The Folger Institute is pleased to announce our 2020-2021 cohort of Folger Institute Research Fellows. From the outset, we knew this year would be different. The Folger Institute marks its fiftieth anniversary this year, and the Folger Shakespeare Library is embarking on its major building project. While our Reading Room is closed, the Folger Institute remains committed to building community and supporting collections-based research, and to providing scholars with the resources they need to pursue and advance their work away from the Folger. We remain no less committed now, in the face of a global pandemic.
The original intent of the 2020-2021 fellowships was to create opportunities for new kinds of awards, to make fellowships more adaptable, and to place value on many different forms of scholarly enterprise and places to pursue it. While travel and work have changed dramatically over the past months, the inherent flexibility of this year’s program has allowed fellows to re-think the scopes of their projects with the reassurance that their awards are secure. Throughout an extended fellowship year of July 2020 to August 2021, Folger Fellows will do what they have always done, albeit through different platforms: engage in significant scholarly research; ask critical, crucial questions; and create meaningful community.
This year’s cohort of fellows brings broad approaches to humanistic inquiry and a range of academic backgrounds. We are proud to offer support and amplification for many scholars engaged with critical race studies. Margo Hendricks will continue her important work on “Race and Romance: Coloring the Past,” and Wan-Chuan Kao will address “White Before Whiteness in the Late Middle Ages.” Frances Bell, our Omohundro Institute-Folger Institute Fellow, will conduct research for her project, “Running from Freedom: Enslaved Migrants from Saint-Domingue in the United States, 1791-1850.” Similar, vitally-important questions related to constructions of race and racialized thinking underscore Jeremy Fradkin’s engagement with “The Refugee in Early Modern British Thought” and Ananya Chakravarti’s project “The Kōṅkaṇ: Regional History on an Indian Ocean Coast.” The Folger Institute’s commitment to supporting scholars engaged in critical race studies is emphasized in our new series, Critical Race Conversations, which began in July and will continue in the fall.
Other fellows will tackle topics whose scale and implications are both global and interdisciplinary. Katherine Walker’s and Sujata Iyengar’s projects are Shakespearian in focus, respectively titled “Shakespeare and the Practical Arts” and “Shakespeare and Adaptation Theory.” Two of this year’s scholars will address topics on early modern science: Mary Yearl on “Bloodletting in the first 150 years of printing: a window into vernacular medicine” and Whitney Sperazza on “Touching Science: Poetry, Anatomy, and the Early Modern Female Form.” Gender studies will also guide the work of Genelle Gertz on “Lost Mystics: Pre-modern Women and English Revelatory Culture.”
As the Institute embarks on the final year of its Before ‘Farm to Table’ project, we are pleased to see that food studies remains an important framework for several of this year’s fellows. As the co-sponsored ASECS fellow, Jordan Smith will explore “The Invention of Rum.” Andrea Crow will address “Austerity Measures: The Poetics of Hunger in Early Modern English Literature,” while Allison Bigelow’s project will look at “Women of Corn, Men of Corn: The Meanings of Maize Agriculture in the Early Americas.” Bigelow’s engagement with #VastEarlyAmerica is shared by Danielle Skeehan and Valeria Lopez Fadul. These two scholars will, respectively, research “A Hieroglyphic of Feathers: Genealogies of the American Quill” and “The Cradle of Words: Language, Knowledge, and Governance in the Spanish Empire.”
With so much significant work to be done, in addition to the equally important work of personal and family responsibility, fellows will be fulfilling their “residencies” in many ways. We at the Folger Institute value our fellows’ scholarly labor, whether it is part time, non-consecutive, during naptime, or somewhere in between. We will support researchers at every stage of their career, and at every stage of the research process. Uninterrupted consultation with primary sources is just one of these stages, and we are committed to continuing that work, as well as the planning, thinking, writing, and conversations that come before, during, and after it. Towards that end, during closure we will build a virtual learning community for our fellows, and will explore new ways to balance valuable peer engagement with the saturation of online obligations many of us face.
This fellowship year will be new and different—in many ways and for many reasons. But we have already seen this cohort rise to meet incredible challenges, and look forward to learning from and sharing the results of their creative thinking, questioning, and problem-solving in the coming months!