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CAORC Announces Fellowship Recipients

CAORC is pleased to announce the 2020 award recipients for the Multi-Country Research Fellowship, National Endowment for the Humanities Senior Research Fellowship, and the Mary Ellen Lane Multi-Country Travel Award.

Multi-Country Research Fellowship

Now in its 27th year, the Multi-Country Research Fellowship supports advanced regional or trans-regional research in the humanities, social sciences, or allied natural sciences for U.S. doctoral candidates and scholars who hold a PhD. For the 2020 competition cycle, nine fellowships were awarded for grants of $11,000 each. The program is funded by the U.S Department State’s Bureau of Educational and Cultural Affairs.

Mary Ellen Lane Multi-Country Travel Award

The 2020 Mary Ellen Lane Multi-Country Travel Award was granted to Ofosuwa M. Abiola of Howard University toward her project, ‘Unwitting Witnesses: Unearthing Narratives of African Dance in Pre-Colonial Logs'. This award is granted to the highest-ranking Multi-Country Research fellow and provides and additional $1,000 towards travel expenses. The award is named after CAORC’s founding director, Dr. Mary Ellen Lane.

National Endowment for the Humanities Senior Research Fellowship

The CAORC NEH Senior Research Fellowship supports advanced research in the humanities in Algeria, Armenia, Azerbaijan, Cambodia, Cyprus, Georgia, Indonesia, Mexico, Mongolia, Morocco, Myanmar, Nepal, Senegal, Sri Lanka or Tunisia. For the 2020 competition, three fellowships were awarded to projects that will be carried out in Cambodia, Senegal, and Tunisia. This program is funded by the National Endowment for the Humanities.


View the full list of 2020 fellows, project titles, and abstracts below.

Multi-Country Research Fellows

Ofosuwa M. Abiola

Associate Professor of History, Department of Theatre Arts, Howard University

Country(ies): Gambia, Senegal

Unwitting Witnesses: Unearthing Narratives of African Dance in Pre-Colonial Logs

Pre-colonial documents produced by travelers to the continent of Africa contain a plethora of information on dance. They can expand, facilitate, and fill in gaps in existing discussions on dance history in Africa. Yet, they are scarcely utilized in dance history research. The study, "Unwitting Witnesses: Unearthing Narratives of African Dance in Pre-Colonial Logs," seeks to uncover previously unknown narratives, and fill gaps in scarcely researched phenomena on African dance in the Senegambia region through the interrogation of pre-colonial reports, logs, and other documents produced by travelers to the continent during the era.

Jason Ahlenius

Doctoral Candidate and Graduate Instructor, Spanish and Portuguese Department, New York University

Country(ies): Cuba, Guatemala, Mexico, Spain

The Limits of Freedom: Formations of Slavery on the Imperial Borderlands in Nineteenth-Century Mexico

After Independence, nineteenth-century Mexican elites sought to construct a national identity based on the liberal values of abolition and racial equality. Between 1811 and 1829 they declared the end of distinctions of caste or race and abolished chattel slavery. Looking to the U.S. and Cuba, where officially instituted slavery and racism flourished, they produced a myth of harmonious mestizaje. Yet throughout the nineteenth century, Mexico became notoriously involved in various forms of forced labor, most often along the imperial borderlands that were poorly incorporated into Mexico’s nation-state, yet which became rapidly integrated into the world market through commodity production. In the two cases I explore for this project, I demonstrate how print, legal, and visual archives uphold these regimes of labor and reproduce a logic of race that distinguishes who was alienable from the political community, all within the official framework of Mexican liberalism and racial inclusion. In the first case, following the Caste Wars in Yucatán (1847-1861), local elites deported thousands of Mayan subjects to Cuba as “free contract laborers” to pacify the region and feed Cuba’s labor shortage on sugarcane plantations. I examine labor contracts and the political debates surrounding the traffic to demonstrate how discourses of “free labor” mask coercive labor practices. The second case concerns Chiapas and Guatemala, where Indigenous communities were displaced and subjected to debt peonage to produce coffee for export. I argue that photo archives naturalized the presence of Indigenous labor by subsuming their dispossession under a liberal narrative of material progress.

