NEH grants support six Berkeley humanities projects

The National Endowment for the Humanities today announced $12.8 million in financial support for humanities research across the country, including funding for UC Berkeley projects that deal with the works of Herman Melville, the rise of the Chinese meritocracy, the preservation of rare musical instruments, slave conspiracies, the relationship of Mexican women to the Catholic church and politics and the Nazi-era theft of music.

“The humanities offer us a path toward understanding ourselves, our neighbors, our nation,” said Jon Parrish Peede, NEH acting chair.

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The grants for UC Berkeley research in the humanities:

Carla Shapreau, a lecturer, senior fellow and a musical instrument collection curator at UC Berkeley, is receiving a $50,000 fellowship grant to aid with publication of a book and digital resources about the Nazi confiscation of musical instruments, books and manuscripts in the 1930s and ’40s. A Berkeley News story about her work, which spans music, law and European studies, appeared in 2015.

History professor Margaret Chowning is receiving a $25,000 fellowship to pursue a book-length study of Mexican women in the Catholic church and their relationship to political conservatism between 1750 and 1953. Her research has found that Catholic women in Mexico entered politics much earlier than generally thought, and that they did so independently rather than as the pawns of priests, giving them consequential roles in the church as well as in politics.

Chowning says the research helps explain the continuing role of the Catholic church in contemporary Mexican politics.

Associate professor of history Nicolas Tackett is receiving a $50,000 fellowship to do research, data analysis and writing leading to a book on the development of meritocracy in 19th-century China as well as an associated, open-access online database. Tackett is an expert on Chinese elite society, the late Tang capital cities, death and death rituals and the Song-Liao border during the 11th century.

English professor Sam Otter is being awarded a $50,000 grant to complete a book-length study on literary form in the works of American author Herman Melville. Otter is the author of Melville’s Anatomies (1999), an analysis of how Melville portrayed the ways that meanings — especially racial meanings — were abstracted from human bodies. He co-edited Frederick Douglass and Herman Melville: Essays in Relation (2008) and Melville and Aesthetics (2011). Otter teaches undergraduate seminars on Moby-Dick and graduate seminars on Melville and questions of literary form.

Also in the English department, associate professor Bryan Wagner will receive a Digital Humanities Advancement grant of $75,000 for exploration of planned and actual Louisiana slave insurrections against slave owners to help resolve questions in historical accounts. Earlier this year, Wagner published The Tar Baby: A Global History. His research focuses on African American expression in the context of slavery and its aftermath.

Nicholas Mathew, associate professor of music, has been selected to receive nearly $6,000 for preservation assistance for a collection of historical and rare musical instruments dating from the 17th through the 19th centuries.