The Fellows Are Back, Part II | Newberry

The Fellows Are Back, Part II

Back in October 2020, we introduced you to five scholars who began their long-term fellowships at the Newberry. Since then, four more fellows have begun their residencies at the Newberry. Their project topics range from Zora Neale Hurston’s travels in Honduras to the social imaginary of 18th-century France.

Fellowships have been a staple of the Newberry community since the 1940s, and the program has grown in size and impact over the past eight decades with the support of donors like you. Though the ongoing pandemic has changed some aspects of the program, the scholarly camaraderie, interdisciplinary seminars, supportive workshops, and rigorous archival research remain. Keep reading to learn more about the program and and hear from this year’s fellows in their own words.

Christine Adams

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Dr. Christine Adams

Professor of History, St. Mary’s College of Maryland
Andrew W. Mellon Foundation Fellow
The Merveilleuses and their Impact on the French Social Imaginary, 1794–1799 and Beyond

How did you first learn about the Newberry?

I can’t remember when I first heard about the Newberry. I have a number of colleagues in history who have worked here, and over the years I’ve always heard good things about their experiences—what a great community it is to work with, the terrific collection, etc. A few years ago, I checked out the Newberry’s French Revolution Collection, which I had heard was excellent, and found that it housed a lot of stuff that would be really useful for my next project. So with sabbatical coming up in 2020–2021, I decided to apply.

Could you talk a bit about your current project?

My current book project looks at The Merveilleuses (“the Marvelous ones”), a group of approximately 100 young and stylish Parisian women who came to define the era of the Directory (1794–1799).

Following the French Revolution’s Reign of Terror, these chic young women would set the tone in French society until Napoleon’s seizure of power in 1799. The Merveilleuses helped define the Directory as a moment of decadence and turmoil; lurid tales of their “corrupt” and “promiscuous” behavior and connection to the world of financial speculation to satisfy their need for luxury goods contributed to the Directorial regime’s reputation as irredeemably corrupt, justifying both Napoleon’s seizure of power and his sustained efforts to eliminate women’s political influence.

In contrast to this narrative, my study of the Merveilleuses will take them seriously as political actors and cultural influencers whose connection to a short-lived and much-reviled regime distorted their legacy. They were, in fact, also political players whose consumption of luxury goods and looser social mores represented an effort to construct a new social order after the Terror.

My project also considers how historians have marginalized women’s role in democratizing or modernizing societies by dismissing them as “frivolous,” and highlights the ways in which disparagement of women’s sexuality and influence serves as shorthand for conservative critiques of social and political change.

How have the events of the past twelve months impacted your project and/or your approach to it?

It’s been a challenge to be sure. I was lucky enough to also get an ACLS fellowship this year, so I had hoped to use that to go do research in the Parisian National Archives last fall before coming here. That didn’t happen, so I will have to make a summer trip when that becomes possible again. And while I am able to use the general collection right now at the Newberry (I have been going in almost every day since I arrived), special collections are currently closed, so I am working around that.

Our current moment has certainly affected the way that I am thinking about this project. I focus on a really tense and chaotic moment in French history, right after the Terror has come to an end, and the French are trying to stabilize the country (they are at war and the economy is really suffering; in 1795 and 1796 in particular, misery is rampant throughout the country), and they are dealing with immense political divisions. My research has provided a lens to think about current events, and current events have been in the back of my mind as I work on this project. I have written a couple of op-eds for the Washington Post in the past few months, and Keelin Burke [the Newberry’s Director of Fellowships and Academic Programs] interviewed me in a livestream event for the Newberry, called “Cautionary Tales from the French Revolution.”

What collection items are you most excited to examine?

The Newberry’s French Revolution Collection has many of the printed primary sources I need to consult for my book project, most importantly contemporary French newspapers—I am really looking forward to going through these. Holdings also include the memoirs of political figures and social commentators from the 1790s and early 1800s. These offer contemporary views of the Merveilleuses, and are essential to the second chapter of my book, in which I will scrutinize how these women became celebrities, as well as the third, which will consider how they came to represent the evils of social inequality and conspicuous consumption under the Directory.