Mitchell Bacci Doctoral Candidate, History Department and Center for Middle Eastern Studies, Harvard University

Country(ies): Egypt, Turkey

Smugglers and State-Builders: The Illicit Opiate Trade and the Making of the Modern Eastern Mediterranean, 1828-1938

My PhD dissertation employs the opiate trade as a lens to examine the transformation of the Eastern Mediterranean from the late Ottoman period to the interwar era. I detail the development of the networks and institutions involved in the cultivation, refinement, trafficking, consumption, and regulation of opiates in the late Ottoman and interwar Eastern Mediterranean. This project will draw together a variety of documentary and literary sources. First, I will consult state reports and financial records from the Ottoman, Turkish, Anglo-Egyptian, and French Mandate archives. Second, I will supplement these official records with fiction, popular histories, poetry, film, and music. I will use these sources to put informal economic processes like opiate trafficking into conversation with formal commerce and the politics of state-building so as to incorporate the accounts of traffickers and other demographics that scarcely left written documents into regional historiography. I contend that the late Ottoman opium trade produced durable socio-economic networks and state institutions that shaped the borders and political systems of interwar Turkey, Syria, and Egypt. By highlighting the diverse perspectives of the actors involved in the sale and suppression of opiates, my work will expand the study of political economy, capitalism, and state formation in Ottoman and Middle Eastern history. In doing so, I will illuminate the myriad ways in which informal economic processes reconfigured the institutional, socio-economic, and political geography of the late Ottoman Empire into the modern Eastern Mediterranean.

Divya Chandramouli

Doctoral Candidate and Teaching Fellow, Department of South Asian Studies, Harvard University

Country(ies): India, Malaysia, Singapore, Sri Lanka, United Kingdom

What Happens When Dramas Move?: 20th Century Traveling Tamil Performers in the Bay of Bengal Region

My dissertation will tell the story of Tamil drama artists who traveled, throughout the 20th century, from south India to Ceylon and British Malaya (modern-day Sri Lanka, Malaysia, and Singapore). Scholars of Tamil political history have noted that in the 20th century, many Tamil drama actors wove political ideologies - like nationalism or support for social reform - into their dialogues, thereby disseminating these ideologies amongst a populace that was largely illiterate. In this regard, drama actors became integral to the development of mass democratic politics in the region. My preliminary research suggests however, that Tamil drama artists exerted influence on mass democratic politics not only through the political content of their performances, but also through their travel itineraries. In this sense, the very act of traveling for drama artists was a political one; through their extensive journeys, drama artists were able to influence and connect a diverse range of Tamil audiences across urban centers, plantations, towns and villages many hundreds of miles apart. The goal of my study is first, to document the journeys of these drama artists, and second, to explore the extent to which these artists' journeys and the circulation of their dramas, impacted Tamil cultural and political life in the Bay of Bengal region. My research methodology will center on archival and ethnographic research, concentrated along the trans-regional routes that 20th century Tamil drama artists followed themselves.

Amanda Gaggioli

Doctoral Candidate, Classics Department, Stanford University

Country(ies): Cyprus, Greece

Earthquakes and Collapse: Resilience and Human-Geological Environment Relationships in Eastern Mediterranean Archaeology

Earthquakes have been linked to societal collapse in various places throughout the past, most notably at the end of the Late Bronze Age (LBA) (c. 1200 BC) in the Aegean and eastern Mediterranean. However, since ancient times humans living under persistent threats of geological hazards have demonstrated forms of resilience. This project investigates two archaeological case studies, in Cyprus and Greece, aimed at understanding how people were impacted by and responded to earthquakes over both the short- and long-terms. I will analyze material and geomorphological remains from the sites of Kourion in Cyprus and Helike in Greece. Analyses of architecture and associated soil micromorphological samples will be used to determine whether the peoples of Helike and Kourion developed as seismic cultures with the capacity to develop and build seismic resilient architecture with regulations codified through ideologies passed between local communities and generations. This project will expand upon research concerning human-environment relationships in the context of the LBA collapse, but will offer a hitherto overlooked study of seismic resilient practices of cultures in complex geological settings. Furthermore, this project will contribute a theoretical and methodological framework for studying relationships between humans, environmental change, and disaster by examining the interface between resilience, risk, and vulnerability and cultural practice across temporal and spatial scales.

