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Northwestern University

Weinberg College Professors Win ACLS Fellowships

Associate Professor of English Vivasvan Soni and Assistant Professor of History Caitlin Fitz will use their fellowships to pursue humanities-related research

By Rebecca Lindell

Two Weinberg College professors, along with a professor from Northwestern’s School of Communication, have been awarded prestigious fellowships by the American Council of Learned Societies, the organization has announced.

Associate Professor of English Vivasvan Soni and Assistant Professor of History Caitlin Fitz, as well as Dassia Posner, an associate professor of theatre in the School of Communication who is also affiliated with the College's Department of Slavic Languages and Literatures, have been awarded fellowships that will run from Sept. 1, 2018 through Aug. 31, 2019.

Soni, who is also the Department of English’s director of undergraduate studies, will use the fellowship to complete a book project on aesthetics and the crisis of judgment in the 18th century.

Judgment as a practice

“My book project seeks to understand why we as our culture and our institutions of knowledge have become so uncomfortable with the practice of judgment, and how we might restore our capacity for judgment,” Soni explains. “I propose that our allergy to judgment can be traced back to the emergence of empiricism and aesthetics in the 18th century, and the forms of knowledge these two discourses authorize. I argue that the novels of Jane Austen recognized this problem, and developed narrative forms in order to cultivate our habits of judgment.

“Ultimately, my goal is to describe how judgment as a practice works differently from knowledge as it has been traditionally understood in the sciences, in order to understand the distinctive value of scholarship in the humanities.”

Inter-American influences on civil rights activism

Fitz’s project tells the story of Emiliano Mundrucu, a black Brazilian revolutionary who fled to Boston in 1825 and helped to radicalize U.S. abolitionists.  Mundrucu became one of Jim Crow’s earliest courtroom challengers, gaining international attention in the 1830s after a Nantucket steamboat captain denied him and his family equal accommodations.  

Fitz will use her fellowship year to write and research in archives from Boston to Brazil, and to show how Mundrucu’s story illuminates inter-American influences on early U.S. civil rights activism.  Her project expands on themes that she explored in her prizewinning first book, Our Sister Republics: The United States in an Age of American Revolutions (Norton/Liveright, 2016), which showed how Latin American independence shaped the early United States.  Fitz has also written historically-minded pieces for publications like the Wall Street JournalThe Atlantic, and the Los Angeles Times

Theatre and the Russian avant-garde

Posner, the third ACLS winner, is a theatre historian specializing in Russian avant-garde theatre, the history of directing, production dramaturgy, and world puppetry history and performance. Her current book project, The Moscow Kamerny Theatre: An Artistic History, examines the Kamerny Theatre’s collaborations, innovations, and international creative influence in the political and artistic context of the Soviet 1920s and 1930s. Her articles have appeared in Theatre Survey, Theatre Topics, Slavic and East European Performance, Communications from the International Brecht Society, and Puppetry International.

Nearly 1,200 applications were submitted for a total of 78 awards. “Competition for these fellowships was very rigorous this year,” the ACLS noted.

The fellowships are awarded to scholars in all disciplines of the humanities and related social sciences. Recipients use the fellowships to develop major pieces of scholarly work, including monographs, articles, digital publications, critical editions or other scholarly resources.

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