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Professors earn fellowships from Getty Institute

By : Cait Anastis

Two Binghamton University faculty members have earned fellowships from the Getty Research Institute, which will allow them to complete current projects and will ultimately expand the learning experience for students in the art history program.

Tom McDonough and Nancy Um, both assistant professors of art history, were among 16 researchers worldwide to receive the $40,000 research fellowships.

One of the most competitive research fellowships to obtain, applicants from around the world go through an extensive selection process.

“It’s a lot like applying to college or grad school really,” McDonough said.

“The Getty receives lots of applications, which are reviewed by senior scholars all around the country. From the initial pool, a certain number are selected as finalists, and finally there’s a kind of retreat held at the foundation’s headquarters in Los Angeles where a small committee picks the awardees.”

This year, the Foundation awarded post-doctoral fellowships to 16 researchers at 14 universities worldwide. Binghamton and Harvard universities are the only institutions with two faculty members receiving fellowships this year.

McDonough’s fellowship will support his work on the book The Beautiful Language of My Century: Reinventing the Language of Contestation in Postwar France, 1945-1968. The project examines a range of French culture after World War II, from artists and filmmakers to political theorists and revolutionaries, all of whom were attempting to rethink how art and politics might intersect and interact in new ways.

“In the 20-odd years that interest me, a whole new way of articulating revolutionary culture was invented,” McDonough said, “one which had a tremendous impact on the convulsions that gripped France, among other places, at the end of the ’60s. I want to argue that this contestatory language was based on appropriating elements from the dominant culture, in order to make it speak differently – that’s the “beautiful language” I’m talking about.” McDonough said the grant has allowed him to spend eight hours a day writing, which would be impossible otherwise.

“As a young professor, it feels quite luxurious to have this time just to think and write without teaching responsibilities,” he said. “And it’s a clear indication of the University’s commitment, as well, to supporting its junior faculty and to encouraging innovative scholarship.”

Um’s fellowship is supporting work on her manuscript, Architecture and the Port City: The Mocha Trade Network of the Arabian Peninsula.

“The book is about the city of Mocha on the Red Sea coast of Yemen, which is celebrated for its role in the trade of coffee when Yemen had a global monopoly on the bean,” Um said. “It is an architectural and urban history of a port city, as well as a study of the complex economic, political and cultural dimensions of the Indian Ocean trade as they affected life on the Arabian Peninsula in the 17th and 18th centuries.”

The fellowship has given her time to foucs full time on the project. “Since the grant began on Sept. 1, I have been able to complete my introdution and one chapter, and work is progressing steadily, so I am certain that I can complete the manuscript in the spring,” she said. “More than time, however, the intellectual space that it has provided has been really important. I have been able to think through questions and issues that I had set aside previously because I was consumed with my classes and course preparation.

”While the grants are giving both faculty members the time to focus on research and writing, it is the students who will ultimately benefit. “Everything that I do in the realm of research is brought back into the classroom,” she said. “I have taught classes about Arab cities, about domestic architecture, and about the early modern period in the Middle East and this all derives from my research program. I always find a way to include some aspects about the Arabian Peninsula in my courses.”

McDonough said there is a relatively fluid exchange between what goes on in the classroom and his research.

“Certainly my work enters my lectures and my reading lists, but I also find that discussions around the seminar table or papers by my students can change the way I think about a given topic of interest,” he said. “It’s what makes teaching so dynamic and what makes working with Binghamton students so exciting.”

Um also received a National Endowment for the Humanities Summer Stipend, which allowed her to travel and conduct additional research.

“Most of the time was spent in the National Archives of the Netherlands in the Hague, where I looked at the 17th and 18th century documents of the Dutch East India Company,” she said. “The Dutch had a trading establishment in the city of Mocha during that time and they left copious notes about life in the city, so they are key sources for me.”

The trip gave her access to number of important documents. “I was there in 1998-99 for the first time, but this time I went back, found some new documents and also reviewed the documents that I had previously worked with,” she said. “I came up with a lot of new material, things that I had overlooked and a much fuller sense of urban life. In Germany, I worked with the photography collection of Hermann Burchardt, who traveled to Yemen in 1909, and visited the city of Mocha. His photographs document buildings that are now destroyed, so they are really important for my work, as it is about architecture. He took thousands of images that have never been published as a full corpus, so you need to go to the museum to look at them first hand.”
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Last Updated: 10/14/08