Introducing the 2022-2023 Princeton Mellon Fellows

Meet the 2022-2023 Princeton-Mellon Fellows

Will Davis, Davy Knittle, Babak Manouchehrifar, Mary Pena, Ana Ozaki, Maria Taylor, Gregory Valdespino, and Melissa Valle

The Princeton-Mellon Initiative is excited to welcome eight fellows to campus over the 2022-23 academic year. These fellowships are made possible by the generous support of the Mellon Foundation, the Princeton Institute of International and Regional Studies, the Princeton Humanities Council, the High Meadows Environmental Institute, and the Princeton Program in Latin American Studies.

The group includes seven postdoctoral fellows, one visiting faculty member, and two fellows whose term extends into the previous and next academic years.


Will Davis, Princeton-Mellon / Princeton Institute for International & Regional Studies Fellow

Davis’s fellowship is made possible by the Mellon Foundation, the M.S. Chadha Center for Global India, and the Princeton Institute for International & Regional Studies. He is an architectural historian focusing on plants as building materials at the intersection of environmentalism, ethnobotany, and insurgency.

At Princeton, Davis will be working on his first book, Palm Politics: Warfare, Folklore, and Architecture. His PhD project of the same title was completed at the University of California, Los Angeles in 2021, and received the Society of Architectural Historians David B. Brownlee Dissertation Award for most outstanding doctoral dissertation in the field of architectural history completed during the two years prior to the submission date.

Davis is a member of the Society of Architectural Historians IDEAS committee, and an Associate of the Science, Technology and Society research group of the Asia Research Institute (ARI), National University of Singapore. He is a contributing editor at ARDETH (Turin, Italy), and a founding member of ANZA East Africa (Dar es Salaam, Tanzania).

In Spring 2023, Davis will offer “Prism of Difference: Architecture, Ecology and the Anti-Colonial,” a class focused on landscapes and dwellings that existed in tenuous relationship to architectural projects of colonial governance. Students will analyze how building materials, whether hewn from living materials or inert, are woven into historical narratives ranging from novellas and poetry to oral histories and painting.


Davy Knittle, High Meadows Environmental Institute / Princeton-Mellon Fellow in Architecture, Urbanism & the Environment

Davy Knittle’s fellowship is sponsored by the High Meadows Environmental Institute, the Effron Center for the Study of America, and the Mellon Foundation. Knittle's fellowship spans the Spring and Fall 2022 semesters.

Knittle’s research considers how normative ideas of race, sexuality, and gender have shaped the redevelopment of the built and non-built environments of U.S. cities from the 1950s to the present. His current book project, Designs on the Future: Gender, Race, and Environment in the Transitional City, uses a multidisciplinary archive of literary and cultural texts to trace resistance to dominant narratives of urban progress. Designs on the Future engages a queer and trans method of reading urban and environmental change that identifies the entanglement of urban, environmental, and queer and trans experiences of loss in U.S. cities in the wake of urban renewal.

Knittle (he/they) completed his Ph.D. in English at the University of Pennsylvania, where he taught courses at the intersection of queer and trans studies, critical race studies, environmental humanities, urban studies, and U.S. literature and culture. From 2016-2021, Knittle curated the City Planning Poetics talk and reading series at the Kelly Writers House at Penn.

In Spring 2022, Knittle taught the course “Race, Gender, and the Urban Environment,” which considered how normative and resistant ideas of race and gender have conditioned proposals both for the future of cities and for the future of the planet. He was also a co-curator of the Spring 2022 Mellon Forum on the Urban Environment series, “Reframing Repair.”


Babak Manouchehrifar, Stewart Fellow in the Council of the Humanities and Princeton-Mellon Fellow

Babak Manouchehrifar’s fellowship is made possible through the support of the Princeton Humanities Council and the Mellon Foundation.

Manouchehrifar examines the intersection of urban planning, international development, and religious and pluralism studies. His work addresses a recurring, but largely unexplored challenge of professional planning, namely, how the tensions between religious traditions of urban communities and secular principles of urban governance affect spatial planning processes and the administration of justice in Western and non-Western cities.

Manouchehrifar received his PhD in the Department of Urban Studies and Planning at Massachusetts Institute of Technology, where he completed his dissertation, “Reckoning with Religious Difference in Urban Planning.” Originally from Iran, Babak has degrees in Civil Engineering, City Planning, and Urban and Regional Studies. He has worked for several years as a professional planner and taught undergraduate and graduate courses at both MIT and National University of Iran (SBU).

At Princeton, Babak’s research will explore the intersection of race, place, and religion to understand how urban planners can attend carefully to the faith-centered calls for racial justice and spatial equity in contemporary cities. In the Spring, he will teach a course on “Religion and the City,” which focuses on the socio-historical and political processes through which religion is represented, contested, and managed in the built environment.


