Published: June 14, 2023

Sanggay Tashi, a doctoral candidate in anthropology, will use this award to do on-the-ground research into Tibetan nomads as they adapt to a changing world

A Tibetan scholar at the University of Colorado Boulder is part of the inaugural class of dissertation innovation fellows, the American Council of Learned Societies (ACLS) and Mellow Foundation announced recently.

Sanggay Tashi, a doctoral candidate in anthropology, is one of 45 recipients of this award, which supports doctoral students in the humanities and interpretive social sciences as they pursue bold and innovative approaches to dissertation research.

Tashi will use the $50,000 award to learn from Indigenous scholars and travel to his home on the Tibetan plateau to study how Tibetan nomads creatively assert their cultural identity amidst structural and developmental modernization. He’ll do this by immersing himself in the culture, working with and within the community, and involving himself as part of the projects already underway there—which, he says, are innovative in-and-of themselves.

Sanggay Tashi

Sanggay Tashi is part of the inaugural class of dissertation innovation fellows.

“Historically, research in Tibetan studies in the West has been conducted predominantly by outsiders,” said Tashi. “I believe that the enthusiastic support for this project is a promising sign for the future of Tibetan studies.”

Growing up in a Tibetan nomadic family, Tashi says that he became interested in this subject because “it’s part of who I am,” adding:

“I have a special kind of connection to the people, and I understand what they’re going through because it’s also part of my experience of growing up in that culture.”

Tashi studied at Duke University before coming to CU Boulder, but his Tibetan roots continue to inspire him to this day, which led him to apply for this fellowship.

The Mellon/ACLS Dissertation Innovation Fellowship is designed to intervene at the formative stage of dissertation development and promote research methodologies, project formats and areas of inquiry that challenge traditional norms of doctoral education.

As part of the award, each fellow receives a $40,000 stipend for the fellowship year; $8,000 for project-related research, training, professional development and travel expenses; and a $2,000 stipend to support external mentorship and advising that offers critical perspectives and expertise on the fellow’s project.

Tashi will use this fellowship to take part in comparative and collaborative research with other Indigenous communities and scholars, including Professor Ty Tengan at the University of Hawai'i at Mānoa. There, he’ll learn how to do ethical, practical, meaningful and community-based research while also participating in several community-based and community-supported projects in Hawaii.

“I will be trained in cultural protocols, research ethics, ethnographic methodologies and the practice of responsible relationship building. Additionally, I will help share my knowledge and research as a Tibetan PhD student that will benefit UH Manoa and the local communities,” Tashi added.

He’ll use what he learns in Hawaii when he returns to Tibet to research Tibetan communities from both an insider and outsider’s perspective. This exchange, he says, is part of his innovative approach to learning how to do ethical, practical and meaningful research, which will advance anthropological research knowledge and skills. 

Formed a century ago, the ACLS is a nonprofit federation of 79 scholarly organizations that is committed to principles and practices in support of racial and social justice. As the leading representative of American scholarship in the humanities and interpretive social sciences, ACLS collaborates with institutions, associations and individuals to strengthen the evolving infrastructure for scholarship, upholding the core principle that knowledge is a public good.

The Mellon Foundation is the nation's largest supporter of the arts and humanities. Mellon believes that the arts and humanities are where we express our complex humanity, and that everyone deserves the beauty, transcendence and freedom to be found there. Through its grants, Mellon seeks to build just communities enriched by meaning and empowered by critical thinking, where ideas and imagination can thrive.

“ACLS is thrilled to partner with the Mellon Foundation to support these exceptional emerging scholars as they pursue pathbreaking research,” said ACLS President Joy Connolly in the press release. “By expanding the range of research methodologies, formats and areas of inquiry traditionally considered acceptable for the dissertation, we can forge pathways toward a more diverse and inclusive academy.”

Header photo by Jack L/Flickr.