The afterlife of the Merveilleuses is as important in understanding their influence. Here, I will make use of 19th- and 20th-century analyses of the Directory and biographies of the Merveilleuses to examine how historians used the legacy of these women and their era in the service of a political and gender-based agenda. The French history collection at the Newberry for the Revolutionary and Napoleonic period is so rich and extensive that I would have had to visit multiple libraries and archives, mainly in France, to locate what I can find there, so this fellowship is an amazing opportunity.

What has your Newberry experience been like so far?

I cannot say enough good things about my experience with the Newberry. Despite the obvious obstacles at the moment, everyone has been welcoming and helpful, especially Keelin Burke [Director of Fellowships and Academic Programs] and Madeline Crispell [Newberry Institute Program Coordinator]. But also Maggie Cusick [General Collections Services Librarian], Suzanne Karr Schmidt [George Amos Poole III Curator of Rare Books and Manuscripts], Jessica Grzegorski [Principal Cataloging Librarian], and Lia Markey [Director of the Center for Renaissance Studies]. Alex Teller [Director of Communications and Editorial Services] was also super helpful and encouraging in arranging the livestream.

It’s also been fun getting to know the other fellows—virtually at the moment, but hopefully in person at some point. I am participating in a writing group with some of the others, and am looking forward to the seminars and comparing research notes. It’s been a bit weird working in an almost empty library! But the staff members have been so responsive and have done everything possible to make it a good experience.

Julie Fisher

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Dr. Julie Fisher

Postdoctoral Scholar of History, the American Philosophical Society
Evelyn Dunbar and Ruth Dunbar Davee Fellow
Speaking ‘Indian’ and English: The Bilinguals of Seventeenth-Century New England

How did you first learn about the Newberry?

I first learned about the Newberry early in my graduate studies when I was fortunate enough to attend a Mellon Summer Institute in Vernacular Paleography. Years later, I received a month-long fellowship. I remember getting to the end of that month and realizing I had so much more to do in the collections.

Could you talk a bit about your current project?

The project I’m working on now is called Speaking ‘Indian’ and English: The Bilinguals of Seventeeth-Century New England. By uncovering a previously unknown critical mass of both English and Indigenous bi/multilinguals in colonial New England, my work reveals that Indian and English neighbors lived in intimate proximity to one another for decades and spoke each other’s languages in ways that directed the politics, trade, and cultural development of the region. These bilinguals, who included both men and women, were from a wider array of social backgrounds than earlier imagined and ranged from enslaved children to colonial governors. With my research at the Newberry, I want to extend this story into the early eighteenth century.

How have the events of the past twelve months impacted your project and/or your approach to it?

Events of the year are impacting my research less than would have been true even ten ago. The Newberry has made incredible strides in digitizing their materials, and my project is one that benefits immensely from those efforts. As someone who draws heavily on material evidence in their work, the high-resolution images are indispensable for me. While not everything I want to look at is available online, there is enough to keep me busy until I am able to travel to Chicago.

What collection items are you most excited to examine?

In equal measure, I am looking forward to working my way through manuscripts in the Edward E. Ayer Collection, the genealogy resources, and the map collection. Well, almost in equal measure, I enjoy working with manuscripts from New England almost more than any other source. I am consistently surprised by what has survived and just when you think nothing will surprise you, something does.

What has your Newberry experience been like so far?

So far, my experience at the Newberry, even virtually, has been one of community. Being in conversation and learning from the knowledgeable and engaged library professionals and scholars joined with the wider group of fellows and scholars-in-residence is immensely rewarding. I look forward to the workshops and seminars ahead. The workshops I have attended so far tell me this is a community that wants to help projects grow.

Sharony Green

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Dr. Sharony Green

Associate Professor of History, The University of Alabama
Andrew W. Mellon Foundation Fellow
Zora Neale Hurston and Honduras

How did you first learn about the Newberry?

