Three University of Colorado Boulder professors have won prestigious fellowships from the American Council of Learned Societies. They join 69 fellows chosen from a pool of 1,100 applicants.
The fellows from CU Boulder are Gerardo Gutierrez, assistant professor of anthropology; Rebecca Maloy, professor of musicology; and Mithi Mukherjee, associate professor of history.
“The 2016 ACLS fellows represent the intellectual vitality of humanities and humanistic social science research today,” said Matthew Goldfeder, the ACLS director of fellowship programs.
ACLS fellowships afford scholars the opportunity to spend six to 12 months researching and writing full time. The program awards fellowships of up to $70,000 each.
Each of CU Boulder’s ACLS fellows discussed the focus of their fellowship-supported work.
Gutierrez’s project studies the creation of indigenous “títulos primordiales” (primordial titles), a type of documentation developed during the 17th and 18th centuries in colonial Mexico that depicted a narrative of the origins of a community.
Using the Lienzos de Chiepetlan, six large-format painted documents from the Nahua community of Chiepetlan, Guerrero, Mexico, Gutierrez’s project addresses how local Nahua groups remembered and represented their histories to two distinct audiences: local villagers and Spanish authorities.
This body of local documents, which Nahua communities used to assert their legal claim to land and defend local agency, provides an alternative history to the official “metanarratives” promoted by either the Aztec Empire or the Spanish colonial regime, Gutierrez said.
Between 1736 and 1743, he explained, the Italian Lorenzo Boturini Benaduci developed the revolutionary idea of writing a non-Western history of the Americas based primarily on indigenous sources arranged according to Precolumbian reckonings of time; cosmogonies; legal, genealogical, political and military practices; analyses of songs and myths their origins and migrations; identity; and the rise and fall of their ruling dynasties and political constructs.
Discussions about the títulos primordiales have led to “heated debates” on the political use and historical creation of native sources during the Spanish colonial period of Mexico and Central America, Gutierrez said, adding:
“During this research, I want to address indigenous intentionality and representation of their historical memories and consciousness at local levels, breaking with biased Spanish accounts. My final goal is to write histories that take into account indigenous perspectives.”
Mukherjee’s research will culminate in a book titled The Asian Jurist and the Empire: Radhabinod Pal, Anticolonialism, and the Counter-Discourse of International Law, which will focus on the life and work of Radhabinod Pal, perhaps the most important Asian jurist of the 20th century.
Pal won worldwide attention with his lone dissenting judgment in the Tokyo Trials of 1946, held by the victorious powers of World War II to try Japanese wartime leaders. In his dissenting opinion, Pal mounted the most significant legal challenge from the colonized world to the “very foundation of existing international law grounded in empire.”
Mukherjee’s project locates Pal’s counter-discourse of international law “within the long history of anticolonialism and Pan-Asianism, and highlights the critical role non-Western thinkers have played in the history of international law.”
She explained: “Since the 11 judges for this tribunal were selected by the victorious Allied states, the Indian jurist Radhabinod Pal’s unexpected dissenting judgment exonerating the Japanese came as a major shock to much of the world.”
Mukherjee characterized Pal’s dissent as a quest for “a non-imperial alternative” to existing international law. “Claiming equality for all sovereign nations, big and small, Pal contended that as long as international law remained anchored in empire, it could deliver nothing more than victor’s justice.”
There has been little scholarly recognition of the contributions of non-Western jurists to the discourse of international law, Mukherjee said, adding: “In a globalized world, as the search for a new and more inclusive discourse of international law becomes more urgent, the works of non-Western jurists like Pal demand sustained and broad-based academic focus.”
In addition to being honored with the fellowship, Mukherjee said she is happy that the award will bring “much-needed attention to one of the most important international jurists of the 20th century from the non-Western world.”
Anand Yang, a historian at the University of Washington and former member of the ACLS Board of Directors, praised Mukherjee’s “exciting work” and “distinguished contributions” to the legal, political and cultural history of modern South Asia.
“Indeed, year after year, ACLS fellowships are awarded to a select handful of scholars whose original research sets them apart from a large pool of top-notch scholars across a variety of disciplines,” Yang said, adding that he “well understood” why Mukherjee attained this distinction.
Maloy’s project is titled Sung in Honor of Sacrifice: Text, Melody, and Exegesis in the Iberian Offertory.
She noted that medieval Christian worship on the Iberian peninsula was structured by rituals and music of the Old Hispanic rite. Sung in Honor of Sacrifice is a detailed study of one type of Old Hispanic chant: the offertory or sacrificium.
By showing how the sacrificium texts draw on specific traditions of biblical exegesis and how the melodies respond to textual syntax and meaning, Maloy’s project situates these chants within the intellectual culture that produced them, presents new evidence about the oral transmission of plainchant, and establishes a new basis for assessing the relationship among the different Western chant traditions, Maloy stated.
The seventh century was a period of cultural and intellectual flourishing in Iberia, led by Isidore of Seville and other bishops, Maloy observed. Iberia's Visigothic rulers had recently converted to Catholic Christianity from Arianism, a set of beliefs that was considered heretical.
To promote the orthodox doctrine that was central to the church’s identity, the education of the clergy and laity became a central concern. Isidore and other bishops compiled early Christian texts on biblical interpretation and doctrine and presented them in a digest form that could be easily learned and memorized.
“My project shows how the chant repertory furthered this educational project,” Maloy said. “Instead of taking the chant texts directly from the Old Testament, the creators of the chants redacted the biblical source in ways that clarified the meaning of obscure passages and conveyed how Christians were to understand them.”
The melodies carefully shaped how these texts were heard, dividing them into sense units and drawing attention to images that were particularly central to Christian exegesis, she said. “In showing how the liturgy forwarded the aims of the intellectual elite in Visigothic Iberia, I develop new methods for exploring this intersection in other early Medieval contexts.”
For the 2016-17 academic year, Maloy also received a residential fellowship at the Institute for Advanced Study, an independent research institute in Princeton, N.J., devoted to “the curiosity-driven pursuit of knowledge.”