Five U-M faculty members named Guggenheim Fellows


Five University of Michigan professors can add “Guggenheim Fellows” to their list of accomplishments.

The John Simon Guggenheim Memorial Foundation recently announced 180 winners of the prestigious fellowship, awarded annually for distinguished achievement in the past and exceptional promise for future accomplishment.

Winners from LSA are:

  • Giorgio Bertellini, professor of film, television, and media, and of romance languages and literatures.
  • Bénédicte Boisseron, professor of Afroamerican and African studies, and of romance languages and literatures.
  • Katherine French, J. Frederick Hoffman Professor of Medieval and Early Modern English History, and professor of history and of women’s and gender studies.
  • Daniel Hack, professor of English language and literature.
  • Valerie Ann Kivelson, Thomas N. Tentler Collegiate Professor of History, Arthur F. Thurnau Professor, and professor of history.

The fellowship allows recipients to pursue a project for six to 12 months, without conditions, in natural sciences, social sciences, humanities and the creative arts.

“I am absolutely delighted to see five LSA faculty members on this prestigious list of Guggenheim Fellows,” said LSA Dean Anne Curzan.

“It is a testament to the importance and relevance of the liberal arts in our world today and to the inspiring talents of our faculty colleagues. I am proud to work alongside them and grateful for their contributions as scholars and creators.”

Bertellini said he felt “surprised, incredulous and immensely grateful” upon learning about his fellowship.

“Grateful to the selection committee, and grateful to my references who must have done a terrific job,” he said. “Without their contribution, this recognition would have never happened. I am indebted to one person in particular, without whom I would not have been in Michigan in the first place and to whom I basically owe the best part of my career.”

Bertellini will study the ways Italian neorealist filmmakers creatively reworked the social imagery of Depression-era American photography and photojournalism in the postwar era. In Italy and elsewhere, the appreciation of neorealism obscured the memory of its foreign sources of inspiration. Misrecognition begets misrecognition, he wrote.

Cold War-era American film critics failed to acknowledge that the photographic offspring of Roosevelt-era progressivism had profoundly informed Italy’s most heralded, and unmistakably leftist, cinema. To Bertellini, this notable case of cross-cultural and cross-media spreading of images of poverty constitutes an example of a twice-disowned translation.

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For Boisseron, receiving the fellowship “is beyond my wildest dreams,” she said. “It has a special meaning for me. In Judge Ketanji Brown Jackson’s words: persevere.”

Boisseron plans to use the fellowship to complete her book project, “Black Freegan,” about the poetics of repurposing, reclaiming and reusing in a Black context, specifically in the literatures and cultures of the Black Diaspora. A freegan, she says, is a person who believes in free subsistence and refrains from consumerism by reclaiming discarded food, goods, lands and even buildings.

“My project weaves my own freegan story into my analytical reflections in an auto-theory genre of writing,” she said. “The fellowship gives me a great sense of validation as I embark on this new type of scholarship.”

Winning the Guggenheim meant people beyond her field thought her work was significant, French said. 

“I’m really grateful to all the people who helped me get here, wrote letters of support, read my work and encouraged me,” said French, who will write a book — based on 15th century records — about a London medieval boarding house with single women renting rooms.

The house originally belonged to a knight in the service of King Edward II and King Edward III, she said. The knight was killed and left the house to Westminster Abbey, which turned it into a boarding house. The house was burned in the Great Fire of 1666, rebuilt and turned into an inn called Cross Keys, which makes a brief appearance in Dickens’ novel “Great Expectations.” It was torn down in the 19th century and now in its place is an office building with a coffee shop and martini bar.

French said boarding houses were common in medieval cities, but they left very few records to tell people about them or their tenants because the residents who lived in them were not rich, civic leaders, but immigrants, young people starting out, the working poor or the elderly on fixed incomes. She hopes to shed new light on how both property owners and residents navigated the material and moral disruptions of life in late medieval and early modern London.

When Hack learned about the Guggenheim honor, his immediate reaction was one of disbelief and delight, he said.

“I view the award as an inspiring show of confidence in my work but also, more broadly, in the enduring value of humanistic scholarship — even when that scholarship does not directly address the most immediately pressing challenges faced by our society and our planet,” he said.

The fellowship will allow Hack to make substantial progress on his book, “Novel Meanings: Fiction and the Rise of Meaningfulness.” He analyzes the emergence over the past century and a half of “meaning” as a key category of aesthetic, ethical and affective experience.

His aim is to show how the novel as a genre has both modeled and critiqued the ways people find — or fail to find — meaning in details, events and life itself. Key novelists for the project include George Eliot, Virginia Woolf and Kazuo Ishiguro.

Kivelson’s project is called “Icons of Empire: Visions of Russia’s Eurasian Encounters, 1450-1700.” It is an exploration of visual images produced in the context of Russian imperial expansion, conquest and rule in the early modern era.

She looks at images created by both colonizers and the colonized, and investigates the ideas about imperial power expressed in the images. Kivelson also considers the ways in which images themselves affected relations of power and exerted their own agency.

“I was, of course, thrilled to receive this coveted award,” she said. “It is enormously validating and will make it possible for me to finish writing this book.

“The tragic developments in Ukraine today lend urgency to completing the project, which explores the complex and increasingly fraught histories of Russia’s relations with the lands and peoples once under its imperial dominion.”

In this year’s class, the fellows represented 51 scholarly disciplines and artistic fields, 81 different academic institutions, 31 states and the District of Columbia, and four Canadian provinces.

“Now that the past two years are hopefully behind all of us, it is a special joy to celebrate the Guggenheim Foundation’s new class of fellows,” said Edward Hirsch, president of the Guggenheim Foundation. “This year marks the foundation’s 97th annual fellowship competition. Our long experience tells us what an impact these annual grants will have to change people’s lives.”

Since its establishment, the foundation has granted nearly $400 million in fellowships to more than 18,000 individuals, among whom are more than 125 Nobel laureates, members of all the national academies, and winners of the Pulitzer Prize, Fields Medal, Turing Award, Bancroft Prize, National Book Award and other internationally recognized honors.


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