Faculty Focus: Fall 2017
Meet the Newest Faculty: Architectural Studies, Mathematics, and Political Science
History and Material Conditions
"History is not only shaped by human will, but by the material conditions in which we live and work," says Diana Martinez. Tufts' new director of the Architectural Studies program and assistant professor of architecture history, Martinez is researching those material conditions: the American colonization of the Philippines from an architectural—and literally concrete—perspective.
Assistant Professor and
Director of Architectural
"Those who promoted reinforced concrete construction in the Philippines did not treat it as a mere choice of building material, but in fact talked about using the material in grandiose, civilizational, and even spiritual terms," she explains. "Architects, engineers, and builders claimed it would bring Filipinos and other colonized peoples out of their 'savage' states," replacing buildings constructed using ephemeral materials such as bamboo and palm fronts, "by creating the very conditions in which capitalism could flourish." One of Martinez's first courses explores modern materials: reinforced concrete, as well as stone, steel, brick, plastic, and wood.
Martinez comes to Tufts from Columbia University, where she received her Master's and Ph.D.; University of California–Berkeley, where she received another Master's degree; and teaching positions at Cornell, the Pratt Institute, and Barnard College, among others.
Martinez has encountered Tufts alumni throughout her life, and says she's always been impressed with their engaged citizenship. Now that she's here, she says that Tufts students are exemplifying that for her in spades. She's also eager to work with groups like the Consortium of Studies in Race, Colonialism and Diaspora, which supports themes of her research. "It is exciting to find a group of scholars who have already cultivated a lively conversation around what I consider to be some of the most pressing topics and issues being addressed in academia today."
Mathematics and the Food Chain
Assistant Professor of
We're all familiar with the food chain: prey is eaten by predator, who is eaten by bigger predator, and so on. But what happens if the prey suddenly migrates to a new continent? Or the bigger predator changes its appetite? Will the species co-exist? Will one die out and another take a leap in the food chain?
That's where Alexandru Hening, Tufts' newest assistant professor in the Department of Mathematics, comes in. Hening is researching probability as it applies to biology, modeling predators and their prey and how they interact. "I study the conditions that can lead to extinction and persistence, such as how a virus spreads," Hening explains, "to shed light on the possible future of evolution and infectious diseases."
Hening begins with a deterministic system—or a set of data—and applies random effects, like the environment, to discover how that randomness will affect the end results. "I'm looking at this for the long-term," he says. "As our planet changes, we must begin to think about what will happen in the environment."
Hening comes to Tufts from Imperial College London and Oxford University, where he was a postdoctoral scholar in probability and statistics. He received his Ph.D. from Berkeley and is originally from Romania. At Tufts, he's researching probability while also teaching a graduate-level course in analysis. "It's very cool because math Ph.D. students must take a qualifying exam based on this course and the students here are very talented," Hening says. "It's a small class size with a lot of interaction and discussion." He looks forward to teaching undergraduates next year.
For Hening, there's always been freedom in math. "You can explore every kind of abstract concept, but also use equations in your day-to-day life," he says.
Associate Professor of
Changes in Politics
In these heightened political times, how do voters make sense of the news coming from all technological corners (television, social media, etc.) in all voices? If a law or policy changes, how will citizens respond online? How will politicians behave in the media?
"We're constantly tinkering with the democratic system we live in through technology and policy changes," says Eitan Hersh, A05, Tufts' new Associate Professor of Political Science. "My job is to help figure out what those changes mean." So far, Hersh's research has focused on civic participation and the relationship between election rules, strategies, and the behavior of voters, using large databases of personal records to study political behavior.
His first book, Hacking the Electorate, published in 2015, will be followed up by his latest work, a theory on political hobbyism.
"A lot of people spend an hour a day 'doing politics' online," Hersh says, defining said political hobbyism. "While fighting on Twitter about a recent issue may be gratifying, it's not actually contributing in any way to the coalition," he argues. Through his research, Hersh has found that hobbyism serves to further polarize partisan politics, making the system less effective.
The theory is controversial and will make for a rousing discussion point in Hersh's undergraduate course. But Hersh is used to the conversation; he comes to Tufts after six years as an assistant professor of political science at Yale, and receiving his Master's degree and Ph.D. from Harvard.
Being back on the Hill is exciting for Hersh; Tufts is where he met his wife, Julia Hoffman, A04, and took classes with faculty members who are now his colleagues. "They're all familiar faces," he says, smiling, "but now I call them by their first names."