Meet the 2023-2024 Princeton-Mellon Fellows
Sonali Dhanpal, Vanessa Koh, Elliott Sturtevant, Brian Whetstone, and Zhiyan Yang, and returning Fellows Babak Manouchehrifar, Gregory Valdespino, and Melissa Valle
The Princeton-Mellon Initiative is excited to welcome eight fellows to campus over the 2023-24 academic year. These fellowships are made possible by the generous support of the Mellon Foundation, the Princeton Institute of International and Regional Studies, the Humanities Council, the School of Public and International Affairs, the High Meadows Environmental Institute, the Program in African Studies, the M.S. Chadha Center for Global India, the Center on Contemporary China, the Program for Community Engaged Scholarship (ProCES), the Effron Center for the Study of America, and the Department of History.
Princeton-Mellon / Princeton Institute for International Regional Studies / Humanities Council Fellow
Sonali Dhanpal is an architect, architectural historian and theorist whose research sits at the intersection of global urban history and studies of colonialism and capitalism. She examines how contextual assemblages of race, caste and class are produced by and materialize in the architecture and urbanism of late colonial South Asia. Her research brings together decolonial thought, critical race and caste studies to examine the political economy of housing, land and property within broader struggles for space under racial capitalism.
At Princeton, Dhanpal will be working on her first book, “Caste and the City: Spatial Politics in Colonial and Princely Bangalore” drawing from her Ph.D. project undertaken at the School of Architecture, Planning and Landscape at Newcastle University as the inaugural awardee of the Forshaw Scholarship. This project is the first to examine the unique overlap of princely and British colonial rule in the city of Bangalore, to unpack how inhabitants navigate this political complexity through divergent spatial practices, revealing the inextricable relationship between caste and the city. She previously earned a M.A. in Conservation Studies from the University of York and a Bachelor’s in Architecture from the Dayananda Sagar School of Architecture.
In spring 2024, Dhanpal will offer a class “Race, Caste, and Space: Architectural History as Property History,” where students will engage with and draw from a cross-comparative spatial history of caste in South Asia and race in America to understand a ”global” architectural history by examining the political economy of property in both contexts. Students will learn to analyze from archival, visual, and drawing methods and build on them using open-source digital tools.
Dhanpal’s fellowship is made possible by the Mellon Foundation, the Humanities Council, the M.S. Chadha Center for Global India, and the Princeton Institute for International and Regional Studies.
Princeton-Mellon / Princeton Institute for International and Regional Studies / High Meadows Environmental Institute Fellow
Vanessa Koh’s research examines the relationship between land, nature, sovereignty, and the creation of urban environments. Her current book project is an ethnography of land reclamation in Singapore that enquires into how land is terraformed and subsequently managed and contested. Her work probes what it means to make both land and environmental claims in an epoch marked by increasing environmental precarity and anxiety.
Trained as an environmental anthropologist, Koh completed a joint Ph.D. in the Department of Anthropology and the School of the Environment, and a graduate certificate in the Environmental Humanities, from Yale University. At Princeton, in Spring 2024, she will teach “The Politics of Land: Governance, Development, and Environment,” – a course that focuses on how a multi-faceted understanding of land weaves together the entangled concepts of nature, economy, sovereignty, and justice.
Koh’s fellowship is made possible through the support of the Mellon Foundation, the High Meadows Environmental Institute, and the Princeton Institute for International and Regional Studies.
Princeton-Mellon Fellow in Architecture, Urbanism, and the Humanities
Elliott Sturtevant's research sits at the intersection of the disciplines of architectural and urban history with histories of technology, business, and the environment. Earning a PhD in Architecture at Columbia University, his dissertation “Empire’s Stores: Corporate Architecture and Entrepôt Urbanism in America, 1893–1933,” identifies the architectures, landscapes, and visual cultures of American business as key sites and agents of the United States’ territorial and economic expansion at the turn of the twentieth century. Extending our understanding of the architecture and urbanism of US industry and commerce, “Empire’s Stores” turns to the design, construction, and maintenance of transnational and transimperial supply chains.
Sturtevant's research has been supported by the Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council of Canada, the Temple Hoyne Buell Center for the Study of American Architecture, the Wolfsonian–Florida International University, the Paul Mellon Centre for Studies in British Art, the Canadian Centre for Architecture, the Graham Foundation, and the Hagley Museum & Library, among others.
Previously, Sturtevant worked as an editor and researcher at the Temple Hoyne Buell Center for the Study of American Architecture at Columbia University and the Canadian Centre for Architecture in Montreal. He is currently the Managing Editor of the Aggregate Architectural History Collaborative's online platform we-aggregate.org. He holds a Master of Architecture from the University of Toronto and a B.S. in Architecture from McGill University. In Fall 2023, Sturtevant 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.
Sturtevant’s fellowship is made possible through the support of the Mellon Foundation.
Princeton-Mellon / SPIA in New Jersey Fellow
Brian Whetstone is a public historian and scholar of late-twentieth century U.S. urban history. His research focuses on the intersection between the post-1966 U.S. historic preservation movement and twentieth-century urban political economy. His monograph, To Bring the Inner City Back to Life: Historic Preservation's Urban Politics, 1966-1986, examines how preservationists engaged with urban decline after 1966. Combining oral histories, architectural and material culture investigation, and archival research, it explores how preservationists emerged as significant political actors in the rightward shift in municipal governance of the late twentieth century.
