ACLS Collaborative Research Fellowships

The ACLS Collaborative Research Fellowship Program provides support to small teams of two or more scholars to collaborate intensively on a single, substantive project, which leads to a tangible research product (such as joint print or web publications) for which the collaborators will take equal credit. It is hoped that projects of successful applicants will help demonstrate the range and value of collaborative research in the humanities and related social sciences, and model how such collaboration may be carried out successfully.  

2016-2017 marked the ninth year of the ACLS Collaborative Research Fellowship Program, generously funded by The Andrew W. Mellon Foundation.

Read more about this fellowship program.

Please note: affiliations shown are as of time of award. Please click on fellows' names for current information.

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Watch "Emerging Themes and Methods of Research: A Discussion with ACLS Fellows," an annual meeting session featuring recent ACLS fellows. 

  • Beyond Indigenous Heritage Paradoxes in Evo Morales' Bolivia  |  Abstract

    As active protagonists in the discussions that gave rise to UNESCO’s key instrument of intangible heritage (2003), Bolivians have been involved in heritage protection policies since before the 1970s. In the early twenty-first century, however, the country was beset by a veritable fever of intangible heritage registration, leading to bitter disputes—both with neighboring countries and among local communities—over cultural ownership of traditional dances, costumes, music, and musical instruments. When Bolivia’s first indigenous president, Evo Morales, took the reins of state in 2006, the government set in motion a “process of change” and attempts at state “decolonization” that paradoxically intensified nationalist positions rather than bringing greater indigenous cultural sovereignty. In this project, anthropologist Michelle Bigenho and ethnomusicologist Henry Stobart identify two key paradoxes that continue to constrain discussions of indigenous heritage in Bolivia and beyond: (1) the paradox of patriotic patrimony: the tendency for heritage instruments to be administered at nation-state levels, rather than by indigenous actors for their own interests, and (2) the economic vs. cultural rights paradox, where international policy and the topical literature present economic and cultural rights in mutual opposition. Rather than reproduce these same state and international-level readings, where culture is often framed and promoted as a resource, this project seeks a more nuanced account of how people understand and engage with the concept of heritage. The project asks: What motivates people to make heritage claims? How might these motivations go beyond the oppositional binary of the “economic” and the “cultural”? Focusing on specific case studies of heritage registration and engaging with actors at multiple social levels (i.e., indigenous and nonindigenous actors, state and local authorities, etc.), the collaborators will conduct ethnographic research about the motivations and repercussions of heritage registration and will co-author a book that also draws on Bigenho’s and Stobart’s ongoing collaborations since 2011; these include a Bolivia-based workshop on “Rethinking Creativity, Recognition and Indigenous Heritage,” an associated website, and several co-written articles. Award period: July 1, 2015 through June 30, 2016

    Michelle Bigenho
    Michelle Bigenho

    Professor, Sociology and Anthropology, Colgate University

    Henry F. Stobart
    Henry F. Stobart

    Reader, Music, Royal Holloway, University of London, UK

  • Chernobyl Revisited: An Historical Inquiry into the Practice of Knowing  |  Abstract

    Nearly three decades have passed since the world’s largest nuclear accident at reactor number four of the Chernobyl Power Plant and, surprisingly, there is no agreement on the impact of the disaster. The United Nations Scientific Committee on the Effects of Radiation puts the deaths caused by the accident at 64. Green Peace estimates 200,000 Chernobyl-related fatalities. Some scientists claim that the Chernobyl Zone is a thriving nature preserve. Others say it is a threatened and damaged eco-system. Chernobyl is arguably the most politically and scientifically important technological disaster of the twentieth century, so why is it so difficult to determine its cost to human life and the environment? This project is a collaboration between an environmental historian, Kate Brown, and an evolutionary biologist, Timothy Mousseau, who has carried out field work in the Chernobyl Zone since 2000 and in Fukushima since 2011. As a collaboration between a scientist and a humanist, the project will explore how both knowledge and ignorance of the impact of the Chernobyl disaster have been produced over the last thirty years. The researchers will analyze the historical trajectory of the funding, production of three decades of scientific research on Chernobyl from 1986 to the present, and in Fukushima from 2011 on, in order to describe what is known and debated about the impact of long term, low dose exposure to ionizing radiation on plants, animals, and humans. Brown and Mousseau plan to publish a series of articles in academic journals and the popular media for the thirtieth anniversary of the Chernobyl catastrophe in April 2016, as well as a co-authored monograph. Award period: July 1, 2015 through August 31, 2016

