The 2016-17 ISS Dissertation Improvement Awards supported students exploring subjects ranging from adult emergent literacy to the politics of climate change, and from virtual reality to Peruvian history.

Anthropology | Communication | Economics | History | Linguistics | Philosophy | Political Science | Psychology | Sociology


Roshanne Bahktiary

My dissertation, Understanding Prehistoric Patterns of Shellfish Consumption in the San Francisco Bay Area: A Comparative Test of Three Models, investigates the shifting opportunity costs of shellfishing in prehistoric Central California by incorporating stable isotopic data on the seasonal harvesting of shellfish with stable isotopic data on individual prehistoric local diets. By examining the prehistoric archaeological record over the past 5,500 years, I am seeking to address the role shellfish played in local diets, and how this role might have shifted throughout California prehistory. I hope to show that shellfish, a fauna that is often underutilized in archaeological analyses, can give unique insights into the past behaviors, settlement patterns, and population dynamics of the greater San Francisco Bay Area.

In the summer of 2016, I directed the UC Davis Archaeological Field School as part of my dissertation field work. I used the Dissertation Improvement funding from ISS to AMS radiocarbon date three samples taken during excavation. This was a great help as radiocarbon dating is one of the costliest aspects of data analysis in archaeological research. It is also an essential part of archaeological research, as it places the site and materials collected within it in a larger temporal framework for the region.

Mariel Garcia Llorens

My project, Financializing ‘the poor’: the Peruvian mobile money platform, investigates the practices of the software engineers, bankers, and technocrats that are working together to produce mobile money as both a financial technology and a development model in Peru.

Mobile money projects that enable basic cellphones to do monetary transactions are prolific in the so-called developing countries, where most people have cellphones and relatively few have bank accounts. In Peru, under the name of Billetera Movil (Mobile Wallet), mobile money is the project of a consortium of twenty-two financial institutions (private banks, cajas municipales and other financial players) and most of the telecom operators. Together, they have been building a single transactional infrastructure for all. Working in coordination with the Ministries of Finance and Social Development and under the umbrella of the World Bank “banking the unbanked” strategies, this consortium seeks to draw the poor and marginalized people that have historically been the constituents of development schemes into the formal banking system, to rationalize and improve their existing informal economies.

The ISS Dissertation Improvement Award facilitated travel to Lima, Peru for a two-month preliminary fieldwork trip in the Billetera Movil (BM) headquarters, observing these heterogeneous communities of experts working together. These preliminary explorations allowed me to be better prepared for my long-term fieldwork that seeks to empirically understand how a local mobile money project links different, partially connected worlds of global finance and social development.

Kevin Smith

My project, Technology, Environment, and Subsistence in the Terminal Pleistocene and Early Holocene, California, aims to understand Paleo-Indian adaptations to changing Pleistocene-Holocene environments in California through a reconstruction of their technical systems and subsistence strategies. More specifically, I seek to elucidate the function and the roles played by certain types of stone tools such as stemmed points and crescents in human foraging strategies in the California Channel Islands and the Great Basin. Ultimately, the goal is to understand these tools within an ecological and social context, especially during their Terminal Pleistocene success and Mid-Holocene demise. These goals will be met through an innovative experimental and comparative research design including :1) knapping and replication; 2) ballistic testing; 3) actualistic hunting; and 4) measurement of tool edge wear and breakage patterns. Data from these experiments will serve as a “training set” for archaeological specimens, to help estimate the production costs and functional efficiency of different ancient tool forms.

The Institute for Social Sciences Dissertation Improvement Award has been pivotal in facilitating the initial stages of this study. ISS funds have already been used to travel to several archaeological sites that provide the main data sets for this dissertation research, as well as for dating stone tools using obsidian hydration analysis. Residual funds will be applied to acquiring specific laboratory equipment necessary for the analyses outlined above. 



Cassandra Alexopoulos

My dissertation explores the role of entertainment media in young adults’ decision-making processes regarding infidelity. The three individual studies that comprise the dissertation account for the perspectives of both partners in a cheating relationship by measuring people’s responses to a partner’s hypothetical infidelity, and measuring their intention to commit infidelity or justify their own cheating behaviors.