I was a graduate student at the University of Chicago when I first heard about the Newberry. I attended a seminar or two back then. After I left U of C and while I was between graduate programs, I returned to the Newberry to do independent research and to shop in the bookstore!

Then as a doctoral student at the University of Illinois-Champaign in 2013, I presented a paper in the Newberry’s Seminar on Women and Gender that featured archival materials used in my first historical monograph, Remember Me to Miss Louisa: Hidden Black-White Intimacies in Antebellum America (Northern Illinois Press, 2015). The book was part of the Early American Places series, supported by the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation. I was awarded the 2016 Barbara “Penny” Kanner Prize for excellence in archival research for that monograph by the Western Association of Women Historians (WAWH).

Could you talk a bit about your current project?

As was true during my research in Remember Me to Miss Louisa, I am greatly interested in the complexities in human interaction across racial and gender lines. Such an interest has resulted in my moving into the postwar period to explore Harlem Renaissance writer-anthropologist Zora Neale Hurston’s understudied 1947–48 visit to Honduras.

A political conservative, Hurston relied on her status as a US citizen to maximize her stay in that country. She had contacts with important people, including someone at United Fruit, the company that dominated the produce industry in the Caribbean. At the time of her visit, this two-time Guggenheim winner who would see seven works of fiction and nonfiction published during her lifetime (and many more after her death in 1960) was hoping to make a splash. Her career was faltering. She failed at finding a “lost” Mayan city on Honduras’ northeastern coast, but she was triumphant in other ways. She sidestepped formal and informal agreements about the worth of people of African descent in and outside of the States. While at the Newberry, I hope to learn more about other expeditions made by visiting scholars to that country to find meaning in her remarkable audacity, which exemplifies the American spirit. Specifically, I am tracking her movements through space, which is no small consideration as she made the trip during the US Jim Crow period.

Not unlike other marginalized people (whether we are speaking of ostracized Europeans fleeing to the United States for religious or economic freedom during the colonial era; runaway enslaved people in the years leading to the Civil War; 20th-century African Americans during the Great Migration; or recent Central American immigrants crossing US borders), she attempted to improve her social circumstance not by standing still, but by moving. How does a black gringa unveil the complexities of such movement amid escalating partisan politics and racial debate in her homeland? I want to answer that question.

How have the events of the past twelve months impacted your project and/or your approach to it?

I have a one-year sabbatical at my university for the 2020–2021 school year. My Newberry fellowship was scheduled to begin in January 2021 during the second half of my sabbatical. But I began work for the Newberry fellowship sooner because I was unable to fully carry out the research plan for the first half of my sabbatical. That plan was designed to fulfill the aims of another award I won: the PEN America Jean Stein Grant for Literary Oral History. Long story short, I was supposed to complete in-person oral histories last fall in South Florida. Instead, I salvaged earlier conducted oral histories dating back to 2013 and made headway on the manuscript for the PEN grant while reading primary and secondary literature for the Newberry fellowship. After looking at the Newberry catalog, I checked books out of my university’s library before lockdown. I have a canyon of books in my home office because I also received books as holiday, birthday, and anniversary presents from my husband.

I love the story about Hurston that is revealing itself. Now, I am just waiting to access expedition reports for comparative work and a few more books and/or maps from the Newberry as soon as the staff is able to provide them. I moved my Chicago apartment lease back to April on the chance I can still work in-person. My husband was able to get the vaccine, but I haven’t so far. Even if I cannot get to Chicago, a city I love, having lived in Hyde Park for three years early this century, I have plenty of stuff to keep me busy and will have more as soon as the Newberry can scan it.

What collection items are you most excited to examine?

I most wanted to read the journal of a Victorian Englishwoman, and I have! I learned about it from the Newberry catalog. She and Hurston have a lot in common. They were worldly women who had complicated privilege based on their citizenship. They both left Honduras not getting the things they sought, but tracing their movements through space allows us to see how they figure into a modernizing and globalizing world. They do as much as the United States is expanding its influence in the Western Hemisphere. Studying Hurston with such ideas in mind is especially timely given conversations concerning this country’s legacy, which may or may not be changing. I think we are still sorting through this issue.

