URC – Halle Global Research

Michelle Armstrong-Partida, PhD


Concubinage in the Late Medieval Mediterranean

My second book project is a comparative study of concubinous unions among the peasantry, urban poor, and the merchant class across the late medieval Mediterranean. It examines the sexual practices of the married and unmarried Christian, Jewish, and Muslim societies to expose that an informal union offered men and women distinct social and economic advantages, affected the masculine identity of men, and empowered lower-level women to make decisions to marry or abandon a spouse. Using a Mediterranean framework, my research reveals the significant population of enslaved, single, married women, and widows, who by circumstance or choice, ended up in an informal union to weave the experiences of women at the lowest levels of society into an account of medieval people who remained on the margins of marriage. Based on extensive archival research in more than twenty archives featuring rural areas and port cities, across Iberia, Italy, and southern France, I show that the practice of concubinage intersected with a host of thorny issues—clandestine marriage, adultery, spousal desertion, bastardy, and the sexual use of slaves. I use an incredibly diverse set of sources, such as ecclesiastical and secular court records, episcopal letters and visitations, synodal legislation, city statutes, registers of fines for illicit behaviors, dispensations for illegitimate birth, royal letters of legitimization, contracts of concubinage, wills, and published Islamic sources, to tell a story about a pan Mediterranean phenomenon that cut across religious, political, social, and economic lines. I argue that concubinage was a distinctive feature of Mediterranean society.

Paul Buchholz, PhD.


Relations of Desolation: Collectivity in Narratives of Environmental Crisis

I propose to spend the Spring 2022 semester completing my current monograph manuscript, Relations of Desolation: Collectivity in Narratives of Environmental Crisis. Relations of Desolation will focus on how German-language literary writers of the 1970s and 1980s approached a set of questions raised by environmentalist movements of the time: How would the threat of ecological disaster, whether local or planetary, transform interpersonal social relations and political groupings? Would the existential threats of pollution, nuclear disaster and so-called “overpopulation” make existing national and ideological groupings obsolete, and create new forms of democratic community? Or would increasing environmental threats entrench existing political boundaries and social hierarchies, and even bring about new forms of fascism? Relations of Desolation will examine how literary writing by both established and countercultural, “alternative” authors, became an important popular medium for reflecting on the vexing question of what sorts of communities (familial, social, political) might emerge or persist in the face of ecological disasters. The literary analyses will contextualize each work within the political and economic crises of the 1970s and early 1980s, and within the national and local histories of the new “green” coalitions, which drew members of both the radical Left as well conservative and religious groups, and even members of the neo-fascist fringe. The book will show how literary writers grasped for coherent models of collective action and identity that could endure on a threatened planet, at a time when “market values replaced communitarian values across the world” (Borstelmann 2012).

Jessica K Fairley, MD


Describing the role of WASH (water, sanitation, and hygiene) and potential environmental reservoirs in leprosy transmission

Leprosy continues to pose challenging questions about transmission, susceptibility and reservoirs of infection. Given the difficulties that this non-cultivable, slow-growing bacterium presents, a multidimensional approach is critical to answer these tough questions. Environmental factors, including possible reservoirs, are undoubtedly tied to leprosy transmission, but the inability to grow the bacteria in culture hampers our understanding of these potential modes of transmission (1, 2). We need to better define these transmission factors to improve control. Our main study question thus pertains to how the environment influences transmission of leprosy. With our study design, however, we will also be able to quantify the burden of disease, investigate nutritional factors related to infection, and even describe the seroprevalence of other neglected tropical diseases and COVID-19. We question whether poor water access and quality, sanitation and hygiene (WASH) are risk factors for leprosy transmission and whether we can identify environmental reservoirs of transmissible Mycobacterium leprae by testing environmental samples using state-of-the art methods that can identify genes of reproducing bacteria. North Gondar, Ethiopia, highly endemic for leprosy, presents an ideal location to use an antibody platform that can identify exposure to both leprosy using the antigen, LID-1, as well as many other neglected tropical diseases. By identifying people exposed to LID-1, and thus at higher risk to develop leprosy, we will identify potential environmental and nutritional risk factors for leprosy and create a cohort that we can eventually follow over time. This assay will also allow us to measure exposure to the novel coronavirus, SAR-CoV-2.


Emily Kalah Gade, PhD


Ideology, Pro-government Militia and State Repression

Why do governments roiled in civil conflicts ally with some anti-rebel or pro-state paramilitary groups and prohibit others? “Pro-government militias” (PGMs)—here, militias who have an antirebel or pro-state agenda—compromise the safety of U.S. military personnel, prolong conflicts globally, and project violence in consolidated democracies like the United States. Yet much remains unknown about PGMs, the factors that shape a state’s response to various PGMs. I suggest that a virtually un-examined aspect of PGM groups—their ideology—may influence government choices to align with, distance from, or even disband different PGM groups. Recently declassified archives documenting the British Government’s internal correspondence during the early years of Britain’s Troubles in Northern Ireland (1969–1974) show at least twenty active, distinct PGMs; Britain partnered with some of these violent PGMs and outlawed others. This project will qualitatively analyze and computationally cross-validate British government archives to identify the factors that shaped Britain’s varied and shifting treatment of PGMs active during the Troubles— including ideology. In doing so, this project provides a rare, in-depth, deductive evaluation of why a state allies with some PGMs and prohibits others; creates a theoretical framework for considering and evaluating PGM ideology; advances historical knowledge about PGMs during the Troubles, with relevance to contemporary politics; provides funds for undergraduate and graduate students from backgrounds historically underrepresented in the academy; and sets up an early career research—Dr. Gade—to re-apply for an NSF grant on PGM groups in August, 2021.

