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Professors earn NEH fellowships

Catherine Owers | Friday, March 22, 2013

The National Endowment for the Humanities (NEH) has awarded fellowships to three Notre Dame professors.

Stephen Dumont, Deborah Tor, and Sandra Gustafson received grants from NEH to work on personal research projects.

Professor Stephen Dumont said the grant will provide for a year’s sabbatical from teaching, so  honorees can dedicate time to their projects. 

“In the everyday life of teaching and administration it’s difficult to find a block of time to dedicate to research,” he said. “The opportunity to carry out extensive research and writing is, of course, vital to the intellectual life of faculty and students alike.”  

Dumont said fellows are expected to advance their initial proposals, ideally by publishing work completed on the topic.

“The goal of the project is to either complete or substantially make progress on a book or perhaps publish several papers on a topic,” Dumont said.

The NEH website said the organization supports the humanities in order to “convey the lessons of history to all Americans” and to “strengthen our republic.”  The Endowment bestows its grants upon the researchers with the proposals rated highest by external reviewers.

History professor Deborah Tor said receiving the fellowship allows for research time, but receiving the grant is itself an honor.  

“It is gratifying as a scholarly validation, it is nice to know that one’s peers on the review panel think highly of one’s work,” Tor said, “especially since this was the only fellowship awarded by the NEH in my field, medieval Islamic history.”

Tor’s project will focus on the Great Seljuq Dynasty, which she says is “one of the most pivotal but under-researched [dynasties] in medieval Islamic history.” 

“The Seljuqs were the first of several successive waves of Central Asian nomadic confederations to invade and conquer the central Islamic lands, inaugurating a thousand years of foreign Turco-Mongol rule. They were also the first potentates since the political disintegration of the original unitary Caliphate to rule over the entire Middle East, and they instituted or presided over many fundamental transformations in Islamic civilization.”

Dumont said his project is on the concept of free will, and the finished product will be a book. 

“It will be a historical and philosophical investigation on the origins and meaning of free will,” Dumont said. 

However, Tor said she also believes a good application is enhanced by earlier accomplishments. 

“The panel obviously takes into account one’s previous achievements, reputation, and prior publications. So, I guess the panel members appreciated my first monograph and my articles,” Tor said.