Whetstone completed his Ph.D. in History with a certificate in Public History from the University of Massachusetts Amherst, and B.A. in History from Hastings College. He is a member of the National Council on Public History where he serves on the organization's Membership Committee and serves on a board-led organization of the Porter-Phelps-Huntington Foundation in Hadley, Massachusetts where he assists in the stabilization and preservation of the foundation's early-nineteenth century farmstead.
In Spring 2024, Whetstone will offer the course “Commemoration, Crisis, and Revolution in the City,” where students will explore the struggles over the meaning and utility of the American Revolution while developing a digital exhibition detailing ongoing commemoration(s) in preparation for the 250th anniversary of the events of 1776 in 2026.
Whetstone’s fellowship is made possible through the support of the Mellon Foundation, the School of Public and International Affairs, the Program for Community Engaged Scholarship (ProCES), the Effron Center for the Study of America, and the Department of History.
Princeton-Mellon / Princeton Institute for International and Regional Studies / Humanities Council Fellow
Zhiyan Yang is an architectural historian focusing on the symbiotic relationship between architecture and cultural discourse in East Asia throughout the long 20th century. His research draws on architecture’s intersectionality with urbanism, art, and medium culture within non-Western contexts.
His first book, “Inventing Contemporary Architectural Culture in the Age of Globalization, 1979-2006,” draws from a rich array of built, visual and textual evidence to explores a cultural shift that took place in post-Mao Chinese architecture. This shift saw architects, historians, curators, artists, and critics view contemporary architecture as a new locus for meaning making in a rapidly transforming society.
Yang holds a B.A. in Art History from Sarah Lawrence College and obtained his Ph.D. in the Department of Art History at the University of Chicago. In Spring 2024, he will teach a course titled, “Chinatown, the Japanese Garden, the Period Room: Case Studies for Diasporic Architecture,” in which students will examine how the built environment and landscape of East Asia is represented, appropriated, modified, and reinvented in diasporic architecture.
Yang’s fellowship is made possible through the support of the Mellon Foundation, the Humanities Council, the Center on Contemporary China, and the Princeton Institute for International and Regional Studies.
Stewart Fellow at the Humanities Council and Princeton School of Public and International Affairs Fellow
Babak Manouchehrifar is an urban planner and a scholar of urban humanities, studying the interplay between religion, secularism, and urban space. He received his Ph.D. in Urban and Regional Studies from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, where his dissertation, “Urban Planning and Religious Practice: Three Challenges,” explored 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.
He holds degrees in Civil Engineering, City Planning, and Regional Studies. He has several years of experience as a professional planner and has taught undergraduate and graduate courses at both MIT and the National University of Iran (SBU).
At Princeton, Manouchehrifar’s research focuses on the intersection of race, place, and religion. His pedagogy and research center on exploring inclusive strategies to create egalitarian and equitable urban settings and seeks to advance faith-centered calls for racial justice and spatial equity in contemporary cities. In Spring 2023, he taught "Religion and the City" [HUM 339, REL 398, URB 339] in the Humanities Council’s Program in Humanistic Studies, and in Fall 2023 will teach a seminar on "Religion and Public Policy: At Home & Abroad" [SPI 403-7] at the Princeton School of Public and International Affairs, which examines how religious beliefs and values shape public policy debates and outcomes in various domains.
Babak Manouchehrifar’s fellowship is made possible for a second year through the support of the Mellon Foundation, the Humanities Council, and the School of Public and International Affairs.
Princeton-Mellon / Princeton Institute for International and Regional Studies Fellow
Greg 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 Europe and Africa's entangled histories in the 19th and 20th century to understand historically changing definitions of and access to daily necessities.
Valdespino's manuscript, “Domestic Expectations: The Politics of Dwelling in France and Senegal, 1914-1974,” examines when, where and why West Africans came to expect domestic support from colonial and postcolonial governments in Senegal and France during the 20th century. Going from the outbreak of World War I to the mid-1970s, this project explains how 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 participation and social obligations within Senegal and amongst West African communities in France before and after decolonization.
He received his Ph.D. in History from the University of Chicago and holds a B.A. in History from Stanford University. In Spring 2024, Valdespino will again teach “African Urban History” where students will examine the history of African urban spaces and societies from the 13th century to the present to understand how African cities have shaped, and been shaped by, local and global historical forces.
Valdespino's extended second year fellowship is made possible by the Mellon Foundation, the Program in African Studies, and the Princeton Institute for International and Regional Studies.
Princeton-Mellon / Princeton School of Public and International Affairs Fellow
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 Fall 2023, Valle will teach “Race, Ethnicity, Space & Place: Exclusion, Confinement & Transformation (RESPECT)” [SPI 390/URB 391/AAS 396], in which students will study race and racism from a spatial perspective by investigating the narratives and everyday experiences of racialized city dwellers through the social sciences, the humanities, and media.
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, currently under contract with Oxford University Press, The book will be included in its Global and Comparative Ethnography Series. Battling for Worth 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 M.S. for Teachers in Childhood Education from Pace University, and an M.A., M.Phil., and Ph.D. in Sociology from Columbia University.
Valle’s fellowship is made possible by the Mellon Foundation and the Princeton School of Public and International Affairs.