Nathan Grau

Doctoral Candidate, Department of History, Harvard University

Country(ies): Algeria, Madagascar

France's Forgotten Soldiers: Local Paramilitaries on the Frontlines of Decolonization, 1945-1962

A veritable arc of revolution swept through France’s overseas colonies in the fifteen years after 1945. In Indochina (1945-954), Madagascar (1947-1948), and Algeria (1954-1962), French efforts to “liberalize” and reform the empire collided with insurrectionary movements aiming to overthrow the colonial state. This collision of reform and revolution created unprecedented risks – and opportunities – for the local collaborators upon whom the colonial state increasingly relied for legitimacy and defense as the conflicts escalated. My research examines the influence of colonial reform on the fighting practices of local paramilitaries in French service, looking specifically at how collaborators across all three theaters of colonial conflict exploited the resources and legitimacy furnished by these reforms to establish semi sovereign fiefs outside of French control. My work moves the scholarly discussion beyond the questions of “resistance” and “collaboration” that have long dominated the historiography of this period. I suggest a retraining of scholarly attention away from these debates, instead recasting colonial paramilitaries as state builders of an unorthodox kind. A focus on the localities where paramilitary collaborators fought reveals transnational networks of personnel, ideologies, and experiences that shaped the trajectories of all three decolonization conflicts and eventually durably transformed the institutions of the French state.

Jill Jarvis

Assistant Professor, Department of French, Yale University

Country(ies): Algeria, Mali, Morocco, Senegal

Signs in the Desert: An Aesthetic Cartography of the Sahara

Although the Sahara covers a third of the African continent and crosses the borders of a dozen nation-states, it remains a blind spot in scholarly disciplines oriented by the colonial era cartographies that drew those borders and by the area studies paradigms that reinvent them. The Sahara is anything but empty, and yet it has been mapped for us as a geographic, political, and symbolic dead zone. It is time to correct this.

Signs in the Desert: An Aesthetic Cartography of the Sahara considers how aesthetic works such as literature and film help to defy and counter the reductive ways in which this desert has long been mapped. Drawing from the insights of spatial theory, critical cartography, and forensic architecture, my book builds a case for how contemporary writers and filmmakers from across the Sahara-Sahel region are transforming dominant ways of seeing (or not seeing) the African Sahara—an activity that I define as ‘aesthetic cartography.’

Ellen Nye

Doctoral Candidate, Department of History, Yale University

Country(ies): Turkey, United Kingdom

Credit Between the British and Ottoman Empires: Forging a Global Monetary System, 1670-1720

What is money? What determines its worth? In the early modern world, debasements, counterfeiting, and wear resulted in coins of often quite distinct weights and purities. People in states across the early modern world then debated how to value this uneven assortment of money. Was its value determined by collective assessments of value, political decree, or the precious metals it contained? For creditors and debtors attempting to define future payments establishing money’s value had clear stakes.

Through British and Ottoman archival sources, my dissertation follows merchants who traded between England and the Ottoman Empire to reveal the diversity of early modern ideas about money and the challenge of navigating credit arrangements across societies that weighted the interests of creditors and debtors differently. I then explore how new understandings of money privileging particular groups, including the gold standard mentality, emerged in both England and the Ottoman Empire partially through burgeoning commercial connections around 1700.

This inter-regional approach uniting two regions rarely compared allows me to ask a number of hitherto unanswered questions: Why did England and the Ottoman Empire balance the interests of creditors and debtors differently through their monetary policies? What role did monetary environments play in establishing commercial networks in an increasingly globalized world? Why did certain ideas of money prevail globally? And what were the political stakes behind their adoption?

Taken together, these questions help us understand the political stakes and societal consequences of modern capitalism’s financial infrastructure and its emergence through interactions beyond Western Europe.

Christy Schirmer

Doctoral Candidate, Department of Classics, University of Texas at Austin

Country(ies): Germany, Greece, Italy, Morocco, Spain

Exploiting Riverine Resources in the Roman Empire

My project examines the practice of river fishing in the Roman provinces, treating it as a lens through which we can more fully recognize the processes of social and economic change that followed Roman imperial expansion. As Rome increased its control in regions with scores of inland settlements, exploiting local rivers and streams for food must have been an important component of the empire's regional economies. However, there has been no comprehensive study of how those freshwater resources were managed. I combine literary and documentary sources with archaeological evidence for fishing and other riverine activities from sites in Italy, Greece, Spain, Morocco, and Germany, with evidence spanning the 3rd century BCE to the 5th century CE. I also consider the impact of population and technological changes—for example, the effect of industrial activities near rivers and concomitant disruption of local fish supplies. Together, this will reveal new information about how diverse populations managed important food resources during periods of political, social, and environmental change, and will broaden our understanding of community responses to the pressures and opportunities that accompanied incorporation into the Roman Empire.

