Seven at University of Michigan named Guggenheim Fellows

Seven faculty members have been awarded 2008 Guggenheim Fellowships, a coveted national honor recognizing distinguished achievement in many fields.

The University of Michigan fellows and their projects are:

University of Michigan Guggenheim Fellowship Recipient

• Geri Allen, associate professor of music, School of Music, Theatre & Dance: Music composition.

Allen’s project celebrates humanity and embraces the continuity of innovation as personified by three artists. She says her composition is inspired by the individual-yet-connected universes of the revolutionary elements of modern music’s most prolific pianist composers: Herbie Hancock, McCoy Tyner and Cecil Taylor. “Refractions” celebrates what is most inspiring about humanity, she says.

“I am grateful to the John Simon Guggenheim Memorial Foundation for honoring me and my work with this prestigious award,” Allen says. “Every artist dreams of the chance to freely create unimpeded. As a working mother of three children, this honor encourages me, and will give me the freedom to create what I hope will be my best work.”

University of Michigan Guggenheim Fellowship Recipient

• Sheldon Danziger, H. J. Meyer Distinguished University Professor of Public Policy, Gerald R. Ford School of Public Policy: Four decades of antipoverty policies.

Danziger will write a book that evaluates the changing views about the causes of poverty that led first to the expansion of social welfare policies and later to the Reagan retrenchment and the 1996 welfare reform that cut benefits to the poor.

“Americans have implicitly selected a set of social policies, labor market policies and tax policies that result in lower market earnings and lower government benefits for less-skilled workers and a higher poverty rate than that found in most other advanced industrialized countries,” Danziger says. He will point out that there are effective labor market, taxation and anti-poverty policies that could be put into place to significantly reduce poverty.

University of Michigan Guggenheim Fellowship Recipient

• Phoebe Gloeckner, assistant professor of art, School of Art & Design: A graphic narrative.

Gloeckner will use her fellowship to create a graphic narrative about a Mexican girl murdered at the turn of this century in Ciudad Juarez, a major U.S.-Mexico border crossing adjacent to El Paso, Texas. The project represents a radical change in her work, she says. Rather than draw images, Gloeckner developed a three-dimensional technique, teaching herself to use tools and to construct nearly everything she would normally draw.

“The fellowship will allow me to immerse myself in the final stages of this process, which will require several more trips to Juarez and long periods of focused work,” she says. “I’m so very happy and grateful to have received a Guggenheim Fellowship, and acknowledge that it wouldn’t have been possible without the support of family, friends and colleagues.”

University of Michigan Guggenheim Fellowship Recipient

• David Halperin, W. H. Auden Collegiate Professor of the History and Theory of Sexuality, Department of English: How to be Gay.

Halperin’s fellowship allows him to complete his book, “How to be Gay,” with “the leisure and detachment I need in order to look at the question from a multitude of different angles,” he says.

“It also affirms the judgment of the administrators and colleagues at the University of Michigan who supported my controversial class on the same topic despite strong opposition from many quarters,” Halperin says.

University of Michigan Guggenheim Fellowship Recipient

• Paul Christopher Johnson, associate professor of history, Afroamerican and African Studies, director of the Doctoral Program in Anthropology and History: “To Be Possessed: ‘Religion’ and the Purification of Spirits.”

Johnson says his project is an excavation of the category of “spirit possession,” which was created as an early project of civil religion.

The project also explores how the construct was implemented in colonial regulations of religion in the Americas, especially in the wake of the emancipation of slaves and the perceived dangers of their civil integration. And it evaluates the positive appropriation of the category by ethnographers and religious actors themselves in the last half-century.

University of Michigan Guggenheim Fellowship Recipient

• Richard Primus, law professor, Law School: Constitutional authority in the wake of civil war.

Primus will write a book about American constitutional decision-makers — in courts, in Congress and elsewhere, in the years after the Civil War, between 1870 and 1885.

American constitutional thought has never come to grips with the Civil War, he says. The system adopted at the end of the 18th century failed to cope with an entirely foreseen set of conflicts, with the result that peaceful means of coexistence broke down. One possible response is to discard the old constitution and begin again, but American decision-makers in the 1860s pursued a different course. They retained the old system with modifications.

“It’s an honor to be recognized as an inaugural fellow,” Primus says. “I hope to put the opportunity to work by writing a book that will improve our understanding of American constitutionalism.”

University of Michigan Guggenheim Fellowship Recipient

• Ashutosh Varshney, political science professor, Department of Political Science: Cities and ethnic conflict: a multi-country study.

Building on his work on Hindu-Muslim violence in India published in “Ethnic Conflict and Civic Life,” Varshney will analyze ethnic conflict in 15 cities from four countries: Indonesia, Nigeria, Malaysia and Sri Lanka. His work concentrates on three areas: cities that used to be violent but have become peaceful, cities that used to be peaceful but have become violent and peaceful cities that remained riot-free. The emphasis is on change, which should allow him to inquire into how enduring peace is established or broken.

“Apart from the fact that this award will allow me some free time to work further on my project, it is the confidence expressed by the Guggenheim selection committee in my ability to answer a very difficult question in a multi-country framework that gives me profound satisfaction,” Varshney says.

U-M’s total is the highest this year by any university in the United States or Canada. The 10 campuses comprising the University of California system had at least 18 fellows, with six at UC Berkeley.

“The Guggenheim Fellowships are awarded through rigorous national competition and receiving them is a great honor,” says Provost Teresa Sullivan. “We are pleased and proud to have seven faculty members among the recipients this year. To have faculty members recognized for their scholarly work in such an array of fields is a testament to the depth and breadth of the Michigan faculty.”

This year’s fellowship winners include 190 artists, scholars and scientists selected from nearly 3,000 applicants in the United States and Canada for awards totaling $8.2 million.

The John Simon Guggenheim Memorial Foundation offered for the first time two Fellowships in Constitutional Studies. The inaugural Fellows in this new field are Richard Primus of U-M Law School and Randy Barnett of the Georgetown University Law Center.

The full list of 2008 fellows is available at

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