The Fellows Are Back | Newberry

The Fellows Are Back

Fellowships have been a staple of Newberry programming since the 1940s, and the program has grown in size and impact over the past eight decades with the support of donors like you. We regularly welcome a dozen long-term fellows and more than forty short-term fellows each academic year. Of course, the program looks a bit different this year due to the ongoing pandemic. Community-building social hours, colloquia, and workshops have moved online, and trips to the reading rooms now require masks.

“We’ve taken a very flexible position in fellowships,” explains Keelin Burke, Director of Fellowships and Academic Programs. In addition to offering deferrals, the program is also offering long-term fellows the opportunity to take up their fellowships remotely.

Here, we introduce you to five long-term fellows who began their year-long residencies in September. Four are working on-site and one is remote. Their projects cover topics from wayfinding in early America to African American film in the early twentieth century to modern-day Latinx Chicago.

Burke is as excited as ever to see what they accomplish. “I’m just jazzed to see how these folks are going to talk to each other, the work that they’re going to do, and the ways that we can make sure that they can do those things.”


Catherine Arnold

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Catherine Arnold

Independent Researcher
National Endowment for the Humanities Fellow
Affairs of Humanity: Humanitarian Intervention between Reformation and Enlightenment

How did you first learn about the Newberry?

I first heard about the Newberry’s collection of early modern French and British materials while in graduate school, when several friends of mine visited for short-term fellowships. Later on, I had the pleasure of presenting a chapter of my current book project to the Newberry’s British History seminar.

What’s your current project?

My current project, Affairs of Humanity: Humanitarian Intervention between Reformation and Enlightenment, explores the religious origins of humanitarian intervention in early eighteenth-century Britain and Europe.

How have the events of this year impacted your project and/or your approach to it?

One question I’ve been thinking about as we in the US reckon with racial injustice is, “why was early eighteenth-century humanitarian intervention initially concerned with protecting against religious persecution, but not with ending the slave trade or chattel slavery?” My research explores how the universalist promise of eighteenth-century humanitarian politics was sharply curtailed, if not outright betrayed, by the way in which economic interests and access to political power brought some injustices, like the imprisonment of religious minorities, to the attention of the British government, while obscuring others, like slavery.

Since the beginning, then, the political, legal, and diplomatic institutions associated with humanitarian intervention have amplified some victims’ voices while excluding those of others, often with disastrous consequences. One implication of this history for our current moment, it seems to me, is that we need to pay even greater attention to how our political and legal institutions, whether locally, nationally, or internationally, privilege some voices and some kinds of injustice.

What collection items are you most excited to examine?

I’m looking forward to using the Newberry’s collection of eighteenth-century French Jansenist pamphlets. In eighteenth-century France, Jansenists clashed repeatedly with the papacy and the French monarchy over not only theology, but also the scope and extent of the Pope’s power—among many other theological issues! Many observers at the time thought that the Jansenists might break away from the Catholic church, and historians since have identified the Jansenist controversies as a possible cause of the French Revolution.

What has your Newberry experience been like so far? You’re taking your fellowship remotely, so could you talk a bit about that?

I’ve enjoyed my fellowship very much so far! My experience has mostly been very smooth. The Newberry’s staff has been welcoming and supportive, and I’ve already had some productive conversations with other fellows at the weekly virtual Fellows’ Tea. Newberry staff have digitized materials for me, and I’ve been making use of collections that are already available online as well.

I do miss seeing people around the library on coffee breaks though!


Jamie Bolker

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Jamie Bolker

Independent Scholar (formerly MacMurray College)
Andrew W. Mellon Foundation Fellow
Lost and Found: Wayfinding in Early America

How did you first learn about the Newberry?

As a Chicago area native, I’ve always known about how prestigious the Newberry Library is. While I was in grad school, a professor recommended I look into the Newberry’s fellowship programs. Once I got my PhD and was eligible for a long-term fellowship, I applied and was delighted to get a fellowship offer.

What’s your current project?

My current book project, Lost and Found: Wayfinding in Early America, considers what it meant to get physically lost in early America and the Atlantic world. With Google Maps and various kinds of GPS technologies at our fingertips, it’s easy to forget how difficult it was to get from point A to B in centuries past. I’m particularly interested in the ways that engaging with the environment during experiences of navigation or lostness affected the ways people conceived of themselves and the world around them.

How have the events of this year impacted your project and/or your approach to it?

One of the things that staying home during shutdowns has shown me is how much my senses of freedom and normalcy are tied to physical mobility and the ability to travel. This relates to my project in that it reiterates how formative the experience of travel can be for a person. Luckily, I am able to work partly remotely and partly in person at the Newberry, so that I can still have access to the collections.

What collection items are you most excited to examine?

I’m really looking forward to reading more captivity narratives and navigation books. I was invited to write an essay for a journal on maritime author William Falconer and navigation books. The Newberry has a tremendous collection of these kinds of materials—like atlases and guidebooks—that I find exciting to examine.

What has your Newberry experience been like so far?

I’ve enjoyed being able to access the library materials in the collections once or twice a week. I’ve been using my phone to capture images of manuscripts to be able to work through reading and transcribing them when I work from home on the other days of the week. I’m so grateful to have employment during the pandemic and to have the time and freedom to work on my book project. I’m also grateful for the Newberry staff who have helped me find new materials that relate to my project.


Alex E. Chávez

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Alex E. Chávez

University of Notre Dame
National Endowment for the Humanities Fellow
Audible City: Urban Cultural History, Latinx Chicago, and the Sonic Commons

How did you first learn about the Newberry?

