New Faculty Enrich Academic Programs

Christopher Magra

Christopher Magra

Democracy on the High Seas

Fifteen minutes into discussing his research, Christopher Magra, one of the twenty-two new faculty members in the College of Arts and Sciences, debunks the common myth that has fueled the hopes and dreams of nearly every child in America. “Pirates did not, in fact, bury their treasure. They spent it as quickly as they could,” he explains.

Magra is an assistant professor in the Department of History who specializes in pirates and the seas they frequented. More broadly, Magra’s research focuses on the eighteenth-century Atlantic world—Britain, the American colonies, the West Indies, and South America—and its sea trade. At UT, he teaches courses on colonial American history and the American Revolution.

Magra credits UT with having an “excellent” library digital database for colonial American history, and he is currently using it to finish writing his second book, which investigates the connections between private property rights in the British Atlantic World and political demands for independence in North America. The book will explore British naval impressment—a term for the practice of forcing men into service without notice—and look at why Thomas Jefferson listed it as a colonial grievance.

Compared with the British Navy, pirate society was positively Athenian. Magra explains that on pirate ships, all decisions were made through a popular election, and every person on the ship—including women and Africans—got one vote. “Pirates were very democratic. They voted on everything,” he concludes.

French Accents

Awa Sarr

When Awa Sarr asks her students to write down what comes to mind when they hear the word “Africa,” four terms are among the most popular: poverty, The Lion King, poor people, and snakes.

“Every time I do that exercise, I realize I’m useful here,” Sarr observes.

Originally from Senegal, Sarr is an assistant professor of francophone literature in the Department of Modern Foreign Languages & Literatures and holds a joint appointment in Africana Studies at UT. This is her first faculty position; previously, she was a graduate student at the University of Illinois, where she recently earned her Ph.D. in francophone literature.

Francophone and francophonie are two terms used to describe the former colonies of France and the people who inhabit them. Francophonie denotes an official organization of 56 governments and other state entities around the world that share French as a common language; some member countries, like Cameroon and Morocco, are former French colonies or protectorates, whereas others, like Albania and Egypt, are countries with distinct French-speaking populations. Francophone, on the other hand, is primarily used as an adjective to describe a French-speaking area or population outside of France.

Francophone literature and culture began to emerge as a cohesive entity in the 1930s, with the Négritude movement, in which a group of African and Caribbean black writers and intellectuals strove to respond to French colonialism by communicating and celebrating a distinctly black identity and culture.

“When the Europeans said, ‘Africans, you don’t have a country or civilization,’ the Négritude movement saw this as an important moment to define an identity,” Sarr explains.

Most of the French colonies or protectorates in Africa became independent from France in the 1950s and 1960s, and much of the francophone literature that emerged in the second half of the 20th century focused on colonial and postcolonial themes. However, the passage of half a century since the colonial period has led some of today’s scholars to advocate for a halt to using the term francophone as the basis for a discipline.

“Right now it’s a very polemic term. Some writers are trying to get away from that word because of its history, which is tied to colonialism, because the word was created by the French to mean an extension of the French empire. Critics say, ‘You were colonized and just got your freedom – why do you want to go back now?’ To them it doesn’t make sense; we should be on our own,” Sarr states.

However, the French language still unites the former colonies, and many francophone scholars assert that while colonization may not be a period many wish to remember, it is also impossible to ignore.

Although many contemporary francophone writers continue to focus on postcolonial themes in their work, younger authors are starting to move beyond the context of colonization, addressing such topics as gender roles and current political realities.

“The new generation does not have the same relationship with colonization that its predecessors do. Most of them were born in the 1960s, and most countries became independent in the 1960s, so what they know is having dictators, not colonizers, telling them what to do. They are criticizing the current African dictators more than blaming colonizers,” Sarr explains.

Regardless of the debate over the nuances of francophone studies, Sarr says she enjoys introducing students to African culture and literature and providing a more comprehensive view of the continent. 

“There is a speech by a Nigerian writer that tells of the ‘danger of a single story.’ And at the end of every class I teach I hope they will at least have different stories of Africa, not just one. So if they can at least have a second, I think I would be happy,” she concludes.


Learn more about the credentials and expertise of the remaining 20 new faculty listed by department.

Marisa O. Ensor, assistant professor, received a Ph.D. in anthropology from the University of Florida. Her research focuses upon forced and voluntary migration, humanitarian disasters, and human rights among the peoples and cultures of Latin America and North and East Africa.

Bertin M. Louis, Jr. holds a joint appointment as assistant professor in the Department of Anthropology and Africana Studies. He received a Ph.D. in anthropology from Washington University in St. Louis. His research focuses upon the growth of Protestant forms of Christianity among Haitians in diasporic contexts (the Bahamas and the United States) and in Haiti.

Amy Z. Mundorff, assistant professor, received a Ph.D. in anthropology from Simon Fraser University, British Columbia, Canada. She is a forensic anthropologist formerly employed by the Office of the Chief Medical Examiner in New York City. Her research focuses upon the application of forensic anthropology and forensic archaeology to mass disasters, human rights, and ethics in forensics.

School of Art

Evan Meaney, assistant professor, earned an M.F.A. in video and film production from the University of Iowa where he was a University of Iowa Arts Fellow. Meaney joins the faculty in the School of Art in the areas of both 4-D and graphic design. His own creative work takes the forms of film and video as well as digital imaging, and his work has been screened and exhibited nationally and internationally.

Althea Murphy-Price, assistant professor, received an M.F.A. in printmaking from Temple University’s Tyler School of Art. Previously, she was a member of the faculty in the Henry Radford School of Fine Arts at Indiana University. Professor Murphy-Price joins the faculty of the School of Art in the area of printmaking. Her work has been exhibited nationally and internationally and can be found in a number of public collections.


