Four UW–Madison students receive Mellon/ACLS Dissertation Innovation Fellowships

Four UW–Madison students have been awarded fellowships from the American Council of Learned Societies (ACLS) and the Mellon Foundation to support their innovative and creative dissertation research.

The Mellon/ACLS Dissertation Innovation Fellowships support doctoral students in the humanities and social sciences with up to $50,000 including funds for research, training, professional development, and mentorship. The four fellows at UW–Madison are among 45 overall, selected from a pool of more than 700 applicants. They are:

  • Kuhelika Ghosh, doctoral candidate in English with a minor in Culture, History, and Environment
  • Fauzi Moro, doctoral student in History with a minor in African Cultural Studies
  • Anika M. Rice, doctoral student in Geography with a minor in Community-Engaged Scholarship
  • Vignesh Ramachandran, doctoral student in Geography

Read more about each Mellon/ACLS Fellow below.

Kuhelika Ghosh

Kuhelika GhoshKuhelika Ghosh is a PhD Candidate in Literary Studies in the Department of English with a minor in Culture, History, and Environment (CHE). She is currently working on her dissertation, which explores questions of voice and care in multispecies gardens in contemporary Anglophone Caribbean literature and culture. Her writing has appeared in ariel: A Review of International English LiteratureEdge EffectsEnvironmental History Now, and Brittle Paper.

Ghosh’s dissertation explores multispecies gardens in Anglophone Caribbean literature and culture from the 1960s to the present, bringing together postcolonial studies and ecocritical approaches.

“I am interested in the ways that Afro-diasporic women’s gardening practices in the Caribbean region often engage with nonhuman rhythms relating to seasonal time, harvest and fallow, and the lives of insects, birds, and other species,” she said.

Through this work, Ghosh demonstrates how human gardening practices and the rhythms of many different species found in gardens of various types relate to postcolonial food politics and responses to empire. Ghosh explained that the original kitchen and market gardens began during plantation slavery as provisions grounds, which were plots of land set apart from plantations for enslaved people to grow their own food.

The project uses literary texts, visual culture, little-studied archival materials, and physical gardens to create new theories about key problems in cultural study, including voice, rhythm, and spatiality. Ghosh takes an interdisciplinary approach that crosses through literary studies, environmental studies, history, and visual cultures, which gives her dissertation the boundary-pushing trait the Mellon/ACLS fellowship seeks to encourage.

“By focusing on small-scale cultivation, women’s care work, and ‘inconsequential’ multispecies creatures, my project sheds light on the many minor figures in the postcolonial Caribbean that have the power to create change in food justice movements,” Ghosh said.

She also said agricultural scholarship tends to be biased toward men’s labor, while women make up a significant portion of the agricultural labor force in the Caribbean – especially through domestic spaces like backyard gardens. She seeks to highlight Caribbean women’s perspectives and voices around the topics of food justice and postcolonial politics.

“I hope my research brings to light the importance of gardens as a feminist practice, postcolonial agricultural strategy, as well as a form of art in itself,” Ghosh said. “Gardens are often seen as ‘minor’ in the field of the environmental humanities, but my dissertation attempts to demonstrate that although a garden may be minor in terms of area, it has political, ecological, and social significances for marginalized populations in the Caribbean as well as in other postcolonial spaces around the globe.”

Fauziyatu Moro (Fauzi)

Fauzi MoroFauziyatu Moro (Fauzi) is a PhD student in History with a minor in African Cultural Studies. Her dissertation examines migrant urban leisure and social life in 20th-century Accra, the capital of Ghana.

Three miles north of Accra’s central business district, the city’s largest migrant enclave, Nima, houses migrants from various African countries. Moro explained that in the nine decades of Nima’s existence, its residents have embodied a distinct Afro-cosmopolitan identity that has thus far gone unnoticed by scholars of African urban history, migration, and the African diaspora.

Moro’s dissertation and an open-access digital archive emerging from her work theorizes Nima as an internal African diaspora and an unprecedented site of pan-African consciousness. This is facilitated by migrants’ urban leisure which speaks to an ethos of global Black solidarity, Moro said.

“By centering intra-Africa migrants’ social imaginations and amusements in the making of Accra’s pan-African and transnational history, my dissertation offers a glimpse into the possibilities of researching migration and urbanization in Africa through the category of leisure as opposed to migrant labor,” Moro said. This challenges scholars to reassess assumptions about working-class intra-Africa migrants, while introducing ideas about migrants’ roles as key historical actors in creating and socially transforming African urban spaces, she added.

