Four University faculty members were awarded the 2018 Guggenheim Fellowship, which celebrates prior achievement and exceptional promise in “productive scholarship or creative ability in the arts.” The winners were Brooke Holmes, Ekaterina Pravilova, Monica Youn, and Martin Kern.
Fellowships are awarded through two annual competitions: one open to citizens and permanent residents of the United States and Canada, and the other open to citizens and permanent residents of Latin America and the Caribbean. Approximately 175 fellowships are awarded each year, and successful candidates in the United States and Canada competition are announced in early April.
Director of the Interdisciplinary Doctoral Program in the Humanities Brooke Holmes was awarded the fellowship for her most recent book project, “The Tissue of the World: Sympathy and the Idea of Nature in Greco-Roman Antiquity.” With it, she aims to elaborate on the relationships between non-human entities and humans in the larger cosmos between animals and plants.
Her work focuses on Greco-Roman roots of Western ideas about the physical body, the natural world, matter, and the non-human, according to a statement from the University.
“I argue that sympathy during this period takes shape as a way of conceptualizing communities between the human and non-human world and encourages an understanding of ‘capital-N’ Nature that will persist for centuries in the West,” Holmes said.
Concepts in the book first appeared in her fall 2014 lectures at the University of Chicago. Although this will be the third book that Holmes has written, she said her favorite work that she has produced remains her first book, “The Symptom and the Subject: The Emergence of the Physical Body in Ancient Greece,” which she spent seven years working on, including the time she spent on it during her dissertation on comparative literature at the University. She examined how the physical body first emerged in the West and explained that by understanding the physical body’s emergence, humans can begin to understand why the soul becomes an attractive concept to Plato.
“I think that [my first book] is the most complex and original, by far the most ambitious,” Holmes said.
Next year, in addition to “The Tissue of the World,” Holmes plans to finish a short book on the relationship between antiquity and the present.
Ekaterina Pravilova, who specializes in 19th century Imperial Russia, found the Guggenheim Fellowship’s absence of residential requirements greatly appealing because it allows her to conduct research in Russia.
In her current project, “Political Money: A History of the Russian Ruble 1768-1917,” she examines how projects of reforming the currency were ways of triggering and withholding transformations within the aristocracy.
Pravilova said she is most proud of her 2014 publication, “A Public Empire: Property and the Quest for the Common Good in Imperial Russia,” which examined the cultural and economic factors that triggered the emergence of Russian property regimes from the reign of Catherine the Great through the First World War.
“A Public Empire” won several awards, including the George L. Mosse Prize from the American Historical Association and the Wayne S. Vucinich Book Prize from the Association for Slavic, East European, and Eurasian Studies.
Pravilova plans to leave for Russia this summer to conduct research for her current project and will return in the fall of 2019 to teach.
Creative writing professor Monica Youn plans to use the fellowship to take time off teaching and use the grant money to focus on her next book, “Cribs.”
Although a “crib” is defined as a young child’s bed, the informal definition of the term, as explained by Youn, is a “slipshod or inaccurate translation.” She hopes to explore the concept of cultural heritage and is interested in what it means to have a racial identity that is not connected to a particular homeland.
Speaking about her own childhood, Youn recalled that she grew up in the South without a strong connection to her Korean-American identity, except from what was imposed on her from “external sources,” referring more specifically to the Southern stereotype.
She began writing her first book, “Barter,” published in 2003, while working for the Federal Appellate SF and published her second book, “Ignatz” in 2010, during her 13-year-long career as a lawyer. Although Youn had previously applied to the fellowship back in 2013 and was unsuccessful, she explained that applying again after the publication of her most recent book, “Blackacre,” in 2016, “certainly helped.”
Blackacre is a legal term and a placeholder for a piece of land, as John Doe is a placeholder for a hypothetical person, and the theme of the novel is rooted in British property.
“If John Doe wants to pass Blackacre down, the mechanism of that is through Jane Doe,” Youn explained. “[John] has to ensure that [Jane] is fertile and faithful. Legal and social controls evolved to control fidelity and the fertility of women.”
Youn uses her background in law and her own experience with infertility to understand her own struggle, particularly the social stigma surrounding infertility, to conceive a child. She explained that the pride she felt for completing “Blackacre” stems from the difficulty she experienced writing it, since the topic is surrounded with shame.
Chair of the East Asian studies department Martin Kern was awarded the Guggenheim, a fellowship that he had applied to before ten to fifteen years prior, for his project, “Performance, Memory and Authorship in Ancient China: The Formation of the Poetic Tradition.”
In this project, Kern studies the origins of and early developments of Chinese literary culture during the first millennium B.C.E.
He explained that the ancient Chinese did not have books in the way we have books today and that their sense of authorship and originality diverged from those of ancient Greek literature. Instead, Chinese literature emerged out of religious and political tuitions, such as royal speeches and religious humans, and then gradually developed into more secular forms of literature.
Although Kern’s entire education was in Germany, he became interested in East Asian studies precisely because of how different it was from his German curriculum. He said he found elements of the Asian culture, such as Buddhism and calligraphy, “immensely attractive.”
“When you think about Chinese literature, you don’t just think about China, you think about literature and what literature is in the first place,” Kern added.
He also pointed out that during his school years, in the 1980s, just ten years after the Cultural Revolution, China was finally opening its borders, evoking a sense of novelty and mystery that drew him in.
“[China] became a country that you could actually go to,” Kern said. “It was kind of a new place. When I was there in the very early years of development, it was interesting.”
Currently, Kern gives lectures and conducts discussion in Mandarin, when he visits China, reads classical Chinese, and can read Japanese, which is primarily a research language.
The work that he is most proud of is his first book, “The Emigration of German Sinologists 1933–1945: Revisiting a Forgotten History.”
“I noticed [that topic] because of how many Germans there were in the field in America,” said Kern. “I’m still happy that I wrote that because somebody had to write it.”
One of the most challenging works he was involved with was “The Cambridge History of Chinese Literature.”
“It was challenging because you have to take into view one thousand years of literature and write that into a trustworthy way so that people who read that have a fair sense of, ‘Yes, I can rely on this account,’” Kern explained. His current project also takes on a similar feat.
Although Kern is proud of the works he has produced, he emphasized that he received the fellowship because of the work he has done with the intellectual community. He explained that scholarship isn’t done in solitude, but is rather inspired from peers and even students.
“If I were at a different place, I wouldn’t have been able to do everything that I have done,” Kern said. “This [fellowship award] is clearly related to the wonderful conditions at Princeton and the wonderful colleagues I have around the world that I constantly learn from.”
Holmes, Pravilova, Youn, and Kern are among 173 fellows chosen from a group of nearly 3,000 applicants.