The ISS Dissertation Improvement Award, combined with funding from the University of Essex's ESSEXLab, allowed me to travel to the U.K. to conduct a lab experiment examining whether people’s responses to infidelity vary as a function of the depiction of positive or negative consequences to infidelity. Using songs from the hip-hop genre, participants were exposed to either a song narrative depicting positive consequences to infidelity, such as physical satisfaction or pride, or a song narrative depicting negative consequences to infidelity, such as guilt, sadness, or relationship termination. Data from the American and British samples indicated that the nature of these effects did not differ across cultures.

Grace Benefield

My dissertation, How Group Social Capital and Communication Coordination Interact on Wikipedia, tests the relationship between tightly-knit groups and similarity in language use over time among Wikipedia editors. Essentially, I am trying to determine whether groups of people that are closely connected adjust their language to be more similar or whether people with similar language patterns tend to create closed groups.

I used the ISS Dissertation Improvement Award to attend a dissertation-improving workshop in England, the Oxford Internet Institute's Summer Doctoral Programme. The programme was invaluable in helping to focus my dissertation and ensure that it is broadly appealing to other social scientists who study the Internet in interdisciplinary and international ways.

Tessa DeAngelo

My dissertation research explores how individuals process online news as a function of message features. It draws from and extends the theoretical assumptions outlined within the limited capacity model of motivated mediated message processing (LC4MP) to consider how web-based structural characteristics and message content characteristics affect attention to and memory for news information. Practically, results of this multi-phase project may be used to better inform news editors and web designers in ways of strategically presenting news information to enhance story selection and memory. 

The Institute for Social Sciences Dissertation Improvement Award helped me to present my research at the National Communication Association Conference, where I gained valuable feedback on my research. 

Wenjing Pan

My dissertation, titled Social Capital, Social Support, and Health Outcomes of Online Depression Forum Participation, focuses on the exchanged social capital and social support among online depression forum users. By participating in forum discussion (in terms of posting and replying), forum users establish different ties (strong/weak) with each other. The ties established among them can be seen as forms social capital because it takes users’ limited resources and attention. Adopting social network analysis approach method, surveys, and automatic linguistic analysis method, my dissertation aims to capture how depression forum users cultivate and benefit from social capital by investigating how they interact with each other on the forum. By surveying forum users, I can connect the structure measurement of social capital with the perceived social support and perceived health benefit of depression forum users. Moreover, by adopting automatic linguistic analysis, I can monitor forum users psychological states by analyzing their language use. 

Support from the Institute for Social Sciences helped me to travel to the National Communication Association’s annual conference to present my research to other scholars and receive feedback from them. Furthermore, I also used the award to buy computer software and books to perform automatic linguistic analysis and network analysis. 



Chenghao Hu

My research focuses on effects of banking sector competition on export volatility in a cross-country setting. The title is Banking Sector Competition, Financial Dependence and Export Volatility:  Theory and Evidence. The central question of my study is that whether lower banking sector competition can increase or decrease export volatility and if so, what is the mechanism at work. My research points out that banking deregulation (more competition) can indeed lead to lower export volatility and this effect of deregulation on export volatility is especially stronger for sectors that are more dependent on external finance. By setting up a theoretical model, I show that the key to explain those empirical patterns lies in different responses of financial constrained firms and financially unconstrained firms to a more concentrated banking environment. As an extension, I bring the analysis further by showing that various banking characteristics can indeed contribute to a heterogeneous relationship between banking sector competition and export volatility. My work has important implications on banking sector deregulation policy and contributes to a better understanding of export volatility at a more aggregate country-sector level.

The generous support from the Institute for Social Sciences allows me to travel to a conference and enable me to present my research on Banking Sector Competition and Export Volatility in front of a large audience. By attending the conference and present my paper there, I can receive crucial feedbacks from my peers and senior economists. Besides, I will also be on the job market soon and I believe that the ISS dissertation improvement award can also help me to better prepare for the coming job market.