Thomas Gillespie, PhD


Timothy Read, PhD


Metagenome-Wide Characterization of Antimicrobial Resistance in Rural Madagascar within a One Health Framework

Antimicrobial resistance (AMR) is one of the greatest threats to our health, food security, and development. There is growing evidence that environmental bacteria serve as a reservoir for novel antimicrobial resistance genes; however, knowledge of transmission dynamics and prevalence of community-acquired antimicrobial resistance in humans and animals is limited. Nearly all bacterial pathogens have been found to contain antimicrobial resistance genes, but standard molecular methods can only focus on a few pathogens with only a narrow spectrum of capturable genes. Shotgun metagenomic sequencing of such samples can facilitate culture-independent analysis of complex microbiota and assist in the identification of hotspots and routes of transmission of AMR across ecological gradients. The need to keep pace with new disease trends and emerging threats to human and animal health necessitate the expansion of AMR surveillance and research in ecosystems. To advance this process, we propose to apply shotgun metagenomic sequencing to a unique bio-banked set of human and animal fecal samples linked to a rich dataset established by PI Gillespie in rural Madagascar. This approach will allow us to taxonomically profile the microbiota (bacterial, viral, and fungal) and compare resistance patterns among humans, domestic animals, peridomestic rodents, and wildlife to characterize this novel resistome. This project will generate results that will fuel collaborative, interdisciplinary investigations addressing a priority topic and unmet needs related to both 1) reservoirs of resistance as a threat to global health security and 2) AMR as a challenge for improving health outcomes in rural, resource-limited communities.

Stephen D. O'Connell, PhD


Ethnic Diversity, Economic Integration of Refugees, and Firm Behavior: Insights from a field study in Southeastern Turkey

This project aims to understand the role played by firms in the economic integration of refugees to the host community. To do this, we propose to scale up a census survey of firms -- which we have been piloting throughout 2020 -- in the Turkish city of Gaziantep, a major industrial province in Turkey that hosts more than 450,000 Syrian and 2 million Turkish citizens, and Syrian-owned formal businesses have grown in recent years to comprise approximately 10% of all businesses in the city. The data collection will allow us to (a) characterize the nature of differences in production, growth, and owner/manager characteristics of Syrian-owned versus Turkish-owned firms, (b) test hypotheses regarding whether immigrant businesses are complements, substitutes, or a separate dual market from, existing firms, and (c) construct a baseline sample of firms that can be followed over time in future stages of the project to introduce interventions. The project relates to two strands of development economics literature that investigate (i) small-scale entrepreneurship in developing countries, and (ii) the impact of migration on market structures in the host country.

Tiphanie Yanique


Happy Life: Essays on How the Black Body Attains Happiness in the Outside World

My research will be in service of a collection of essays called, Happy Life, which I have been writing since the onset of the Covid-19 and BLM pandemics. Each essay will be a thinking through of how the Black body stays safe in the outside world. I will begin with essays about water, in part because the sea and ocean have often been a source of great trepidation for Black bodies in the New World—the Atlantic Ocean is a ubiquitous metaphor for Black grief for the part it played in the TransAtlantic Slave Trade. In the Caribbean, slave owners often forbade their Black slaves from learning how to swim, telling horrific (and likely untrue) stories of people dying just by swimming in the shallow beach. In the Virgin Islands, learning to swim meant could mean escaping to freedom. Men and woman in bondage did, indeed, swim from St. John, where slavery was still legal, to Tortola, where slavery had been abolished. With that narrative in place, the sea might even eventually, be a space of happiness. Swimming is often a metaphor for happiness. Floating in water is often a metaphor for peace and tranquility—a particular brand of happiness. The essays in Happy Life will use stories of life, mine, my children’s and our progenitors’, to examine spaces where Black bodies have found first safety, and then eventual happiness in the outside world. My premise is that happiness only becomes possible when one is safe.

Miriam Udel, PhD


Umbrella Sky: Children's Literature and Modern Jewish Worldmaking

“Umbrella Sky: Children’s Literature and Modern Jewish Worldmaking” takes the aesthetically rich and historically indispensable corpus of nearly a thousand extant Yiddish children's books as a novel vantage point from which to observe key movements—political and geospatial—of Eastern European Jewry during the tumultuous early decades of the twentieth century. I extend theoretical reframings of childhood into the Yiddish-speaking sphere, foregrounding the role of children’s literature in the intertwined cultural renaissance and quest for social justice that animated secularist, interwar Jewish life. This project integrates a range of concerns, including a changing understanding of gender norms, child psychology, class consciousness and struggle, and the pursuit of racial justice. Focusing on broadly resonant motifs, themes, and nodes, this accessible book probes how writers and cultural leaders negotiated the tensions between traditional and emerging forms of Jewish identity and how Yiddish-speaking Jewry deployed children’s literature to build itself a future world. Brief inter-chapters focusing on American-Jewish children’s literature in English connect this more familiar body of work to a Yiddish tradition that has been effaced due to linguistic assimilation and historical violence.