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Two faculty members win National Endowment for the Humanities Fellowships

Monday, December 16, 2013

LAWRENCE — Two University of Kansas professors, Iris Smith Fischer, English, and Arienne Dwyer, anthropology, have won National Endowment for the Humanities Fellowships to pursue their research next year. KU faculty members have won 21 NEH Fellowships since 1998. Smith Fischer received a grant for “Charles Peirce and the Role of Aesthetic Expression in 19th Century U.S. Philosophy and Semiotics” and Dwyer for “Narrative and Metanarratives of the Silk Road.”

“To have two faculty members receive this highly prestigious award in the same year speaks to the incredible breadth and depth of expertise in the College of Liberal Arts and Sciences,” said Danny Anderson, College of Liberal Arts and Sciences dean. “The research of these two outstanding professors comes at a crucial time, when we most need knowledge from the humanities to help us in our struggle for meaning and understanding across cultures.”

Victor Bailey, director of the Hall Center for the Humanities, also praised the winning applicants. “To win a fellowship from the principal federal agency supporting the humanities, in light of the prevailing odds of success, is a remarkable achievement, and our two colleagues are to be warmly congratulated. Their success is testimony to the caliber of their scholarship, and, as they were the first to acknowledge, to the services provided by the humanities grant development office.”

Dwyer, a linguistic anthropologist, will use her NEH Fellowship to produce a book, "Camel Spring: Narratives and Meta-Narratives of the Silk Road," which explores the stories told by and about Central Asians. She will analyze more than 150 fictional and historical oral texts by Central Asian tellers, as well as the narratives of early Western explorers and the modern Chinese state. The stories she has collected show how cultures and ethnic groups interacted along the eastern Silk Road across the past eight centuries. The study will fill a gap in the studies of Central Asian literature, culture, ethnic groups and history and will also appeal to general readers interested in the history and culture of Central Asia.

Dwyer has won 11 major external grants and fellowships since joining KU in 2002, including an American Council of Learned Societies Fellowship, a joint NEH/National Science Foundation Fellowship and major research grants from the Volkswagen Foundation and NSF. Dwyer's current NEH award follows closely on the heels of NSF grants for "Light Verbs in Uyghur," "Interactive Inner Asia: Documenting and Endangered Language in Contact Area," and "Co-Lang: Institute for Collaborative Language Documentation Training."

Smith Fischer will complete her study on "Charles Peirce and the Role of Aesthetic Expression in 19th Century U.S. Philosophy and Semiotics" with the assistance of the NEH Fellowship. This work will focus upon the 19th century American philosopher Charles Sanders Peirce. His interests in both theater and semiotics, or the study of how phenomena attain meaning, led him to develop a mode of inquiry that combined scientific study with acting and performing methods.

The resulting book will be of interest to scholars of theatre, performance studies, philosophy and semiotics, and to general readers interested in the history of science. With the aid of smaller awards, she has been conducting research in archives, including the Library of Congress and the Institute for American Thought, and hopes to complete a draft of her manuscript during her NEH Fellowship tenure.

English Chair Anna Neill said the award is a coup for the Department and for the humanities at KU.

"The NEH Fellowship will enable Iris to complete a book manuscript based on meticulous research and rigorous inquiry that will contribute to the reputation of English literary and theatre studies at KU," Neill said.

For more information, contact the Hall Center at hallcenter@ku.edu or call (785) 864-4798.