Jongkwan Lee

My project, The Role of Intergenerational Mobility in Internal Migration, investigates the role of intergenerational mobility in the internal migration decisions of families. Due to the significant geographic variation of intergenerational mobility across the US, rational parents would consider intergenerational earnings mobility when migrating if they value their children’s human capital accumulation and future outcomes. I employ a revealed preference framework where families choose an area to maximize children’s expected outcomes as well as parents’ utility and test the effect of skill transferability of a region on internal migration. I find that highly educated families with school-aged children choose areas that favor upward mobility. On the other hand, the effect of upward mobility varies by family income for low-education families with a school-aged child.

Furthermore, our welfare analysis finds that a unit increase in upward mobility provides utility equivalent to $685 additional mean wage in an area to a high-education family with a child when the parents of the family are ranked at the median level of the national income distribution. This value varies across different types of families from -$161 to $685 per each family at the median level of household income.

The generous support from the Institute for Social Sciences enabled me to travel to one of the largest conferences in economics, the North American Summer Meeting of the Econometric Society 2016, to present this research. Discussing and receiving comments from great scholars improved my research. 

Seungduck Lee

My dissertation analyzes the determinants of asset prices and the effect of monetary policy on not only asset prices, but also on other macroeconomic outcomes such as asset market trade volume and welfare in an environment with search frictions. The analysis in such an environment helps to examine an important component of determining asset prices: liquidity, which is assets' ability to facilitate transactions. Hence, the dissertation particularly examines the effect of monetary policy on asset prices that the traditional asset pricing models without search frictions may be missing, and also explain some phenomena which are often considered abnormal (or as puzzles) in macroeconomics and international macro such as negative nominal yields and the Uncovered Interest Parity puzzle.

The ISS Dissertation Improvement Award allowed me to travel to a money-search-related conference to present my research results. At the conference, I was able to receive great feedback and to reflect it in my research. Moreover, I had a good chance to come up with new research topics through the conference. 

Lester Lusher

An extensive literature in economics has investigated the efficacy of monetary incentive programs in education. Lester's dissertation examines the role of commitment and motivation by evaluating a program called CollegeBetter.com which acts as a commitment device and monetary incentive to improve undergraduate academic performance. CollegeBetter.com, founded by Lester in 2015, is based off a parimutuel betting market, where students join a pool by placing a monetary wager on themselves to achieve the pool's "commitment challenge." Students who successfully commit to the challenge 1) recover their wager and 2) split losing wagers equally. With support from several grants including the Dissertation Improvement award from ISS, Lester conducted a series of surveys and field experiments to find that students who signed up for the program were low-achieving, overconfident, and self-identified procrastinators. Across all pools, students randomly accepted to participate were more likely to raise their GPA than students who applied for a spot but were randomly excluded. CollegeBetter.com continues to be offered to students at UC Davis, and Lester is looking to expand the program to the University of Hawaii, where he now serves as an assistant professor of economics.

Ariel Pihl

My dissertation, Essays on Maternal Employment and Child Health, centers on two themes. First: how do public policies affect the incentives of mothers to participate in the labor market? And second: how do these maternal employment incentives and economic opportunities impact the health of children? 

The central chapter of my dissertation focuses on the first theme, and identifies the impact of a large means-tested preschool program, Head Start, on the labor supply of mothers. I use a discontinuity in grant writing assistance in the first year of the Head Start program to identify impacts on the work and welfare usage of mothers. Using restricted Decennial Census and administrative AFDC data I find that Head Start decreases employment rates and hours worked per week for single mothers. I also find a suggestive increase in welfare receipt for single mothers which is confirmed by an increase in the share of administrative welfare case-files that are single mother households. Additionally, I examine the long-run effects of the program and find large and persistent declines in work for both non- white mothers and single mothers, accompanied by increase in public assistance income. I argue that this is consistent with the 1960’s era Head Start program’s focus on encouraging quality parenting, parent participation and helping families access all benefits for which they were eligible.

The support provided by the Institute for Social Sciences funded many trips to access restricted Census data at the UC Berkeley Research Data Center. This was instrumental to the project’s success.

