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6 professors awarded Guggenheim Fellowships

  • Yue Ben / Senior Staff Photographer
    GONE WITH THE GUGGENHEIM | History and ethnic studies professor Karl Jacoby—one of six Columbia professors to be awarded the fellowship this year—will take a year off to write a book.

Six Columbia professors were among the recipients of this year’s John Simon Guggenheim Memorial Foundation Fellowships.

English and comparative literature professor Sarah Cole, School of the Arts professors Susan Bernofsky and Anna Conway, Barnard history professor Deborah Coen, history and ethnic studies professor Karl Jacoby, and adjunct professor in guitar and composition Arthur Kampela will use next year to pursue individual projects funded by the fellowships.

Columbia’s winners were among 178 fellows from across the United States and Canada, and were chosen from a group of almost 3,000 applicants. Guggenheim fellows typically take the year off from their responsibilities at their universities to devote time to their projects.

Cole, who focuses on modernism and 19th- and 20th-century British literature, was awarded a Guggenheim Fellowship for a book about the works of H.G. Wells.

Cole, whose Philosophy Hall office is lined with H.G. Wells books, said that the author deserves recognition for more than his science fiction.

“Wells is probably the most underappreciated, under-recognized literary force in the 20th century,” Cole said. “He was a phenomenal figure, an amazing writer. He wrote in every genre and invented genres like science fiction. He is known now primarily for the science fiction, which is itself a marginalized genre.”

Cole said that she hopes her book will present new ideas about Wells.

“My hope is to get my peers, who are literature scholars around the country, to rethink—not just rethink their attitudes towards Wells and return to him, but get them to recalibrate a whole set of topics and issues on which Wells was incredibly interesting and important in,” Cole added. 

Bernofsky, who is the director of the Literary Translation program at the School of Arts, is also using her fellowship to garner more attention toward a lesser-known author, Swiss-German modernist Robert Walser.

Bernofsky has already translated seven works of fiction by Walser, and plans to use her fellowship to translate two collections of his stories—the first on arts and artists and the second a collection of his autobiographical writings.

“Because it’s a very public grant, it also brings public attention to the project,” Bernofsky said. “That’s useful because I’m working on a very important author who is still not that widely known. He was a contemporary of Kafka, and Kafka loves him but everybody knows who Kafka is and not everybody knows who Walser is.”

Conway, SoA ’02, who is a painter and adjunct professor in the department of visual arts at the School of the Arts, will be using her fellowship to put on a solo show of seven paintings, the working title of which is “Here Comes Everywhere,” which will feature paintings on environments.

“The paintings explore how changing our environment can affect our feelings,” Conway wrote in an email to Spectator.

Conway added that the fellowship will “provide me with the time to focus exclusively on my paintings”—something Conway hasn’t been able to do since she began studying, then teaching, at Columbia.

Coen plans to use her fellowship to write a book that will tackle the question of how Habsburg governance shaped scientific practice and how scientific models shaped the imaginations of Habsburg subjects.

In an email to Spectator, Coen said her book “argues that a new way of thinking about the relationship between the local and the global emerged in part from efforts to re-imagine the space of the Habsburg Monarchy between 1848 and 1918.”

Jacoby is also planning to use the time off to work on his next book. His project, which has the working title “A Life on the Line: A Trickster’s Tale from the U.S.-Mexico Borderlands,” is a nonfiction, biography-esque narrative focused on “passing”—when an individual passes him- or herself off as a different race. Jacoby will focus on an African-American man who splits his time between the United States and Mexico, and passes as Mexican for most of his life.

Jacoby said he’s looking forward to transferring the knowledge he accumulates from working on his book back to the classroom when he returns to campus.

“I think it would be really interesting to do a seminar or a class on passing, and all the varieties on that,” Jacoby said. “I think Columbia being here, right up against Harlem, it just makes a lot of sense and it’s a really interesting way of getting at issues about race because what’s so fascinating about passing is the sense that race is so omnipresent and so important yet also so ephemeral and hard to pin down. ... It really brings to light all the paradoxes and ironies of American race.”

Unlike the other fellows, Kampela will continue to teach over the next year, but plans to simultaneously compose and create an opera-carnival hybrid piece.

“My project is basically an opera-installation type of thing. I want to take the idea of an opera with the idea of a carnival,” he said.

Though Kampela concedes that time and funding constraints will likely limit the extravagance of his final product, he said he’s open to adapting his vision.

“Before composing the music, I’d like to compose the community that would help me realize the project. But it’s not set in stone,” he said.

Columbia faculty have traditionally done well in the Guggenheim competition, with eight winners in 2013 and 10 winners in 2012

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