    Kate Brown
    Kate Brown

    Professor, History, University of Maryland, Baltimore County

    Timothy A. Mousseau
    Timothy A. Mousseau

    Professor, Biological Sciences, University of South Carolina

  • Completing the Works of Oscar Wilde  |  Abstract

    Oscar Wilde (1854-1900) counts among the best known and most quoted modern authors, who enjoyed––until the sensation caused by his 1895 trial and two-year prison sentence––a dazzling career as a major essayist, fabulist, dramatist, and poet. Wilde’s famous comedies such as The Importance of Being Earnest have been in repertory for decades; his only novel, The Picture of Dorian Gray, remains a staple of university literature syllabi; and his work has been translated into so many languages that he assuredly ranks as a world author. In popular memory, he is recognized most of all for his epigrammatic wit. Yet only in recent years has Wilde’s large and diverse oeuvre been subject to comprehensive textual editing. Drawing on the expertise of three experienced editors who are positioned to access Wilde’s manuscripts in archives across the United States and Europe—Joseph Bristow, Rebecca N. Mitchell, and Yvonne Ivory—this editorial project draws the Oxford University Press Complete Works of Oscar Wilde to a conclusion. The research involves editing his famous epigrams, both in their published and manuscript forms, as well as a group of works that deserve to be better known among scholars and general readers: the lectures he delivered to many different audiences in Canada, England, Ireland, and the United States during the 1880s; numerous unpublished essays and reviews; and—perhaps most important—several unfinished dramas, which include courageous plays that address sensitive topics such as incest, adultery, and illegitimacy. Lastly, we will provide an annotated bibliography of the vast array of dubious works attributed to Wilde in the decades following his death. This will be the first edition to bring these works before the public with full scholarly apparatus, throwing light on formerly under-researched but vital aspects of a writer of global renown. The trio of collaborators has published widely on Wilde’s works, their most recent joint publication being Bristow and Mitchell’s Oscar Wilde’s Chatterton: Literary History, Romanticism, and the Art of Forgery (Yale University Press, 2015). Award period: July 1, 2015 through June 30, 2017

    Joseph Bristow
    Joseph Bristow

    Professor, English, University of California, Los Angeles

    Yvonne Ivory
    Yvonne Ivory

    Associate Professor, Languages, Literatures, and Cultures, University of South Carolina

    Rebecca N. Mitchell
    Rebecca N. Mitchell

    Lecturer, English Literature, University of Birmingham, UK

  • Iberian Slave Routes: The Transatlantic Slave Trade to Spanish America, 1500-1640  |  Abstract

    The first known transatlantic slaving voyages sailing directly from Africa brought captives to the Spanish Caribbean as early as the 1520s; by the time England began to colonize Virginia a century later, nearly one thousand Iberian slaving voyages had set sail for the Spanish Americas. Yet despite major advances over the past decade in scholarship on the transatlantic slave trade—notably the website Voyages: the Trans-Atlantic Slave Trade Database—much is still unknown or poorly understood about this early forced migration, and colonial Spanish American historiography has been slow to embrace broader Atlantic perspectives. Historians David Wheat and Marc Eagle will conduct research in eight Spanish and Portuguese archives during the tenure of their fellowship, drawing upon primary sources generated in Iberia, Africa, and the Americas to construct the first comprehensive overview of the slave trade to Spanish America from its inception in the early 1500s up to the dissolution of the union of the Spanish and Portuguese crowns in 1640. Building on Eagle’s previous work on trans-imperial contraband slave trafficking, and on Wheat’s earlier efforts to periodize coerced migration from distinct African regions, this project will correct and amplify existing information on slave voyages, allowing the researchers to trace the evolution of the movements of African captives, the licit and illicit practices of slave traders, and the transnational merchant networks that deeply influenced the development of Spain’s overseas empire. Eagle and Wheat’s research will form the basis for a co-authored monograph on the early Iberian slave trade to Spanish America, with chapters discussing sources, volume, legal instruments and regulations, African provenance zones, slave trade ports, slaving networks, and captives' experiences aboard ship. Their project will illustrate how this Iberian Atlantic slave trade functioned at the ground level, providing new insight into the interconnected nature of early modern Spanish and Portuguese empires, and the pathways and mechanisms by which sub-Saharan Africans became an essential part of colonial Spanish American society. Award period: July 1, 2015 through June 30, 2016

