Department of English, College of LAS, University of Illinois

Illinois Department of English Blog


Welcome to the Department of English blog.

My name is Vicki Mahaffey and I took over as
head of the department on July 1, 2016. I'll be using this site to post updates and information of interest to our faculty, students, and alumni,
along with reflections about our discipline(s) in particular and the humanities in general. As anyone who has ever worked or studied here knows, the Department of English is a vibrant place. If you have something you'd like to see posted here, or if you want to contact me about the content of this blog, drop me an email at

Thursday, December 9, 2010

Grant getters.

I am writing, dear reader, to share two quick stories about grant-funded research in English.

The first concerns Ramona Curry, who I've just learned has been awarded a pretty significant grant from the NEH that will go to support her over the next year as she labors to complete a book project entitled Trading in Cultural Spaces: How Chinese Film Came to America.

This is a very meticulously researched project that deals with cinematic cultural exchange in a manner that challenges some of the prevailing wisdom about US cinema's growing global reach and hegemony. It does so by examining (to quote from her proposal) "the trans-Pacific flow of Chinese movies into and within the U.S" via "intra-regional and community-based media circuits around the globe." "From the early 20th century," Curry argues, "such films have challenged stereotypes and forged avenues for cross-cultural exchange."

"By recovering multiple Chinese American and supporting voices, images and multicultural networks," Curry adds, Trading in Cultural Spaces "aims to refocus cinema history on its prior margins, [and] to enrich transnational and national film and social histories."

This will obviously be an important book in the field of cinema studies. The NEH funding that the project has received is given in acknowledgment of the importance of the work. Please join me in congratulating Ramona!


I also can't resist posting this link, to a brief account of some grant-funded research conducted recently by a team of researchers including our own Melissa Littefield. Here is the description of the project from the website I've linked to above:

"Between November 30th and December 3rd 2010, an inter-disciplinary and internationally-collaborative experimental team met at CFIN to complete an experimental study funded by the European Neuroscience and Society Network and with scanning facilities and overheads provided by the Center for Integrative Neuroscience (CFIN/MINDLab).

The purpose of the experiment was to consider whether or not there was a neurological correlation between 'deception' and 'socially-stressful truth-telling' (i.e. evaluative statements that may cause dissonance in relationships between two or more people). During deception, activity has been seen in several areas of the brain (the anterior cingulated cortex, the dorsomedial prefrontal cortex, and the dorsolateral prefrontal cortex; and sometimes the insula). Truth-telling, however, has often been used as a baseline for these studies - an experimental condition for which there is little additional brain activation. The researchers hypothesized that brain areas often associated with inhibition, recall, decision making, and executive function may be similarly active during deception and and socially-stressful truth-telling. Their experimental design created a situation in which to test the outcomes of socially-stressful truth-telling.

The experiment was conducted by Melissa M. Littlefield (University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign), Des Fitzgerald (London School of Economics and Political Science), and James Tonks (University of Exeter), with local collaborators Martin Dietz, Kasper Knudsen and Andreas Roepstorff. With scanning now complete, data analysis will begin in the new year, and results should be reported shortly thereafter."

Now, I believe I know what you are thinking, dear reader, even without scanning your brain. You're wondering why an English professor is doing this kind of experiment in the first place!

The answer is that Littlefield, who holds a joint appointment in English and in the department of Kinesiology and Community Health, writes on literature, science, and culture and in particular on the creation and circulation of the cultural fantasy that technoligically-enabled lie-detection might serve as an efficacious a forensic tool or as a way to plumb the depths of human character. This experiment, I imagine, will help frame her arguments by helping to establish a baseline concerning what actually is and is not possible in the realm of driven lie-detection via fMRI technology.

Pretty cool!


We are not, for the most part, a big grant-getting department. Most of the research we do is relatively inexpensive--we need a) our archives and b) time--and so we really do not need access to anything like the massive system of federal and foundation grants characteristic of the world of science research nowadays. But for this very reason--because grantsmanship is not really part of our academic culture--it is very impressive to me when our faculty do secure external funding for their work. So I want to take this opportunity to congratulate both Ramona and Melissa for their successful efforts in this regard.

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