Tingting Zhu

Fiscal policies have come into the frontier since the Great Recession, as the conventional monetary policies are constrained at the zero-lower bound. My project, “Collateral constraint amplification of fiscal policies across business cycles”, explains the nonlinear effects of fiscal policies. A tighter household financial condition in downturns leads to a bigger effect of fiscal policies. It supports a greater use of fiscal policies in bad times. The award helped me attend a graduate conference and presented my work. It was a good chance to exchange ideas with other talents in the field.

An award was also presented to Lijuan Yin. 



Matt Casey

I am a PhD Candidate currently completing my dissertation titled The Religion Question: How Christians Shaped Society during Peru’s Long Cold War. In it, I map out the shifting conflicts between Christians over the role of religion in society throughout the twentieth century. From Catholic mobs attacking Seventh Day Adventist missionaries near Lake Titicaca in 1913 to Liberation Theologians preaching about Marxism during the 1970s, Christians have driven social change using their religious identities as guide. I argue that conflicts between different religious factions—including both Catholics and Protestants—defined the ways that Peruvians experienced the politically polarized long cold war, which pitted progressives against conservatives in a battle over the future that played out in the media, schools, courthouses, and the public square. 

The ISS Dissertation Improvement award supported my final stint of archival research in November and December of 2016 at the Archivo Arzobispal and the Biblioteca Nacional in Lima, Peru. At the Archbishop’s archive, I collected the correspondences of Lima’s Archbishops from throughout the early twentieth century. These documents reveal the popular demands of priests and lay Catholics in the face of a rapidly secularizing society. At the National Library, I worked with Protestant missionary pamphlets from dozens of church organizations. [The photo above shows three young men from the Iglesia Evangélica Peruana (Peruvian Evangelical Church) singing hymns during a retreat in 1970.] 

Grace Chieh

Becoming the Legitimate Government of China: Grassroots China Lobbying and the Rise of the New Right, 1937-1984 focuses on the early ties that were formed between the Republic of China (ROC) and the Chinese American community, specifically in Seattle and Los Angeles through examining multiethnic Chinese culture societies. Many participants initially joined these cultural societies because of their business interest in China during the early part of the twentieth century, however after 1937, I argue that their relationship with the Nationalist government begins to change. These Americans begin to develop a friendship that was based on cultural interest and respect. Examining the activities between members of these Chinese culture societies and the Nationalists provide greater insight as to why Americans became such loyal supporters of the ROC government during the Second Sino-Japanese War, World War II, and even after the establishment of the People’s Republic of China. Throughout my project, I also look at how transnational politics impacted Chinese American identity.   

The 2016-2017 Institute for Social Sciences Dissertation Improvement Award has been extremely helpful in funding my research trips in Seattle. I had to conduct some follow-up research trips at the University of Washington’s Special Collections Archive to reexamine documents from the China Club of Seattle for my second chapter of my dissertation.

Rebecca Egli

The ISS Dissertation Improvement award supported a trip to the 2017 American Society for Environmental History’s annual conference in Chicago, Illinois where I presented research from my forthcoming dissertation, The World of Our Dreams: Agricultural Explorers and the Promise of American Science, 1890-1945. By covering my travel costs, ISS funds have allowed me to share my research findings with scholars in my field and invest in my professional development.

This project illuminates the United States’ preoccupation with perfecting nature through agriculture from 1890 to 1945. It narrates efforts by federal scientists to import exotic plants into the United States for the purpose of creating new crop industries. After Congress established the Department of Agriculture in 1862, the federal government took an active role in funding the importation of thousands of useful new seeds and plants. It significantly expanded these activities in 1898 with the creation of the Office of Foreign Seed and Plant Introduction, which hired “agricultural explorers,” scientists who traveled the world in search of useful plants and animals.

As bureaucrats and federal plant scientists gradually recognized the value of agricultural exploration, plant importation and experimentation shifted from diffuse attempts to an official policy for national and regional development. While agricultural exploration revolutionized the nation’s farms and diet, it also reveals much about the social implications rooted in our ways of managing and “improving” nature and human society. Wishing to create an “American Eden,” these scientists, bureaucrats, and explorers believed that through the proper application of government-funded science, America could achieve an ecological self-sufficiency from the rest of the world that would directly benefit farmers and consumers. Scientific agriculture, many believed, offered the best way to inoculate the nation against economic and ecological disorder. Forever altering the nation’s biodiversity, in a few years’ time scientists unleashed thousands of new plant and insect species while only dimly understanding the vast environmental and economic implications of their actions. In an effort to adapt new specimens to a variety of North American climates, federal scientists conducted breeding experiments, often with a commitment to broader social reform through the study of plant, animal, and human heredity, shaping public policy in significant and surprising ways. 