Mary Pena, Princeton-Mellon / Princeton Program in Latin American Studies Fellow

Mary Pena’s fellowship is made possible through the support of the Mellon Foundation and the Princeton Program in Latin American Studies.

Pena is a researcher and arts practitioner with experience in sensory ethnography, curation, and public programs. Her published work is multidisciplinary, bridging theoretical and artistic modalities, the politics of space, material culture, embodiment, and coastal urban geography.

Her doctoral research analyzes the aesthetic norms and political strategies of state-led tourism and urban renewal in the port city of Puerto Plata, Dominican Republic. It traces how city officials promote an idealized image of the city’s architectural past and the ways an intergenerational group of Afro-Dominican women engage the changing built environment to mobilize acts of repair, storytelling, and alternative kinship.

Pena received a Ph.D. in Anthropology and a graduate certificate in Museum Studies from the University of Michigan in August 2022. Before beginning at Princeton, she held an internship as a community programming organizer at Weeksville Heritage Center in Brooklyn, NY, and coordinated the Making Sensory Ethnography working group at the University of Michigan.

In the Spring semester, Pena will teach, “Imagining Otherwise: Remapping Landscape, Ecologies, and Place-based Knowing,” a course that will consider reinterpretations of physical landscapes in the Americas from the lenses of decoloniality, transnational black feminism, and indigeneity.


Ana Ozaki, Princeton-Mellon Fellow in Architecture, Urbanism, and the Humanities

Ana Ozaki’s fellowship is made possible through the support of the Mellon Foundation.

Ozaki's research interests include colonial and modern architectures; Latin American, African Diaspora, postcolonial, and feminist studies; as well as the intersections between architecture and the fields of art history, human geography, and anthropology. Besides writing, Ozaki is fascinated by the public discussion of social issues central to architecture historiography in the form of exhibitions and public events. More specifically, Ozaki investigates the entanglements between ideologies of race and environment in what she calls the Brazilian Atlantic.

Her dissertation, "’New Brazils’ in Africa: Transatlantic Tropical Futurities, Racial Miscegenation, and Plantation Legacies, 1910-1974," confronts the inadequacies of area studies that disregard Brazil's historical transatlantic connections to Africa. Centered on Brazil's construction of an architectural ideal for the rest of the tropics, her dissertation investigates the complex ways race has interfered in architectural understandings of climate in Brazil and its 20th-century translations in Nigeria, Angola, and Mozambique. Ozaki’s research has been supported by Cornell’s Mario Einaudi Center for International Studies, fellowships from the Social Science Research Council’s Dissertation Proposal Development Program, Mellon Collaborative Studies in Architecture, Urbanism, and the Humanities, the Canadian Centre for Architecture, Columbia University’s Center for the Study of Social Difference, and the German Academic Exchange Service’s (DAAD).

Ozaki participated in the transnational Ignis Mutat Res research project, funded by the French government, as well as in local urban design projects, exhibitions, and public education programs in collaboration with the Niehoff Urban Studio and the Over-the-Rhine foundation in Cincinnati. Working as a licensed architect in Brazil, Ozaki was also involved in institutional and residential scaled projects in Brazil and Angola.

Ozaki holds a B.Arch. and a BFA from the Federal University of Paraná and the School of Music and Fine Arts, respectively, and an MSc Arch and an MCP from the University of Cincinnati. Ozaki has taught architectural history, theory, and design courses at the Universidade Positivo in Brazil, the University of Cincinnati, Barnard College and Columbia University, Cal Poly San Luis Obispo, and UCLA.

In Fall 2022, she will co-teach the Interdisciplinary Design Studio [ARC 205/URB 205/LAS 225/ENV 205] with Prof. Mario I. Gandelsonas, which focuses on social forces that shape design thinking.


Maria C. Taylor, Princeton-Mellon / Princeton Institute for International & Regional Studies Fellow

Maria Taylor’s fellowship is made possible by the Princeton Institute for International & Regional Studies and the Mellon Foundation.

Maria Taylor is a historian and theorist of international urban and landscape design and planning, with regional expertise in Eastern Europe, Russia, and Central Asia. Taylor earned her PhD at the University of Michigan, where she received the Distinguished Dissertation in Architecture Award for her 2019 dissertation on Soviet urban environmental design. Prior to that, Taylor earned a Master of Landscape Architecture at the University of Washington and a MA in Russian, East European and Eurasian Studies at Stanford University. Since 2019, Taylor has taught courses in urban environmental history, landscape architecture and urban planning at the University of Washington in Seattle.

