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Dartmouth College author receives ASU humanities book award

Cover image of Silvia Spitta’s book “Misplaced Objects: Migrating Collections an
September 09, 2010

Humanities institute fetes ASU faculty authors and editors at reception

“When things move, things change.” This is the premise of Dartmouth College professor Silvia Spitta’s book – “Misplaced Objects: Migrating Collections and Recollections in Europe and the Americas” – the winner of this year’s Transdisciplinary Humanities Book Award from the Institute for Humanities Research at Arizona State University. The award recognizes humanities-focused research that addresses compelling social and cultural issues and that utilizes transdisciplinary approaches. 

In her book, Spitta focuses on the cultural shifts caused by the circulation of material objects and human subjects between Europe and the Americas since the 1500s. 

“I was captivated by the common sense behind her argument that the objects created as reflections of one’s culture take on a life of their own when they begin to circulate beyond the borders of that culture,” says professor Daniel Gilfillan, acting director of the Institute for Humanities Research in ASU’s College of Liberal Arts and Sciences. 

Spitta, a professor of Spanish and chair of comparative literature at Dartmouth, will discuss her book and scholarship on Sept. 16 at the IHR Faculty Authors Reception. The annual event will be held from 4-5:30 p.m., in the Carson Ballroom of Old Main. There, the books and journals of more than 50 ASU faculty members will be displayed in recognition of their humanities scholarship. 

This year’s award was open to transdisciplinary scholarship published by authors throughout the U.S. In alternating years, the award is given to an ASU faculty member. 

Window on profound displacement and transformations 

Spitta’s work “fearlessly draws upon various academic fields and disciplinary approaches to forge a pioneering cultural studies lens that will forever change our thinking about the crucial role of displaced objects for theories of migration, cultural identity, memory, and geographical space,” says Claudia Sadowski-Smith, an ASU associate professor of English and last year’s recipient of the IHR Transdisciplinary Humanities Book Award. 

“It is precisely Silvia Spitta’s blending of historical, art historical, and popular cultural approaches as she tracks the movement of a cultural object from the early Americas to its worldview-changing impact on European cultural identity and the ways in which this same cultural object undergoes a range of cultural shifts upon its repatriation back into its origin culture that made this work stand apart from the other nominations for the IHR Transdisciplinary Humanities Book Award,” says Gilfillan. 

Borrowing from Michel Foucault’s notion of order in “The Order of Things,” Spitta suggests in her work that a culture is influenced not only by the subjects that comprise it, but also by its objects. In doing so, she argues that the misplacement of material objects have played a crucial role in shaping the cultures of Europe and the Americas for the last six centuries. 

“Yet this common sense idea about migrating objects,” says Gilfillan, “belies an equally incredible complexity that points to the layering of cultural narratives that occurs when they become misplaced, taken out of their original cultural context, and moved into new epistemological frameworks that turn both the origin culture and the recipient culture on their heads.” 

In the introduction of the book, Spitta writes: “The (il)logic of misplacement drives this book, in its attempt to highlight those moments when objects enter a new cultural context.” 

More information about “Misplaced Objects: Migrating Collections and Recollections in Europe and the Americas,” which is published by the University of Texas Press, is online at Spitta discusses her book in a Dartmouth College podcast “Views from the Green” at

Celebrating humanities scholarship

“Now entering its third year, the Institute for Humanities Research Book Award and Faculty Authors Reception is a pinnacle event that highlights both the importance of transdisciplinary research in the humanities and the leading role that humanities scholarship plays at ASU,” says Gilfillan. 

Nearly 70 publications, either written or edited by ASU faculty members, will be featured at the event. They represent scholarship from across the university, including the schools of International Letters and Cultures; Historical, Philosophical and Religious Studies; Human Communications; Life Sciences; Design and the Arts; and Social Transformation; department of English; and film and media studies. 

“It is truly an amazing experience to see the strong tradition of humanities faculty authorship as evidenced in the quality and number of book publications and journals written and edited by ASU faculty members,” says Gilfillan. 

Next year, the award will acknowledge the humanities-related scholarship of an ASU faculty member. 

Additional information in online at Faculty, staff or students planning to attend the event are asked to RSVP to or 480-965-3000. 

Written by Jessica Stone (

Carol Hughes,
College of Liberal Arts and Sciences