Jeremy Mikecz

I just completed my dissertation, Mapping Conquest: A Spatial History of the Invasion of Peru (ca. 1528-1537) this summer (2017). This dissertation asks: what role did indigenous actors play in this ‘conquest’ and how were Spanish conquest campaigns affected by indigenous participation, and local indigenous history and geography? To answer this question, it combines ethnohistorical, digital history, and geospatial methodologies to retell the story of the Spanish conquest in Peru (and of European conquests of indigenous societies more generally). This study integrates these methods – as well as lessons from similar fields such as literary geography and Historical GIS – by applying a two-step methodology that a) deconstructs colonial texts and their narratives, and b) reconstructs the role of previously erased or marginalized indigenous people, places, institutions, and histories. 

The ISS Dissertation Improvement Award allowed me to travel to Nashville last year to participate in the American Society for Ethnohistory Annual Meeting at a critical juncture in my research. One of the principal goals of ethnohistory is to reconstruct the history of marginalized groups, especially indigenous people. My research grapples with the question of how digital tools, particularly digital mapping and visualization, can help in this endeavor. Participating in a panel on space, place, and landscape in Andean history thus was a great opportunity to share ideas with the few scholars whose research also examines this unique combination of themes. I will continue interdisciplinary research of indigenous-colonial encounters at my current position as a postdoctoral fellow in Digital Humanities at the University of Southern California. 

Mike Mortimer

Mike Mortimer studies early American and Native American history, specializing in the political ecology of colonial borderlands. His dissertation project is entitled, ‘While the Mountains Remain and the Rivers Run': Indigenous Power and Presence in the St. Lawrence Borderlands, 1608-1847. This project explores the ways in which climate change, colonialism, and indigenous politics shaped the evolution of the US-Canada border from a Native American borderland into an international boundary. 

Mike’s research centers on the development of the Seven Fires Confederacy—a multinational alliance of Iroquoian, Abenaki, and Anishinaabe mission communities founded in the last decades of the seventeenth century. Despite the Seven Fires Confederacy’s sustained proximity to Euro-American settler populations, the Seven Fires maintained their political and cultural autonomy by collectively managing mobility and common hunting territories in a shared riverine network.

Support from the Institute for Social Sciences enabled him to workshop a chapter of this dissertation at the Conference on Iroquois Research in Albany, New York in October, 2016. This annual symposium provided an unparalleled opportunity to receive critical feedback from an interdisciplinary group of scholars based in universities and tribal communities.



Gabriella Notarianni Burk

Gabriella Notarianni Burk’s dissertation project, Tense and Aspect in the Acquisition of Italian as a Foreign Language, examines the extent to which lexical aspect and discourse influence the acquisition of past-referring temporality in instructional contexts. To this end, ninety undergraduate learners of Italian from two North American public universities participated in the study. The aim is to investigate the developmental sequences for encoding tense and aspect in interlanguage verbal morphology across three levels of proficiency (beginning, intermediate and advanced). The data collection method consisted of two written interpretation tasks and one production narrative task. Results from this project are expected to provide a better understanding of how lexical aspect and discourse interact in the distribution of verbal morphology and how learners acquire the temporal and aspectual features across levels of proficiency.

The ISS Dissertation Improvement Award offered valuable financial support during data collection. Funds were used to travel to the two research sites in California, to purchase books on the dissertation topic, and to reimburse expenses for the two written tasks. 

