For their distinguished achievement and exceptional promise of future accomplishment, five University of Michigan professors have received prestigious Guggenheim Fellowships.
Among this year’s fellows are: Victor Caston (philosophy), Charles R. Doering (applied mathematics), Mark Newman (applied mathematics), Derek R. Peterson (African studies), and Valerie Traub (intellectual & cultural history).
The fellows, all of whom are in LSA, were among the 178 scholars, artists and scientists chosen from a group of nearly 3,000 applicants. U-M had three fellows in 2015.
“This is a high honor both for the individual faculty members, whose work has been judged to be exceptional, and for the institution,” said Provost Martha Pollack. “We are so pleased to have the outstanding scholarship of our faculty recognized in this way.”
Caston, professor of philosophy and classical studies, will use his fellowship to complete a book on the Stoics’ theory of mental representation and content. Although popularly remembered for their ethical theory, the early Stoics were no less influential in their own time for their philosophy of mind and action, which in turn had a profound effect on the later course of Western philosophy.
“At a time when universities are modeling themselves on corporations, and the value of education is cashed out in terms of earning potential, the support of the Guggenheim Foundation, especially in the humanities and arts, is inestimable,” he said.
“By making the award such a high distinction, the Guggenheim reminds us all of the profound importance of philosophical reflection, critical scholarship, and creative expression. It is humbling and inspiring to be included in the company of such impressive scholars and artists.”
Doering, the Nicholas D. Kazarinoff Collegiate Professor of Physics, Mathematics, and Complex Systems, will use the fellowship to capitalize on recent advances that he, collaborators and colleagues have made on some of the most fundamental problems in mathematical fluid dynamics using a novel form of computationally aided analysis.
The fellowship will provide support for Doering to pursue these studies with students and postdoctoral researchers at U-M, with collaborators in the Geophysical Fluid Dynamics Program at Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution, and with experts at other U.S. and international academic and research institutions.
“It’s a truly wonderful combination of recognition for previous accomplishments and contributions, and resources providing an opportunity to pursue new research,” Doering said.
Doering and colleague Newman work in Complex Systems, an interdisciplinary unit in LSA.
Newman, the Anatol Rapoport Distinguished University Professor of Physics, uses methods from physics, applied mathematics and statistics to study networked systems, especially networks of contact and acquaintance between people, which have implications for the organization of societies and communities and the spread of information and disease within populations, among other things.
The fellowship funds will combine machine learning methods with ideas from statistical physics to tease apart the structure of large social networks, focusing on data for friendship networks, online social networks and online dating.
“Winning the fellowship is a terrific honor, and it will also make it possible to travel and collaborate on a number of new research projects,” he said, noting his plans to spend time in the fall working with colleagues at the University of Cambridge.
“It’s amazing to see no less than five Guggenheim awards going to Michigan faculty this year … and really emphasizes what an amazing place this is to work at.”
Peterson, a professor of history and African studies, says he will use the Guggenheim funding to finish work on a project about Idi Amin’s Uganda. Amin is a larger-than-life character, he said. But in the last half decade new kinds of sources have come to light, making it possible to get around Amin’s outsized personality and see the wider field of public culture.
With funds from the African Studies Center and the Center for Research Libraries in Chicago, Peterson has been working with colleagues in Uganda to preserve, organize, catalogue and digitize local government archives, mostly in the south and west of the country. These new materials allow him to see how Ugandans were mobilizing.
He is interested in a wide range of characters — royalists, secessionists, smugglers, museum curators, librarians, ethnohistorians — who were involved in the making of dissident subcultures. The project will not be a story about heroism and resistance to the Amin government, but Peterson hopes to illuminate the alternative ways of thinking about politics that Ugandans pursued during the 1970s.
“The lovely thing about a Guggenheim — besides the validation and funding that it offers — is the occasion to think of one’s scholarly work as a contribution to humanistic knowledge,” he said.
“African studies scholars are accustomed to writing to vanishingly small audiences about a place that is far distant from many Americans’ concerns. A Guggenheim Fellowship allows me to think about my work as being at the center of things, as having a general resonance that speaks outside the confines of area studies.”
For her project, Traub, the Frederick G. L. Huetwell Professor of English and Women’s Studies, explores the pre-history of the concept of normality as it is applied to human bodies. She shows how illustrations of the human body in 16th- and 17th-century natural history, anatomy texts, costume books, and maps enabled a medieval style of reasoning governed by appeals to nature to be gradually overtaken by a modern reasoning based on norms.
“I’m thrilled to have been given this time to focus on my work, and gratified that the history of race, gender and sexuality has been granted this kind of acknowledgment,” she said.
For more than 90 years, the foundation has granted more than $325 million in fellowships to nearly 18,000 individuals, among whom are scores of Nobel laureates and poets laureate, as well as winners of the Pulitzer Prize, Fields Medal and other important, internationally recognized honors.
“Each year since 1925, the Guggenheim Foundation has bet everything on the individual, and we’re thrilled to continue to do so with this wonderfully talented and diverse group,” said Edward Hirsch, president of the foundation. “It’s an honor to be able to support these individuals to do the work they were meant to do.”