range of UC faculty, UC postdoctoral scholars, UC doctoral students, and non-UC faculty as resources allow.

RRGs are developed through a two-stage process. First, research topics for RRGs are determined by open competition or by UCHRI in consultation with its Advisory Board and UC leaders in the humanities. Once approved, an RRG then becomes open to academic researchers interested in participating in that particular topic. Then, through a competitive review process, individual RRG fellows are selected based on their ability to contribute to the research agenda of the group.

Collaboration may take many forms. In communicating across disciplines, there are challenges of language, terminology, and methodology for all RRGs. The organizing premise of the residential research program is that when those challenges are surmounted, breakthroughs in knowledge are possible.

Expected outcomes of an RRG include edited or co-edited volumes, key word texts, multimedia websites, significant extramural proposals, substantial curriculum plans, or other such significant projects arising from research pursued at UCHRI.

Acceptance of the fellowship means that fellows would be in residence for an entire quarter. UCHRI’s facilities for participating scholars include on-site offices, meeting rooms, a multi-media room, and a reference library. Furnished apartments are provided to fellows by the Institute for use on an as-needed basis during their residencies, resources permitting.

How to Apply

Applications from prospective participants are accepted exclusively online via UCHRI’s FastApps system.

Required documents include:

  • Biographical Summary (150 words max.)
  • Proposal Abstract (150 words max.)
  • Proposal Narrative (2000 words max). Please explain research aims for the residence and explain how they relate to the collective proposal.
  • Curriculum Vitae of the applicant. (2 pages max.)

For program related questions, please contact Suedine Nakano, Program Officer at

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