Emily Moline

My dissertation, L1 and L2 adult emergent literacy: Reading patterns, interactions, and policies within an English literacy program, is an analysis of emergent adult literacy learning, specifically investigating the strategies that adults use when they learn how to read through analysis of the kinds of reading errors committed, as well as ideologies about how literacy should be learned/taught. I'm looking at three kinds of learners: people who are learning to read in their first language for the first time, people who are learning to read in their second language for the first time without literacy in their first, and second language learners with prior literacy experience in their first language—as you might imagine, there is a great deal of variation within these three groups, but it isn't always reflected in materials or training. I’m also comparing how their learning strategies intersect with the pedagogical techniques used by their teachers, in addition to the broader policies of the program and contemporary approaches to the teaching and funding of adult literacy in general in California.

With the generous assistance of the ISS award, I attended the Linguistic Society of America’s 2017 Annual Meeting, for which I received 1st place in the Student Abstract Award competition for my paper “Emergent Adult L1 Literacy: Theorizing Findings from a Case Study.”

Caitlin Tierney

Caitlin Tierney's dissertation, Toward Improving Retention of Students in University Computer Science Programs: A Language Socialization Perspective, is a mixed-methods ethnographic study that incorporates language socialization as a theoretical framework to determine whether pair programming activities (a process by which students work together to solve programming problems) has positive effects on students' acquisition of technical terminology. The project also aims to help describe the process by which students who do not match cultural discourses of what constitutes a "programmer" come to believe that programming is or is not a natural fit for them. This project seeks to provide useful recommendations for educators in Computer Science and other fields who wish to improve outcomes for novice students.

The ISS Dissertation Improvement Award helped Caitlin access necessary software for data analysis, hire research assistants to transcribe recordings, and travel to her research site.



Kyle Adams

My dissertation defends the controversial view that one can be morally lucky: one can be morally justified in acting in a certain way by the lucky outcomes of that act. To defend this view against objections, I develop a distinction between two kinds of moral justification. One kind justification is connected to notions of individual moral assessment; such as, blameworthiness, permission, and culpability. Another kind of justification is more strictly concerned with the choiceworthiness of actions. This latter kind of justification allows for lucky outcomes to justify action—thus, moral luck. I argue that the latter kind of justification is relevant to range of choices at the ‘policy’-level. These are choices about generalized guidelines for behavior in, for example, a large institution, but can also be choices an individual makes about what is important in their life and about what sort of projects they will pursue. In this way, I can show how the theoretical questions about moral luck have real-world application.

Mandana Kamangar

My dissertation is focused on the works of Gottlob Frege, specifically with regards to his views on Philosophy of Language. Frege has long been considered one of the most influential philosophers. His writings have been widely studied and interpreted in philosophical literature. I am studying the epistemological aspects of his work with an emphasis on their implications in a theory of meaning. In particular, he has introduced a notion which he calls sense by drawing a powerful distinction between informative and uninformative identities. By following his arguments closely, I contend that they have been misinterpreted by many and argue that a robustly epistemological reading gives a more coherent explanation of this notion.

Any researcher gets a boost of energy when she (or he) is awarded a fellowship or grant. Receiving this award enabled and encouraged me to focus on making more steady progress in my research.


Political Science

Marisella Rodriguez

My dissertation, Women and Wartime Sexual Violence: Discerning Strategic from Indiscriminate Abuses, presents two research questions addressing the variation observed in the type and level of sexual violence during conflict. First, what are the conditions under which sexual violence during conflict is indiscriminate or strategic? Second, what conditions influence the level of wartime sexual violence? I argue that sexual violence during conflict is fundamentally indiscriminate, or non-targeted, given that human rights abuses are inherent to conflict as a result of the opportunistic environment. However, I suggest that there are three conditions under which sexual violence is targeted and strategic. I expect armed groups to implement strategic sexual violence when there is ethnic conflict, severe battle losses, and vengeful behavior. Additionally, I argue that international accountability and armed group discipline influence the levels of wartime sexual violence regardless of type. To test these arguments, I use a mixed method research design that includes case study analysis and an ordinal logit mixture model.

Funding from the Institute for Social Sciences allowed me to attend Researching Gender-based Violence: Methods and Meaning at the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine. During my attendance, I shared my research with other scholars studying wartime sexual violence and networked with policy makers. I also attended lectures on how to conduct interviews in a manner that protects the wellbeing of both the researcher and participant. This workshop encouraged me to critically evaluate how we, as scholars, research human rights abuses from both quantitative and qualitative approaches.