Michelle D. Commander, assistant professor, earned a Ph.D. from the Department of American Studies and Ethnicity at the University of Southern California, where she wrote a dissertation studying the travel accounts of Black Americans journeying toward Africa. She holds a joint appointment in Africana Studies.

Gerard G. Cohen-Vrignaud, assistant professor, holds a Ph.D. from the Department of Comparative Literature at the University of Chicago, where he specialized in the literature of the Romantic period. He teaches courses in Romantic poetry and prose (1780-1840), the arts of exoticism and historicism, popular genres, public cultures and counter-cultures, and the literary histories of class, gender, sexuality and race. His research currently focuses on the relation between Romantic aesthetics, political and economic theory, Orientalism, the rise of modern democracy and partisan affiliations such as radicalism, liberalism and conservatism.


Madhuri Sharma, assistant professor, holds a Ph.D. in geography from Ohio State University. Her research examines spatial patterns and processes of racial/ethnic residential intermixing, poverty, and inequality, especially in cities.

Joshua Inwood is an assistant professor in geography and also holds a joint appointment in Africana Studies.  He earned a Ph.D. in geography from the University of Georgia and previously was an assistant professor at Auburn University.  His research  centers on urban (re)development, processes of racialization, landscape studies, contested notions of identity as well as justice studies.  Inwood’s current research interest is the United States’ first ever truth and reconciliation commission held in Greensboro, North Carolina. In particular, his research explores the results of this commission, focusing on the ways grassroots activists address the legacy and memory of violence, and how violence continues to undergird racial exploitation and frame an understanding of difference in North America. 


Monica A. Black, assistant professor, received a Ph.D. at the University of Virginia in 2006 and was an assistant professor at Furman University before coming to UT. She is an expert in the cultural history of Germany in the twentieth century and is the author of Death in Berlin: From Weimar to Divided Germany (Cambridge University Press, 2010), winner of the 2010 Fraenkel Prize in Contemporary History.


Elizabeth M. Fozo, assistant professor, received a Ph.D. in microbiology and immunology from the University of Rochester. She held a postdoctoral fellowship with the National Institutes of Health prior to coming to UT. Her research is in genetic regulation by sRNAs as well as microbial pathogenesis and functional genomics.

Vitaly V. Ganusov, assistant professor, joins the departments of microbiology and mathematics and is an affiliated faculty member with the National Institute for Mathematical and Biological Synthesis (NIMBioS). Ganusov holds a Ph.D. from Emory University. Prior to coming to UT, he held a laboratory postdoctoral fellowship at Los Alamos National Laboratory. His area of research is theoretical immunology.

Frank Loeffler, Governor’s Chair professor, is an environmental microbiologist with a joint appointment in microbiology  and civil and environmental engineering.  Loeffler’s research centers on discovering ways to clean the environment, counter the damage humans do to ecosystems, and improve environmental health. He studies how naturally occurring bacteria break down pollutants like chlorinated solvents, radioactive wastes, and greenhouse gases.


Judy D. Day, assistant professor, is a joint faculty member in the Department of Mathematics and the Department of Electrical Engineering and Computer Science. She is also on the senior personnel team at the National Institute for Mathematical and Biological Synthesis (NIMBioS). She earned a Ph.D. in mathematics from the University of Pittsburgh in 2007. Before coming to UT, she was a postdoctoral research fellow at the Mathematical Biosciences Institute, Ohio State University, for three years.  Her primary research is focused on the development and analysis of mathematical models relating to the immune response to various stimuli and the application of control methodologies to modulate the immune response with therapeutic inputs. Her interests are motivated by the potential of mathematical and engineering techniques to assist in answering vital questions in the medical field. Her main objective is to conduct research within an interdisciplinary group to promote a symbiotic relationship among the various areas of expertise in hopes of acquiring results and developing tools of clinical relevance.

Joan Lind, assistant professor, received a Ph.D. in mathematics from the University of Washington in 2005. Before joining the mathematics department, she held a postdoctoral appointment at Cornell and was an assistant professor at Belmont University. She studies mathematical equations that are used to both model and understand the growth of two-dimensional shapes in a variety of naturally-occurring processes.  The growth of these objects is modeled by an equation called the Loewner differential equation.

Vasileios Maroulas, assistant professor, received a Ph.D. from the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill in 2008. Before joining the mathematics department, he was an industrial postdoctoral fellow at the Institute for Mathematics and its Applications at the University of Minnesota. His area of research is probability and stochastic analysis.

School of Music

Gene D. Peterson joins the School of Music as assistant professor and associate director of choral activities. He  earned his D.M.A in choral conducting from the University of Washington. He conducts the UT Concert Choir and the Men’s Chorale, and he also teaches courses in choral conducting and choral methods.

Gregory Tardy, an internationally renowned jazz saxophonist, joins the School of Music as assistant professor in the Studio Music and Jazz Program. Tardy’s first major label project as a leader, Serendipity (1998), was released by Impulse Records. He received great critical acclaim for this record and was nominated as Best Debut Artist for the New York Jazz Awards. He has also toured Europe on the Rising Stars Tour. His other albums include The Hidden Light (2000), Abundance (2001), The Truth, Steps of Faith, and He Knows My Name (2005). Greg has received multiple awards for his own work and has performed on a Grammy nominated album.


Joseph Miles, assistant professor, received a Ph.D. in counseling psychology from the University of Maryland. He studies group interventions, process and outcomes of group interventions, intergroup dialogues, and multicultural issues.

Political Science

Kyung-Joon Han, assistant professor,  earned a Ph.D. from the University of California, Los Angeles. His research focuses on the political economy of advanced democratic countries.