Moro’s project centers on migrants’ narratives, social imaginations, and visual and material culture, creating a retelling of the history of Accra. This is underscored by multi-disciplinary methods including oral sources, state and migrants’ personal archives, print media, and literary and visual analysis.

“Migrants’ oral histories and personal archives are particularly crucial to my methodology because they anchor the counter-narrative I seek to provide about Accra’s intra-Africa migrants whose lives and experiences often come to us through the skewed lens of crime, poverty and/or chaos. My research is, thus, undergirded by a quest to make visible the histories of Africa’s urban migrants as told in their own voices,” Moro said.

Anika M. Rice

Anika M. RiceAnika M. Rice is a doctoral student in Geography with a minor in Community-Engaged Scholarship. Her dissertation scrutinizes the intersectional roles of land access and gender in migration decisions and outcomes in Guatemala’s western highlands.

“In this context, how families leverage landholdings for migration is central to livelihoods, agrarian change, debt, and situated meanings of land,” Rice said.

Land access is often left out of discussions about the root causes of migration in Central America, Rice explained. Her research provides a grounding point that takes seriously the role of land access and how land is used in the decisions that families make about migration.

Rice will collaborate with groups of predominantly Maya K’iche’ women with migrant family members who seek to understand possibilities for collective resistance against the structural and institutional impacts of migration. These groups are part of the Jesuit Migration Network‘s programming in Guatemala.

“I intend for my research to center the agency of K’iche’ women and other marginalized folks in communities of origin, and affirm the right to migrate with dignity,” she said.

Rice said that while there has been important work on transnational migration in host and transit countries, as well as on the intersections of migration and agrarian change, there is limited attention to the gendered impacts of migration in communities of origin and how migration is tied to land access. Her dissertation will use community-based research approaches to engage with the experiences of women with migrant family members, showing their strategies for survival and persistence.

Previous scholarship has often focused on the head of household and on remittances sent home from migrants. Rice’s methods will integrate household surveys with ethnographic work that engages with how multiple family members in different social positions relate to and may leverage specific parcels of land for migration.

“Elevating voices from communities of origin, with a focus on how women are organizing, is central to the co-production of knowledge on social relations, mobility and the environment,” Rice said.

Vignesh Ramachandran

Vignesh RamachandranVignesh Ramachandran is a doctoral student in Geography. His dissertation explores immigrant delivery workers’ perspectives of the gig economy as a way to complicate our understanding of how scientific management shapes workers’ social and economic lives in New York City.

Scientific management, also known as Taylorism, focuses on economic efficiency and labor productivity. Ramachandran’s research focuses on how digital Taylorism – such as automation, artificial intelligence (AI), and algorithm-based management practices – affects delivery workers. Ramachandran uses a worker’s inquiry methodology that emphasizes collaborative, action-oriented research conducted alongside workers to document the effects of digital Taylorism.

“Through this methodology, this project outlines the racializing and disciplining effects of algorithms in shaping the lives of immigrant delivery workers,” Ramachandran said. “In doing so, it also hopes to discover how digital Taylorism produces residual after-effects, like solidarity and care, that propose other modes of social life under the managerial control of algorithms and digital technology.”

Innovations in automation and AI are constantly changing the terrain of labor and work, Ramachandran said. Many of those innovations are implemented in the gig economy and push workers to work harder and faster, while corporations increase their profits, he said. His dissertation challenges “disembodied” descriptions of technological innovation by centering perspectives of immigrant delivery workers.

“Many working class immigrants in New York City have been doubly subjected to the effects of imperialism—faced with austerity, militarism, and climate crisis in their home countries, and border violence, policing, and structural poverty in the U.S.,” Ramachandran said. “In this context, my research challenges race-neutral accounts of the gig economy by situating exploitation in the gig economy within the long [duration] of racial capitalism and imperialism, and by documenting stories of immigrant worker resistance amidst this violence.”

Ramachandran said his approach to dissertation research “re-introduces the workers’ inquiry as an innovative form of collaborative research that academics can undertake with workers.”

“Whereas companies like Uber, Grubhub, and Doordash spend millions on research and development to maximize profit in the gig economy, the workers’ inquiry turns to the experiences and situated knowledge of workers to document and contest exploitation in their workplace,” he explained. “In this case, this project builds on over two years of community-engaged research with undocumented South Asian delivery workers and community organizations to understand how resistance to exploitation in the gig economy takes place at the intersection of digital technology, labor, and everyday immigrant life. Moreover, the project develops the importance of collaborative, community engaged methodologies in the broader humanities and social sciences.”