From Virtual Harlem to Border Cowboys, Grants Propel Interdisciplinary Research

From Virtual Harlem to Border Cowboys, Grants Propel Interdisciplinary Research

By Amanda BallardUniversity Relations - Communications
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Virtual Harlem will help students better understand the factors that shaped the Harlem Renaissance.
Virtual Harlem will help students better understand the factors that shaped the Harlem Renaissance.
Bryan Carter (left) and Kelland Thomas
Bryan Carter (left) and Kelland Thomas
J.C. Mutchler (left) and Jackson Boelts
J.C. Mutchler (left) and Jackson Boelts
Thomas Bever, Martina Shenal and Kevin Lehrer will examine how depth is perceived in art.
Thomas Bever, Martina Shenal and Kevin Lehrer will examine how depth is perceived in art.
Lydia Otero (left) and Elaine Romero
Lydia Otero (left) and Elaine Romero
Ana Carvalho (left) and Malcah Yaeger-Dror
Ana Carvalho (left) and Malcah Yaeger-Dror

For more than 15 years, Bryan Carter has been working to rebuild 1920s Harlem. But he's not using brick and mortar in his reconstruction efforts.

Instead, he has built a virtual reality representation of Harlem as it existed in the height of the Jazz Age. As a result, students can become virtually immersed in the geographically and historically accurate environment to better understand the social, cultural, political and economic influences that shaped the Harlem renaissance.

To enhance his Virtual Harlem, Carter, an assistant professor of Africana Studies in the College of Humanities, is partnering with Kelland Thomas, a professor in the Fred Fox School of Music and the School of Information: Science, Technology and Arts.

Their collaboration is one of five projects selected to receive one of the UA Confluencenter for Creative Inquiry's Faculty Collaboration Grants. The grants are awarded each year to support interdisciplinary research and scholarship – a primary goal outlined in the UA's Never Settle plan.

"Virtual Harlem has been in development for over 15 years and finally the technology has matured to the point where we can do some amazing things with virtual environments," Carter said. "It is through the generous support of the Confluencenter that the evolution of Virtual Harlem will take shape and become what we dreamed when it was first launched in 1998."

This year, the Faculty Collaboration Grants will provide a total of $74,105 to 18 researchers representing 17 different departments across campus.

The other projects chosen to receive grants include:

"Border Cowboys"

J.C. Mutchler, an associate research historian at the UA Southwest Center, and Jackson Boelts, a School of Art professor, are collaborating on a project to examine ranches and ranchers along the U.S.-Mexico border. Their goal is to achieve a better understanding of the culture and rich history of the area.

"Many of the ranching families along the U.S.-Mexico border have been on their land for over a century, witnessing transformative cultural and political change in the region," Mutchler said. "Through oral histories, photography, visual art and public events funded by our Confluencenter grant, we will document and explore the multiple regional narratives of lived experience, which encapsulate one of the most controversial and divisive geo-political international boundaries in the world, enhancing our understanding of this complex region."

During the process of collecting and analyzing the historical records, Mutchler and Boelts will also compile documentation of the borderland communities.

"As an artist, my component of the UA Confluencenter for Creative Inquiry Grant will be to capture the essence of cowboys and cowgirls of the Arizona-Sonoran border with Mexico," Boelts said. "I plan to showcase these hardy yet historically romantic figures through an evanescent abstract exploration of large format watercolors. The art and photography of 'Border Cowboys' will be exhibited and included in a book that I will design."

"Space and Place: Perceiving Depth in Contemporary Landscape Art"

Thomas Bever, Regents' Professor of Linguistics, Psychology and Neuroscience, is partnering with Martina Shenal, associate professor in the School of Art, and Kevin Lehrer, Regents' Professor Emeritus of Philosophy, to examine how depth is perceived in art.

Their research collaboration will also explore how behavior and neurological processes differ as part of the artistic experience, and how the aesthetic experience integrates art and science.

"Barrio Stories Project"

Lydia Otero, professor of Mexican American Studies, and Elaine Romero, assistant professor in the School of Theatre, Film & Television, are collecting stories from residents who lived in the Barrio Libre neighborhood, which was demolished in the late 1960s as part of the Tucson Convention Center's construction.

Working in collaboration with Borderlands Theater, they will theatricalize the stories they collect to produce them as a play. The idea for the project was inspired by a book Otero authored, "La Calle."

"The Barrio Stories Project offers an innovative approach to disseminating history and will inform audiences about an important chapter that vastly altered downtown Tucson's physical and ethnic landscape," Otero said. "The production of this play also speaks to the importance of academic and community collaborations and I am glad that the Confluencenter is invested in funding these types of partnerships."  

"As a brand-new faculty member at the UA, I'm particularly excited to receive this Faculty Collaboration Grant with my friend, colleague and new mentor, Lydia Otero," Romero said.

"The deep work professor Otero has done with her historical research, her life in Tucson and her profound connection to our community supplies our collaboration with an authenticity that cannot be acquired by any other means," Romero said. "There is no shortcut to seeing a community through the eyes of someone who has lived through its changes and reconfigurations. Indeed, 'Barrio Stories' will speak to a hard-earned truth of our Tucson community. Not all stories are easy to tell and this one might bring a few tears. That's the only kind of story worth telling."

"Intergenerational Telephone Calls: Linguistic and Communicative Parameters"

Ana Carvalho, associate professor of Spanish and Portuguese, and Malcah Yaeger-Dror, senior research scientist in cognitive science, will work with a team of communication and linguistics experts to study conversations between monolingual and bilingual students and their grandparents. The study will investigate the linguistic and communicative dynamics of cross-generational interactions.

The results of the study could be used to develop communication strategies and fine-tune software used for the recognition of multicultural and multigenerational speech.

Yaeger-Dror said the initial study could be used as a pilot that would lead to a much larger study potentially funded by the National Science Foundation.

"We believe the proposed project will prove of critical interest to sociolinguists, sociologists and speech engineers," she said.

In addition to the Faculty Collaboration Grants, the Confluencenter also awarded fellowships totaling $45,000 to these graduate students who are working on innovative or interdisciplinary projects:

  • Manuel Martin Barros, College of Humanities
  • Anabel Galindo, College of Social and Behavioral Sciences
  • Christina Greene, College of Social and Behavioral Sciences
  • Gabriel Higuera, College of Social and Behavioral Sciences
  • Carolina Kitagawa, College of Fine Arts
  • Angela Storey, College of Social and Behavioral Sciences
  • William White, College of Social and Behavioral Sciences
  • Jeffrey Wilson, College of Social and Behavioral Sciences
  • Christopher Yutzy, College of Social and Behavioral Sciences

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