    David Wheat
    David Wheat

    Assistant Professor, History, Michigan State University

    Marc V. Eagle
    Marc V. Eagle

    Associate Professor, History, Western Kentucky University

  • Nigeria at War: History, Memory, and Memorialization of the Asaba Massacre  |  Abstract

    In 1968, the world was shocked by harrowing media images of starving children in the African territory known as Biafra, which had tried to secede from Nigeria and was locked in a civil war that ended in 1970 with over a million dead. In this project, anthropologist Elizabeth Bird and historian Fraser Ottanelli work actively with community members in Nigeria to shed new light on a pivotal but neglected atrocity early in the war: the 1967 Asaba massacre, in which hundreds of Nigerian civilians (outside secessionist Biafra) were systematically killed by Nigerian Federal troops. These research and related public dissemination efforts, built on four years of ethnographic interviewing and archival research, will not only rethink the accepted history of the war, but will also contribute to the understanding of long term community trauma and the process of collective memory formation. The project draws on Bird’s expertise in ethnography, media studies, cultural heritage, and applied oral history and Ottanelli’s expertise in historiographic methods, most recently applied to studies of comparative twentieth-century violence and ethnic conflict. The interdisciplinary collaboration in oral history and memory studies requires a grasp of historical scale and an appreciation of the construction of cultural meaning in contemporary memory practices, which is especially fraught in post-conflict situations. The collaboration, which has to date produced several articles and an edited volume, will result in a co-authored book that will: offer a comprehensive historical record of the atrocities; furnish an alternative interpretation to the prevailing understanding of the history of the Nigerian Civil War; illustrate how studying the impact and legacy of events such as this massacre will lead to a deeper understanding of the long “after-life” of traumatic conflicts, especially when suffering is left unrecognized and unresolved; and show how academic/community collaboration in actively “recalibrating” memory offers opportunities to understand Nigeria’s troubled history, perhaps opening possibilities of reconciliation in this ethnically-divided nation. Anthropology and history thus come together in a sustained discussion of memory and the importance of the past in the present. Award period: September 1, 2015 to May 31, 2017

    S. Elizabeth Bird
    S. Elizabeth Bird

    Professor, Anthropology, University of South Florida

    Fraser M. Ottanelli
    Fraser M. Ottanelli

    Professor, History, University of South Florida

  • Object Histories - Flotsam as Early Globalism  |  Abstract

    The past decade has witnessed the proliferation of histories written on and from objects. This reflects a number of significant developments in the humanities, from increased attention to circulation, gifting, and the early history of commodities, to a renewed concern with materiality and the potential agency of material things. Historians of medieval art often face the challenge of writing histories for which unique artifacts, images, or monuments are the only available archives. In these cases, the object functions as its own archive, the absence of related written sources compelling the researcher to pursue compensatory lines of historical inquiry. But how does one choose where to start, which lines to trace, and which to ignore or neglect? The collaboration between Finbarr Flood and Beate Fricke considers such questions in relation to the writing of connected histories focused on medieval flotsam—artifacts or images that appear as unique survivals. It explores the pre-modern reception of such objects, their capacity to stimulate new artistic trends, and the methodological problems inherent in treating artifacts as archives to facilitate the writing of medieval histories in the present. The project is structured around case studies drawn from medieval Europe, the central Islamic lands, and the Christian kingdoms that lay on their peripheries. Engaging critically with recent interest in object-oriented histories of early globalism, the aims of the collaboration are two-fold: first, to challenge existing artistic, cultural, and geographic imaginaries that often set the limits of contemporary scholarship (between “Islamic” and “Christian” cultures, for example); second, to do so in a way that offers a meta-reflection on the process of analysis itself—on approaches to questions of displacement, mobility, and reception in modern scholarship and the value of what now appear as unique works for reimagining larger artistic and cultural phenomena. Developing a dialogue facilitated by visits to selected sites and workshops, the ultimate aim is to produce a co-authored handbook for those who depend on objects as sources for the writing of complex multi-dimensional histories. Award period: July 1, 2016 through June 30, 2018