Taylor’s work engages broadly with the development, circulation and politicization of environmental knowledge and design praxis in (post)socialist and (post)colonial settings; the complex cultural and geophysical agency of urban ecologies; and comparative histories of environmental art, activism and policies. Taylor’s current book project, Fusing Forest and Factory: The Green Dream of Soviet Civic Engineering, critically explores urban afforestation and ecological design efforts as city-shaping projects of transformation, assessing how the greening of iconic industrial zones, mass housing districts, and civic ensembles shaped the growth of socialist environmental activism.

In the Spring semester she will teach a seminar on “Trees, Toxics, Transformation,” which will consider the 20th-century intersection of politics, plants and town planning, using a range of non-Western case studies to frame the history and future of society-nature relations beyond the Capitalocene.


Gregory Valdespino, Princeton-Mellon / Princeton Institute for International & Regional Studies Fellow

Gregory Valdespino's fellowship is made possible by the Program in African Studies, the Princeton Institute for International and Regional Studies, and the Mellon Foundation.

Valdespino is a scholar of domesticity, everyday life and governance in West Africa and the Francophone world, with special interests in Senegal and West African communities in France. His research examines how changes to West Africans' domestic lives and spaces informed new ideas about governance during the 20th century.

His dissertation, "At Home in Empire: The Politics of Dwelling in France and Senegal, 1914-1974," examines when, where and why West Africans' capacity to feel at home became politicized in Senegal and France during the 20th century. Between the outbreak of World War I and the mid-1970s, West African dwellers and French officials engaged in the contested creation of a political framework that linked governmental legitimacy to West Africans' domestic well-being both in Senegal and France. Through extensive archival work and interviews in both Senegal and France, Valdespino demonstrates how this new ideological and practical framework informed competing ideas and practices around what governments could or should do to create spaces that people could call home. Calling this framework the "politics of dwelling." Valdespino examines how access to domestic resources came to inform alternative notions of political inclusion and exclusion within Senegal and amongst West African communities in France before and after decolonization.

He received his PhD in History from the University of Chicago in August 2022 and holds a B.A. in History from Stanford University. Before beginning his graduate training, he worked as an English teacher in northern France. In Spring 2023, Valdespino will teach “Divided Cities: Global Histories of Segregation,” where students will examine the changing role that legal, economic, spatial, and cultural forces played in determining how social categories like race, immigration status, gender, class, sexuality, or religion determined where people lived on local and global scales.


Melissa Valle, Princeton-Mellon / Princeton School of Public and International Affairs Fellow

Melissa Valle’s fellowship is made possible by the Princeton School of Public and International Affairs and the Mellon Foundation.

Melissa M. Valle is a sociologist of urbanism, race/ethnicity, and culture. She is cultivating a body of research that unpacks the notion of “racial worth” by elucidating how symbolic meanings become embedded within distributive frameworks and subsequently contribute to inequality in the Americas. In Spring 2023 Valle will teach a graduate-level course on Race, Ethnicity, Space & Place: Exclusion, Confinement & Transformation.

Valle is an assistant professor, jointly appointed in the Department of Sociology and Anthropology and the Department of African American and African Studies, at Rutgers University-Newark. She is also a core faculty member of the Global Urban Studies/Urban Systems Ph.D. program.

At Princeton, Valle will complete her current book project, Battling for Worth: Race, Recognition, and Urban Change on Colombia’s Caribbean Coast. Under contract with Oxford University Press, it will be included in its Global and Comparative Ethnography Series. The book demonstrates how race becomes encoded in the value of urban space by exploring the criteria people use to determine what and who has worth, at different spatial scales, in the context of urban spatial and economic change in Cartagena de Indias, Colombia. In exploring the racialized dynamics of urban change, Valle addresses how racial worth is relationally defined, strategically activated, ideologically articulated, and empirically manifested.

Valle is the recipient of a Fulbright award to Colombia and has also completed research on Afro-descendants living in Santiago, Chile, exploring the mechanisms that lead to reduced life chances for marginalized groups and how such groups negotiate stigma perspectives that suggest their identities have been devalued. She is a council member of the American Sociological Association’s Community and Urban Sociology Section, an editorial board member of the ASA urban journal, City & Community (2022-2025), an executive board member of the afrolatin@ forum, and a member of the Black Latinas Know Collective (BLKC).

Valle has dual bachelor’s degrees in economics and Afro-American Studies from Howard University, a Master of Public Administration in public and nonprofit management and policy from New York University, a Master of Science for Teachers in childhood education from Pace University, and a Master of Arts, Master of Philosophy, and Ph.D. in sociology from Columbia University.