Evan Sandlin

The title of my dissertation is Negotiating with American Identity: Analyzing the Tradeoff Between Interests and Values in US Foreign Policy. There are countless examples of traditional US values being disregarded in favor of interests in US foreign policy. Why does this happen? When will this happen? In this dissertation, I attempt to answer these questions with a social theory of US foreign policy that I test at both the individual and macro-level. 

My theory essentially argues that values more intimately entwined with US national identity are more resilient to conflicts with interests in US foreign policy. The ISS Dissertation Improvement award was instrumental in allowing me to gather materials to fully develop a theory of US national identity based on an analysis of US political rhetoric, historical events, and federal holidays. I purchased high-school history textbooks that were essential to interpreting these sources through the "American lens." Additionally, I purchased over 20 books that were essential to the literature review. For the quantitative work, I was able to use the award to purchase a new software and hardware for data analysis, management, and storage. I used funds from the award for conference registration, travel, and presentation hardware that allowed me to show the project to colleagues and receive helpful feedback that improved the project. 



Jared Stokes

Neural representations of spatial context

Every day we move through the world. Our ability to extract distinct representations of environments within that world allows us to successfully navigate our surroundings and organize memories within those environments. With the same tools that modern video game companies use to bring virtual worlds to life, I develop virtual reality (VR) tasks that can be integrated with neuroimaging methodology (e.g., fMRI) to characterize the neural properties of human learning and navigation under realistic conditions. For example, a recent neuroimaging study used an unsupervised-learning VR task to link response patterns within a brain region called the hippocampus to the differentiation of overlapping spatial environments (Stokes et al., 2015).

The ISS Dissertation Improvement Award was crucial for the finalization of a follow up study, which employed a similar task modified to explore not only how the hippocampus organizes representations of space but critically, to understand how prior knowledge guides the formation of memories for novel environments (Stokes et al., under review).

This award also aided advancements in two related research avenues. First, by developing immersive VR methodology, it may be possible to incorporate novel applications in human-computer interaction to make experiments more realistically viable. Currently, we are developing open-source software which utilizes VR headset technology and an omnidirectional treadmill to investigate the emergence of spatial learning under naturalistic conditions (Starrett et al., under review). Second, new experimental methods often inspire, and sometimes necessitate, new analysis frameworks. In a prior study, we incorporated a machine learning classifier and trained an artificial neural network (ANN) to discriminate between environments using information within the hippocampus (Kyle et al., 2016). My current work extends applications of ANNs through the development of deep learning models that can perform realistic navigation tasks in order to understand the network architecture structure that gives rise to human navigation and spatial memory during unsupervised learning.



Zeke Baker

My dissertation, titled Meteorological Government: A Genealogy of Climate Knowledge in the US, 1780-2017, is motivated by recent developments in the politics of climate change, not only struggles against both climate scientists and those seeking to regulate greenhouse gas emissions, but also efforts to render projected climate-change impacts governable in the present. It stems from an interest in the social causes and impacts of climate change as it is now understood, with an emphasis on the processes through which climate comes to matter as an object of knowledge and action. I trace the historical configurations of climate knowledge and social power, bearing on topics as diverse as population health, state-territorial expansion, racial politics, industrialism, and military strategy, primarily in the US context and from the 1780s to the present.

With generous support through ISS this past year, I have recently published an article out of this work (“Climate state: Science-state struggles and the formation of climate science in the US from the 1930s to 1960s,” forthcoming in Social Studies of Science), and another article, titled “Meteorological frontiers: Climate knowledge, the West, and US state formation, 1800-1850” is under review. In this latter article, for example, I trace the governmental significance of meteorological statistics, military-medical meteorology, and what I term ‘racial climatology’ in the antebellum US. I argue developments in climate knowledge over this period articulated with projects of state formation, especially via evaluating and calculating (1) the military body in a context of bureaucratization of the U.S. Army; (2) Western territories in a context of territorial acquisition and providential nationalism, and (3) a stratified population ‘legible’ by biological understandings of racial hierarchy.


Related: 2015-16 ISS Dissertation Improvement Awards