CAORC NEH Senior Research Fellows

Max Ajl

Associated Researcher, Observatory for Food Sovereignty and the Environment

Country: Tunisia

Agronomic Alternatives from Tunisia: Big Plans and Small Farms in the Search for Sustainability

My project analyzes how Tunisian agronomists, development practitioners, and economists broke from the industrialization/modernization paradigm in agriculture in the 1960s, 1970s, and 1980s. They put sustainability and social equity concerns at the forefront of their analyses, re-thought the role of agriculture in ecologically-sound development, and situated such concerns at the core of macro-economic planning. I ask why researchers in Tunisia produced such an analysis, what was its intellectual content, and how is it being taken up in the present moment of post-revolutionary upheaval. I use archives, oral histories, and technical agronomic literature to answer these questions and place them in the context of international circuits of agronomic and development-related intellectual production. This research fills a gap in the scholarly literature on non-orthodox and sustainable agronomy, in which the Arab region is severely under-represented. The Arab tradition of radical agronomy speaks to contemporary regional questions of sustainable development. Because regional agronomy focused on sustainable water management, drought resilience, and resource-limited planning, lessons from Tunisia apply more broadly, since water stress and extreme weather events are slated to increase globally. Thus, technologies for rainwater harvesting and zero-carbon-emitting farming, and research into drought-resilience, speak greatly to questions of sustainability in a warming world.

Elizabeth A. Cecil

Assistant Professor, Department of Religion, Florida State University

Country: Cambodia

Architectures of Intimidation: Political Ecology and Landscape Manipulation in Early Southeast Asia

From the riverine coast of central Vietnam, to the mountains of southern Laos, and the volcanic plateaus of central Java, Southeast Asia’s earliest Hindu polities were defined by their unruly geography. This project develops the concept of “landscape manipulation” to explore the technologies of power used to cultivate these non-state spaces by emphasizing the strategic use of art and architecture to transform physical features of indigenous sacred geographies into political landscapes. Examining the architectonics of three monumental temple complexes from Vietnam, Laos, and Java between the fifth and the tenth centuries CE, this study examines structural remains, Sanskrit inscriptions, and iconographic programs to show how centuries of accretional building practices produced architectures of intimidation designed to civilize wild places. Thinking beyond the Anthropocene, my work on political ecology, temple architecture, and landscape design highlights interactions between people and built environments, considers the affective agency of natural environments and landscape features, and shows how art and architecture are integral to the formation of political landscapes. Bringing these themes to bear on early Southeast Asian epigraphy and material culture initiates a new dialogue between the study of classical sources and the history of Hinduism as a repertoire of spatial, material, and ecologically-grounded practices.

Khaled Esseissah

Assistant Teaching Professor, African Studies Program in the Edmund A. Walsh School of Foreign Service, Georgetown University

Country: Senegal

Harāṭīn Muslim Intermediaries: Slavery, Gender and Social Change in French West Africa

My book examines the Muslim initiatives of Harāṭīn peoples, a diasporic community whose history is rooted in an enslaved past, in colonial Africa. It demonstrates that subaltern African Muslims enabled state-making in French West Africa through their everyday efforts to claim their own space and collective community. My examination of Harāṭīn colonial employees and the contexts in which they emerged shifts the focus from Muslim elites to grassroots communities. It departs from previous historical research, like David Robinson’s Paths of Accommodation (2000), Muhammad Umar’s Islam and Colonialism (2006), and Tamba M'bayo’s Muslim Interpreters in Colonial Senegal (2016), which has centered on Muslim intellectuals’ engagement with French and British colonial authorities in West Africa. While these works are important, they narrowly focus on rich and influential male figures of “noble” origins, and exclude how subaltern Muslims, such as slaves and women, responded and interacted with colonial authorities in Africa. My book shows that Harāṭīn men and women utilized the intuitions and structures that emerged from the French colonial occupation of Mauritania at the beginning of the twentieth century to secure autonomy and freedom in the face of great challenges. In the process, these individuals accumulated wealth and social prestige, but also had an agency that they used to build political power and assert their Muslim authority. I situate these experiences into the broader history of slavery and abolition in colonial Africa and beyond so that their initiatives are interwoven into the larger tapestry of humanity.

Learn more about CAORC Fellowships here.


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