    Beate Fricke
    Beate Fricke

    Associate Professor, History of Art, University of California, Berkeley

    Finbarr Flood
    Finbarr Flood

    Professor, Institute of Fine Arts, and Art History, New York University

  • Religion and Mass Incarceration  |  Abstract

    Changes in the American religious landscape enabled the rise of mass incarceration. At the same time, many religious ideas and practices oppose mass incarceration. This project intends to substantiate these two claims and to explore the tension between them. Joshua Dubler, a scholar of American religious cultures who uses ethnographic methods, together with Vincent Lloyd, a scholar of religion and politics who draws on political theory, aim to reframe the exponential prison growth of the last forty years. While much scholarly attention has focused on the roles of economics, politics, and race in explaining prison growth, this project demonstrates the important role that religion has also played, as well as the ways that religion is entangled with these other factors. How might “justice” and “law” function as secularized theological concepts, and how have these terms been creatively reappropriated in the religious movements of incarcerated individuals? By looking behind prison walls, inside institutions of worship, and at the language of political elites, this research aims to explicate the peculiar nexus of religious and political ideas that has and continues to enable mass incarceration, and it will harvest religious resources that can make the criminal justice system more just. Dubler and Lloyd will examine the robust religious idioms used in nineteenth-century movements for the abolition of slavery, and will puzzle over why the language of prison reform has, so far, been thoroughly secularist. The collaborators, who from 2012-2014 served as facilitators of a Rochester-Cornell-Syracuse working group addressing these issues, will also conduct a study of religion in recent prison strikes—including the largest prison strikes in US history in California in 2013 and in Georgia in 2010—as a capstone to their project, with the product of this collaboration being a co-authored book. Award period: July 1, 2015 through December 31, 2016

    Vincent Lloyd
    Vincent Lloyd

    Assistant Professor, Religion, Syracuse University

    Joshua Dubler
    Joshua Dubler

    Assistant Professor, Religion and Classics, University of Rochester

  • The Color of Mind: Why the Origins of the Achievement Gap Matter for Justice  |  Abstract

    Eighteenth-century European natural scientists and philosophers classified human beings into races with different moral, behavioral, and cognitive endowments. Blacks were regarded as the most intellectually inferior race and whites as the most superior. Nineteenth-century Americans adapted this racial ideology and used it to deny blacks education, and later to offer it on separate and highly unequal terms. This project examines how linking the ideology of race and racial difference in antebellum philosophical and popular thought with the history of unequal schooling for blacks and whites offers novel evidence for appraising the contemporary racial achievement gap. Drawing on Derrick Darby’s expertise in the philosophy of race and racism, and John Rury’s expertise in the history of African American education, these scholars develop a conceptual framework for understanding the idea of equality in Aristotle, Hume, Kant, and in antebellum American thought. They then use this framework to understand the historical roots of racist ideology, how that ideology has shifted over time, how it has been used to rationalize racially separate and unequal schooling, and how it has, in turn, perpetuated the idea of a racial achievement gap. The project also considers how the ideology of black intellectual inferiority was thoroughly contested by African Americans both in theory and through their record of intellectual accomplishment. The study will result in a co-authored book, The Color of Mind, illuminating why the racial achievement gap endures, why it is unjust, and what must be done to mitigate it. Darby and Rury have previously collaborated on a panel at an international conference and used some of their research in a jointly authored essay on war, race, and education in the United States. Award period: August 1, 2015 through July 31, 2016

