Orange Alert

Humanities Center Supports Four Spring 2024 Fellows

Research ranges from recovering ancestral foodways, making Black space in the digital age, natural reasoning through virtue to stereotypical Caribbean images.

Feb. 27, 2024, by Caroline K. Reff

Spring Flowers Tolley Humanities Building
The Humanities Center, whose home is in the Tolley Humanities Building (background, left), supports faculty research through competitive fellowships.

Humanities practitioners put current issues and events into perspective by encouraging critical thinking and analysis, challenging beliefs and values, sparking creativity and encouraging global citizenship and immersing in history. In an effort to further a world that is healthier, hopeful and more humane, the Syracuse University Humanities Center, in the College of Arts and Sciences, advances humanities research each year by awarding up to four competitive fellowships — three to faculty in the College of Arts and Sciences, including one with a direct link to the annual Syracuse Symposium theme (this year, Symposium’s programming theme is “Landscapes”); and one to a faculty member in the Maxwell School of Citizenship and Public Affairs.

“We are delighted to support the cutting-edge research being done by this year’s cohort of Faculty Fellows,” says Vivian May, director of the Humanities Center. “In different ways, their projects trace valences and vectors of power across time, place and circumstance and unpack important questions of human agency in making meaning and effecting change in the world. Several projects are community-based and engage in reciprocal meaning-making to de-center, if not shift, status quo power relations, and examine longstanding historical, philosophical and visual frameworks.”

Register now for the Humanities Center's virtual Meet the Scholars Coffee Hour on Friday, March 22, at 11 a.m., where all four faculty fellows will further discuss their respective projects. Brief video overviews are available for reviewing on the event listing page prior to the coffee hour Q&A.

Meet the Faculty Fellows

Mariaelena Huambachano portrait.

Mariaelena Huambachano, assistant professor, environmental humanities, Native American and Indigenous studies, College of Arts and Sciences

Mariaelena Huambachano was selected as one of this year’s Humanities Faculty Fellows for her book project, Recovering our Ancestral Foodways: Indigenous Traditions as a Recipe for Living Well. An Indigenous scholar from Peru, Huambachano’s research is the culmination of 10 years of field work with the Quechua of Peru and Māori of Aotearoa, New Zealand. Through this, she reveals their philosophies of well-being, food sovereignty, traditional ecological knowledge and contributions to sustainable food systems. Huambachano takes a critical view toward environmental injustices and inequalities in food security and nutrition while engaging with the politics of food, settler colonialism and food sovereignty undergoing rapid social-political change.

“My project shares the story of the determination of my Quechua ancestors and of the Māori people in holding fast to their culture and food traditions and uplifting their communities on their own terms and according to Indigenous values and practices despite centuries of colonization and its modern drivers, such as industrial agriculture,” says Huambachano. “This is just one of the many untold stories of how some Indigenous people around the globe are advancing the reclamation and restoration of ancestral foodways, food/seed sovereignty, cultural knowledge and human-environmental health to improve their physical and spiritual well-being now and for generations to come.”

Jennifer-Jackson portrait.

Jenn M. Jackson, assistant professor, political science, Maxwell School of Citizenship and Public Affairs

Jenn M. Jackson was selected as a Humanities Faculty Fellow for their project, Making a Revolution: The Radical Possibility of Black Space Making in the Digital Age, which was inspired by 100 interviews with young Black Americans between 2018 and 2022. These interviews focused on how young people navigate social media in innovative ways that. create and sustain new political space for movement organizing, political knowledge transmission and social identity affirmation. Despite living in an age of misinformation, many said they see social media as a central component not only socially but in creating more radical political outlooks among their demographic. Jackson’s research also indicated many young Black Americans working outside of traditional political networks and that community centers have created alternative spaces that decenter whiteness and center the most marginalized people. Jackson unpacks the tactics these youth used to construct spaces more responsive to the needs of young Americans today, as their project also delineates how these political and social spaces differ from movement spaces of prior generations.

“My intention is for this research to impact public policy on neighborhoods, policing and community health programs. Specifically, I hope that social workers and practitioners, local government administrators and community leaders alike will use this research because it is developed in community with those most vulnerable to threat and vulnerability, to develop strategies to build safer and more equitable community. These tactics and strategies should center on those most harmed by the status quo,” explains Jackson.

Hille Paakkunainen portrait.

Hille Paakkunainen, associate professor, philosophy, College of Arts and Sciences

Hille Paakkunainen was selected as a Humanities Faculty Fellow for her book project, Natural Reasons Through Virtue, the culmination of 20 years of study and research on how moral obligations relate to us and the rest of the world, questioning whether they are illusory or the products of personal or cultural preference or something more objective. That turned her attention to related questions regarding various kinds of obligations, not just moral ones, and the idea of something being a reason that genuinely calls for a particular action. Eventually, this morphed into an in interest in how individuals might understand reasons and obligations within a broadly naturalistic worldview — rather than as products of anything supernatural or non-natural — without viewing them as mere functions of personal or cultural preferences.

“I have gradually arrived at an overarching view about these matters that finally has me feeling like I have understood something, at least to my satisfaction,” says Paakkunainen. “The book I’m aiming to finish during my fellowship period articulates and defends my naturalistic view of reasons, obligations and related notions. I’m hoping that people in my field will read the book and at least find some challenging arguments to engage with so as to push research forward. I’ve been writing the book in such a way as to hopefully make the topics and main arguments understandable to those outside of my specific field of philosophy, including philosophers in other fields and humanities audiences beyond philosophy. I will be very happy if one day I find out that someone outside of academic philosophy read the book and found it useful.”

Cristina E. Pardo Porto portrait.

Cristina E. Pardo Porto, assistant professor, languages, literature and linguistics, College of Arts and Sciences

Cristina Pardo Porto was chosen as this year’s Syracuse Symposium Faculty Fellow for her project, Seeing Through the Tropics. Photographic Interventions of Caribbean Natural Environments. As a scholar of visual cultures and the history of photography, Pardo Porto has long been intrigued by the reduction of the Caribbean to images of pristine beaches, palm trees and perpetual sunshine, which are historically rooted in colonial portrayals of this region. The repeated stereotypes seen in tourist souvenirs and postcards led her to explore the influence of dominant visual culture on racial discourse, as well as power structures and the representation of the Caribbean’s environmental and social landscapes. Pardo Porto’s main objective is to bring awareness to the entrenched visual narratives that have confined representation of Caribbean cultures to reductive tropical imagery. Further, she illustrates how such imagery has a wider context situated in the historical entanglements of imperialism, tourism and human displacement in Central America and the Caribbean.

“My aim is to uncover the complex historical layers that result in stereotypical depictions of Caribbean cultures,” Pardo Porto explains. “Central to my research is highlighting interventions by contemporary diasporic artists from the region directly impacted by these pervasive stereotypes. Their pivotal artwork acts as a catalyst in dismantling oppressive visual narratives, challenging and reshaping prevailing perceptions of the Caribbean. Through their creative endeavors, they not only confront but also redefine the stereotypes, paving the way for a more authentic and inclusive portrayal of Caribbean social and natural landscapes.”


Mariaelena Huambachano Assistant Professor

Jenn Jackson Assistant Professor, Political Science

Hille Paakkunainen Associate Professor

Cristina Pardo Porto Assistant Professor, Latinx Literature and Culture

Media Contact

Caroline K. Reff