What has your Newberry experience been like so far?

It has been frustrating to not to be in the building and to not have access to the lake. I grew up in Miami and have always lived near water. I used to run on Lake Michigan when I lived in Chicago. Of course, I miss living a big city, but only a bit. I like my college town, and if I need a big city, I make reconnaissance missions to one. I have frequently visited Chicago, New York, and Atlanta for such reasons. I also like communing with people who know interesting things about the work before me. I just finished reading a book about a Cuban man in Honduras. I learned about him right after my first Zoom Newberry meeting. A cool scholar that I can’t wait to have a coffee with told me about him. Lots of avenues to do comparative work with Hurston.

LaDale Winling

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Dr. LaDale Winling

Associate Professor of History, Virginia Polytechnic Institute and State University
Lloyd Lewis Fellow in American History
The Road to Redlining

How did you first learn about the Newberry?

I was a graduate student at the University of Michigan when I read about the Newberry Urban History Dissertation Group in someone’s book acknowledgments. That stuck in my mind and, when I moved to metro Chicago for dissertation research, I looked up the group and started to attend, then to present. It was very meaningful for me, as someone distant from my cohort of graduate student colleagues. I made several good friends and acquaintances from the group, and I am happy to report that one of them, David Spatz, attended my Newberry Fellows seminar last week. It was really an important, formative experience for me and I sing the praises of the Newberry Library every chance I get.

Could you talk a bit about your current project?

This book project is entitled The Road to Redlining. In it I illustrate how a variety of legal, planning, and financial systems arose from the desire to impose racial segregation and inequality on African Americans in American cities. Chicago was a central hub in this, because the city’s experience of the Great Migration and the 1919 race riot were key factors in the creation of racially restrictive covenants, real estate appraising, land use zoning, and ultimately, redlining. I want to show how there was a prehistory, a process of creating the systems that supported redlining. African Americans like William Warley, Thurgood Marshall, and Robert Weaver opposed these systems and structures in the courts, and resulted in the [repeal] of racial zoning, the unenforceability of racial covenants, and eventually the undoing of federally supported redlining, but the legacy of redlining endures today and many of these systems still exist in the present, in a seemingly race-neutral form that we must grapple with and undo.

How have the events of the past twelve months impacted your project and/or your approach to it?

There was a day in June when I was reading about and writing about the 1919 Chicago race riot during the protests over George Floyd’s murder and the burning of the Minneapolis police station. I tried to explain George Floyd’s murder to my children and broke down, weeping. I spent every day in the summer thinking about the drowning of Eugene Williams and the shooting and beating of Chicagoans detailed in the Cook County coroner’s report and the trauma and crisis that the city faced, at every level, because of this week of violence in July 1919. I do not like to pretend that my work has some magical or direct connection to the present, but we can certainly see that there are continuities across the twentieth century in the spatial and racial inequalities that persist to the present. I want to help explain why that is.

What collection items are you most excited to examine?

The Newberry has some great collections of people who served on the Chicago Commission on Race Relations, established after the race riot, and I look forward to working through those, including the Graham Taylor papers and the Edward Bancroft papers, as well as the Victor Lawson papers. Daniel Greene’s article on restrictive covenants recently piqued my interest, because it is part of the redlining story, and I am also following up on his research in the Newberry’s business papers to learn more about their real estate partners in managing real estate.

What has your Newberry experience been like so far?

I have loved the community-building events and I think the regular communication with fellows has made this more enjoyable and meaningful even though we are working remotely. Several of the fellows write together once a week, which is very productive. In addition, Christine Adams has thrown herself into this fellowship and I appreciate this—it’s a source of enthusiasm and energy that balances the logistical challenges we all are facing, and it makes me excited to get to Chicago when cases go down.

This story is part of the Newberry’s Donor Digest, Winter 2021. 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.