    Derrick Darby
    Derrick Darby

    Professor, Philosophy, University of Michigan-Ann Arbor

    John L. Rury
    John L. Rury

    Professor, Educational Leadership and Policy Studies, University of Kansas

  • The Country and the City: For a Poetics of Informal Economies in Contemporary India  |  Abstract

    A key insight of recent social science scholarship on India is the severe shortage of formal sector employment, compelling 90 percent of India’s workforce to find uncertain livelihoods in an assortment of rural and urban informal sector work. These men and women work in construction, street vending, petty retail, transportation, waste picking, sex work, and domestic service labor, to name but a few venues. While the employment challenge that confronts countries like India with its vast youth demographic is humbling, the existing scholarship in fields like labor studies, urban geography, rural sociology, and feminist studies has been resolutely economistic. With few exceptions, it has had little to say on the experiences, life-making activities (poïesis), and desires of the men and women, many from historically subordinated caste groups, who toil in India’s cities even as they remain enmeshed with ongoing lives in their villages. This collaboration between geographer Vinay Gidwani and Priti Ramamurthy, a gender, women, and sexuality studies scholar, will explore the evolving entanglements of the country and the city through the life-worlds of poor urban migrants, bringing humanistic insights to current political economy scholarship through ethnographic methods, including oral history, mental mapping, and participant observation. The products of the collaboration will be a co-authored book as well as a digital public archive of anonymized oral histories and mental collages that can aid the advocacy efforts of civil society groups fighting for the rights of informal sector workers in India. Award period: September 1, 2015 through August 31, 2017

    Vinay Gidwani
    Vinay Gidwani

    Associate Professor, Geography, Environment and Society, University of Minnesota, Twin Cities

    Priti Ramamurthy
    Priti Ramamurthy

    Professor, Gender, Women and Sexuality Studies; South Asian Studies, University of Washington

  • Visualizing Travel, Gendering the African Diaspora  |  Abstract

    What are the ways in which the “African Diaspora” as a theoretical framework has been gendered male, both in philosophical discourses and in practiced, everyday life experiences? How might scholarly understandings of the affective work of diaspora be enriched by focusing specifically on the experiences and resulting cultural productions of African-descended women? What is the relationship among subjectivity, authenticity, and objectivity? Who is doing the act of speaking and for whom? Where have these women’s cultural productions served as instruments for their own subordination, thus positioning them into hermeneutics that have been more attentive to the Black female as passive object than as an actively engaged persona? In this project, visual studies scholar Leigh Raiford, art historian Cheryl Finley, and film studies scholar Heike Raphael-Hernandez consider how African-descended women have been active participants and creators of the African Diaspora. By focusing on women’s experiences and their cultural productions, the collaborators hope to complicate several paradigms of the African Diaspora that currently dominate the field, while providing methodological innovation. This intervention will propose a system of theoretical analysis that has not been in place regarding Black women artists as diasporic cultural producers. By addressing these aspects together, the project will explore the interplay between Black women’s bodies as visual objects and as subjects; as visual spectacles and as visual spectators; and as objects of visual culture and as visual producers in transatlantic contexts. Resulting from their diverse fields of scholarship and expertise, the collaborators will ask how visual media, including painting, photography, performance, global independent cinema, Hollywood films, and art installations, have shaped gendered diasporic imaginings of the individual and the collective self. Through their research at different sites, such as archives, film festivals, and museums, as well as through interviews with a diversity of curators, artists, and filmmakers, the product of the collaboration will be a co-authored book that will offer an approach to the intersectional study of visual culture and the gendered African Diaspora as historically comparative (across different time periods), interdisciplinary (across multiple fields), and multi-sited (across different geographic locations). Award period: January 1, 2016 through December 31, 2017

    Leigh Raiford
    Leigh Raiford

    Associate Professor, African American Studies, University of California, Berkeley

    Cheryl Finley
    Cheryl Finley

    Associate Professor, History of Art, Cornell University

    Heike Juliane Raphael-Hernandez
    Heike Juliane Raphael-Hernandez

    Professor, English and American Studies, Julius Maximilians Universität Würzburg, Germany