The Dissertation Award offered by the Institute on the Formation of Knowledge is a new annual competition for the top doctoral dissertation addressing topics related to social and historical influences shaping the formation of knowledge and which most effectively crosses and bridges disciplinary and divisional boundaries in its research, argument, and conclusions. The competition was open to any doctoral student in any department or division at the University of Chicago earning their PhD at the end of the 2021-22 academic year.
Winner $2000: Everyday Sciences in Southwest India - Eric Gurevitch
Eric Moses Gurevitch is a historian of science focusing on medieval and early modern South Asia. He recently received a PhD jointly in the Department of South Asian Languages & Civilizations and the Committee on the Conceptual & Historical Studies of Science. Eric was an IFK Graduate Community Fellow in 2021-22. His research aims to tell a more global history of science in which unexpected voices, practices and events come to stand alongside more standard narratives. Starting in 2022, Eric will be a National Endowment for the Humanities Postdoctoral Fellow at Vanderbilt University.
Eric’s dissertation – Everyday Sciences in Southwest India – explores a set of scholarly controversies in medieval southwest India. These include disputes over the meaning of experience, the proper language with which to compose practical sciences, the nature of vision, the social construction of caste differences, and the relationship of diet to medicine. The dissertation traces these disputes among a close-knit group of scholars writing in both Sanskrit and a regional language they called “New Kannada.” Using this new vernacular register, scholars in medieval India composed texts they called “everyday sciences.” They compiled domestic recipes, solved bureaucratic mathematical problems, predicted the weather, provided instructions for locating underground water, and waxed poetic about medicine for humans as well as animals. The dissertation concludes by illustrating how this medieval scholarship was later made portable and transposed into new contexts on the eve of colonialism.
MAPSS Thesis Award
The Master’s Thesis Award offered by the Institute on the Formation of Knowledge is a new annual competition for the best MA thesis which addresses topics related to social and historical influences shaping the formation of knowledge and which most effectively crosses and bridges disciplinary and divisional boundaries in its research, argument, and conclusions. Submitted theses may address any topic that has implications for the formation of knowledge and interrogates traditional ways of knowing.
The Explanatory Gap In and Outside Neuroscience: The Brain Discourse, the Dualist Discourse, and the Epistemological Divide - Rebecca Peng
Rebecca Peng has a background in Cognitive Science and Psychology from Vassar College, and she graduated from MAPSS concentrating in Formation of Knowledge and Sociology in summer 2022. She is currently an instructional assistant for the psychology department at UChicago. Her research focuses on the science of consciousness from a sociological perspective using qualitative methods, and she is dedicated to interdisciplinary and placing the mind in context.
Rebecca's paper explores the attitudes toward the mind-body problem and the explanatory gap of consciousness among neuroscientists and the lay public. Specifically, Peng is interested in the potential tension between the extensive literature on folk dualism and the emerging idea of folk neuropsychology, as well as the explanatory gap between the subjective feeling of consciousness and the un-feel-able brain. Peng treats the field of neuroscience with its scholars as a cultural group in itself with its own values as well as behavioral patterns. Adopting the idea of cultural symbols proposed by Geertz, Peng identifies the variables that signify the neuroscience community as well as the lay public under the influence of neuroscience.
Cognitive Diversity or Cognitive Polarization? On Epistemic Democracy in a Post-Truth World - Esther Ng
Esther K.H. Ng is a recent graduate of MAPSS where she concentrated in political theory. Her research interests revolve around topics of political epistemology, including the epistemic theory of democracy, the nature of political disagreement, and the influence of emerging communicative technologies on modern epistemic norms. Esther hopes to pursue a PhD in Philosophy. In her gap year, she will be working as an Instructional Assistant for the Public Policy undergraduate program at the University of Chicago.