I became aware of the Newberry in 2011, when I was invited to participate in the Borderlands and Latino Studies seminar. I subsequently had the opportunity to attend an NEH Summer Institute at the Newberry in 2018 on the topic of “Art and Public Culture in Chicago.”

What’s your current project?

My research at the Newberry Library builds on my previous work and lends an “ethnographic ear” to the city of Chicago. This project takes up sound as an analytic to understand the ways Latina/o/xs voice—literal (sonic) and figurative (social)—claims to citizenship in the city of Chicago, wherein sound-making, hearing, and listening reveal themselves as loci of power for generating fields of common social recognition amid the racial politics of urban space.

How have the events of this year impacted your project and/or your approach to it?

Given that I have moved beyond in-person ethnographic work and am largely concentrating on exploring archival materials at this stage of my research, I find my larger project to be less impacted. Having the time and space at the Newberry this year is truly both a privilege and amazing opportunity.

What collection items are you most excited to examine?

Given the scope of my work—which integrates Latinx Studies, Sound Studies, and urban anthropology—I am interested in printed materials and modern manuscript resources focused on Mexican Chicago, in addition to the Chicago neighborhood guides and the “Never The Same” archive.

What has your Newberry experience been like so far?

The staff have been wonderful in helping me access materials and making sure that the Newberry remains a safe working environment amid the current public health crisis.


Allyson Field

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Allyson Field

University of Chicago
ACLS/Burkhardt Fellow
Minstrelsy-Vaudeville-Cinema: American Popular Culture and Racialized Performance in Early Film

How did you first learn about the Newberry?

I participated in the NEH Summer Institute, “Art and Public Culture in Chicago,” led by Liesl Olson, Chad Heap, and Rebecca Zorach at the Newberry in 2018. That experience was the kernel of my current research project.

What’s your current project?

I’ll be conducting research for my current book, tentatively titled Minstrelsy-Vaudeville-Cinema: American Popular Culture and Racialized Performance in Early Film. This project seeks to reframe American film history through the lens of racialized performance, tracing the development of tropes, themes, and practices from minstrelsy to the vaudeville stage and motion picture screen. In doing so, it attempts to make legible the functionings of minstrelsy’s forms within American cinema, understand its complex negotiations of race in a rapidly changing social order, and explore moments of creative resistance to its dehumanizing portrayals of African Americans.

How have the events of this year impacted your project and/or your approach to it?

My research stems from a deep commitment to the history of African American cinema and the use of the medium of film as a tool for social change. The events of the past year, especially the resurgence of overt expressions of white supremacy, demonstrate the ongoing urgency for critical understandings of visual culture and its dual capacity to dehumanize and to serve as a catalyst for struggles for social justice.

Further, my research largely involves films and performance ephemera that no longer survive, requiring creative methodologies for accessing and imagining a lost past. In this way, I aim to give form to absence to show that Black filmmakers and artists have long been actively seeking an alternative to popular culture’s rampantly racist misrepresentations.

What collection items are you most excited to examine?

I was already familiar with the Newberry’s incredible collection of theater programs from the early 1900s, but I’m only just now starting to work through the Driscoll Collection of American Sheet Music which is an exciting treasure trove. The other collection I’m looking forward to exploring is the Pullman Company collection. The first fiction film ever made by an African American was a short comedy about a Pullman porter made in Chicago in 1913, and I’m intrigued to see if it caught the attention of the Pullman Company or its employees.

What has your Newberry experience been like so far?

Everyone at the Newberry has been so helpful and accommodating under such difficult circumstances. My experience has been so positive and there are days I forget that we’re still operating in the midst of a pandemic.


Kelly Fleming

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Kelly Fleming

University of Virginia
Monticello College Foundation Fellow and Andrew W. Mellon Foundation Fellow
Ornaments of Influence: Fashion Accessories and the Work of Politics in Eighteenth-Century British Literature

How did you first learn about the Newberry?

I first learned about the Newberry when my dissertation director forwarded me an email about their fellowships while I was a PhD student. I had never been to the Newberry before starting my fellowship.

What’s your current project?

My project uses literary representations of women’s political accessories in British literature from 1688 to 1832 to recover the history of women’s political participation prior to the suffrage movement. I have chapters about women’s participation in the South Sea Bubble, the Jacobite Rebellion of 1745, elections (especially the Westminster Election of 1784), the Regency Crisis, and the French Revolution.

How have the events of this year impacted your project and/or your approach to it?

I’ve been lucky, I think, in that the pandemic has really only changed the order of my research routine. Typically, I do weeks of historical research before even entering an archive. However, since another lockdown seems inevitable, I started with archival research as soon as my fellowship began. I’m hopeful that researching this way will produce new insights.

What collection items are you most excited to examine?

At the moment, I am probably most excited about looking at the works of Olympe de Gouges. While my chapter is trying to understand how the British represented women revolutionaries at the turn of the nineteenth century, her works will inform how I understand the complicated nature of women’s citizenship during the Revolution—and to some extent women’s citizenship in general because of the close relationship between English and French law.

What has your Newberry experience been like so far?

My experience has been fantastic. The staff have been so helpful and so kind. I feel like I’ve already learned so much in the short month I’ve been working in the library and that every week I edge closer to the point where I need to start writing. I am really grateful to have a year-long opportunity to focus on researching and writing the book.


Learn more about the Newberry’s Fellowships program.

Read about other Newberry fellows, past and present.


This story is part of the Newberry’s Donor Digest, Fall 2020. In this newsletter the Newberry shares with its donors exciting stories of the success and innovation made possible by their generosity. Learn more about supporting the library and its programs.