College of LAS « Illinois

Two LAS professors awarded NEH Fellowships

National program supports advanced research in the humanities

Illinois professors Erik McDuffie and Carol Symes have been awarded National Endowment for the Humanities Fellowships for 2017.
Illinois professors Erik McDuffie and Carol Symes have been awarded National Endowment for the Humanities Fellowships for 2017.
Two LAS faculty members, Erik McDuffie and Carol Symes, have been awarded National Endowment for the Humanities Fellowships for 2017.

McDuffie is a professor of African American studies and of history, and Symes is a professor of history and of medieval studies. They will use their awards for projects on 20th century African-American history and on medieval Europe, respectively.

“Congratulations to professors McDuffie and Symes. Their selection as NEH fellows is clear recognition of their achievements and of their leadership in their fields,” said Chancellor Robert J. Jones. “We’re proud to have two of our faculty selected for these very competitive, national awards.”

The U of I fellowships were among $16.3 million in grants awarded by the NEH for 290 projects overall. The fellowship program supports advanced research in the humanities, and the recipients produce articles, books, digital materials or other scholarly resources.

The NEH has received an average of 1,210 applications per year for fellowships in the last five rounds of competition, according to the NEH website. Over that time, it awarded an average of 80 fellowships per year for a funding rate of 7 percent, making the fellowships among the most competitive humanities awards in the country.

McDuffie’s project, “Marcus Garvey and the American Heartland, 1920-1980,” looks at Garveyism and the Universal Negro Improvement Association, the largest black protest movement in world history, and how they influenced the emergence of the U.S. industrial heartland as an epicenter of black internationalism. Attending to the paradoxes and gendered contours of Garveyism, McDuffie globalizes African-American history and reorients the study of the African diaspora by taking into account the significance of the heartland in shaping the history of the 20th century black world from Cleveland and Chicago to the Caribbean and Liberia.

Read more about McDuffie's work in this area in this recent LAS News magazine article (opens as a PDF).

Symes’ project, “Activating Texts: Mediated Documents and Their Makers in Medieval Europe,” looks at the many different kinds of medieval writing, such as England’s “Domesday Book,” which were created by multiple historical actors, some of them technically illiterate. Their contributions to the documentary process have since been silenced and forgotten, and the contemporary meanings of the texts have been lost, as well as knowledge of the media through which they were assembled and published. Symes returns these works to the lively and contested conditions of their making, and calls for a radical reassessment of medieval documents as written artifacts and historical sources.

You can read about Symes' work in translating medieval plays here.

The National Endowment for the Humanities is an independent federal agency and one of the largest funders of humanities programs in the United States.

Craig Chamberlain, Illinois News Bureau

Related Topics

  • African American Studies
  • History
  • Medieval Studies
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  • Humanities