Pessimism over a democracy’s ability to produce good outcomes is as longstanding as democracy itself. On one hand, democratic theorists consider democracy to be the only legitimate form of government on the basis that it alone promotes or safeguards intrinsic values like freedom, equality, and justice. On the other, the skepticism toward the ordinary citizen’s cognitive capacities remains a perennial concern. These questions have only been made more pertinent by the post-truth phenomenon which reveals a fundamental problem of epistemic disagreement and of differing epistemic frameworks. In her thesis, Ng argues that the democratic theorists who have sought to defend democracy on epistemic grounds have thus far neglected such deep and intractable disagreements. Without addressing this oversight, the epistemic democrat will find that collective decision-making processes quickly become paralyzed and will not be able to yield the epistemic benefits it promises. Hence, the work for theorists is to recognize and take into account the ramifications of epistemic disagreements so as to make a stronger case for epistemic democracy.
BA Thesis Awards
The IFK Undergraduate Thesis Award is given annually to the best undergraduate thesis dealing with topics related to the social and historical influences shaping the formation of knowledge, and most effectively crossing disciplinary and divisional boundaries in its research, argument, and conclusions. The thesis may address any topic that has implications for the formation of knowledge. The competition was open to University of Chicago undergraduate students in any division who are graduating at the end of the 2021-22 academic year.
1st Place $1000:
From Papyrus to Pixels: Optical Character Recognition Applied to Ancient Egyptian Hieratic - Julius Tabin
Julius Tabin graduated UChicago with a dual B.A in Biological Sciences and Near Eastern Languages and Civilizations (specifically Egyptology). Next, he will be attending Harvard University for their Organismic & Evolutionary Biology PhD program.
Optical Character Recognition (OCR) was used to investigate the morphology of Middle Egyptian Hieratic, a cursive form of the ancient Egyptian hieroglyphic script used primarily in the ancient Egyptian Middle Kingdom and after. A data set of 13,134 individual hieratic signs was created from existing and new facsimiles and a novel, open-source program was developed to analyze them using an Image Deformation Model. This program can accurately identify individual characters and is also able to answer large-scale and longstanding questions about ancient texts, providing a starting point for future study in hieratic digital paleography.
2nd Place $500:
The Financialization of the Music Industry: Songs as Assets in the New Economy - Annabelle Burns
Annabelle Burns majored in Law, Letters and Society in the College, with a focus on the history of capitalism. She is particularly interested in the institutional foundations of our political economy and their influence on cultural expression. Annabelle is also passionate about sustainable agriculture and food systems. She will begin work at Bain & Company in the fall.
This paper delves into the political economy of the music industry and explores the manifestations of financialization. Bringing together literature from the fields of history, economics, law, and media studies, this paper adds to our understanding of how capital flows and accumulates in the 21st century economy, arguing that music copyright has been leveraged to transform songs from commodities into assets. In examining the current landscape of the music industry, Burns demonstrates the profound impact that intellectual property, securities law, and financial activity can have on cultural output.
3rd Place $250:
Beyond the Neutral Point of View: Register, Ideology, and Community Among English-Language Wikipedia Editors - Eli Haber
A double major in anthropology and linguistics, Eli Haber is originally from Lexington, Massachusetts. His broad-ranging academic interests center around the semiotics of media and politics. While at the University of Chicago, he also served as co-president of the Folklore Society for three years. After graduating, Eli hopes to pursue a career in applied anthropology.
Drawing on tools from linguistic anthropology, new media studies, Indigenous studies, STS, and beyond, Eli investigates the discursive practices of Wikipedia editors. He closely examines how they maintain and expand the website's articles, while simultaneously constructing the limits of their own community, and uncovers the ideological presuppositions that underlie both of these processes. Eli then applies this framework as he considers (and reframes) some commonly debated questions about Wikipedia, such as the quality of information within articles, and allegations of "systemic bias" on the website. He concludes that the sociolinguistic processes which are most central to the production of knowledge on Wikipedia are, at the same time, at the root of some of its largest problems.