For Stanford Humanities Center fellows, free lunch is much more than a simple perk

Sept. 18, 2022, 9:13 p.m.

Free lunches are far more than a fringe benefit for those appointed to a Stanford Humanities Center (SHC) Fellowship.

“A chance to eat together and share conversation” bridges the gap between older and younger scholars, said SHC’s Fellowship Program Manager Kelda Jamison. It also allows graduate students “to see senior folks as colleagues and mentors” instead of a more hierarchical professor-student relationship, she said.

This year, the Stanford Humanities Center (SHC) announced the appointment of 37 fellows for the 2022–2023 academic year on June 1.

SHC offers numerous fellowships, with specific programs for faculty, graduate students and undergraduates. Alongside guidance on their dissertations from other fellows and affiliated faculty, awardees receive a stipend, which has ranged from $1,500 for undergraduates to over $35,000 for some doctorate students in the past, largely based on career stage and research needs. 20 of this year’s fellows are Stanford affiliates, ranging from graduate students to tenured faculty.

While many Stanford fellowships include similar benefits, what sets the SHC’s program apart is its community, fifth-year music Ph.D. student and incoming SHC Dissertation Prize Fellow Gabriel Ellis told The Daily. The community and free lunches cemented the fellowship as Ellis’s first choice.

Many academics describe humanities research as an isolating endeavor. According to Ellis, “I enjoy doing research, but a lot of the time, it’s a very solitary activity.” It “can feel kind of draining,” making talking to others and teaching his favorite parts of the process.

Paul G. Nauert, a seventh-year history Ph.D. student and a 2022-2023 Career Launch Fellowship recipient, agreed with Ellis. The solitary nature of his historical research, like taking notes while sifting through boxes of historical documents, is why the intellectual community is what Nauert is most looking forward to at the SHC.

Nauert also stressed the importance of a strong community in creating strong scholarship. “No work of scholarship is ever a completely individual endeavor,” Nauert said. “It always reflects community, social support, the friends and family and the feedback, guidance and mentorship of other scholars.”

Jamison said fostering an intellectual community is the primary purpose of SHC’s fellowships.

The center encourages fellows to reside on campus and attend weekly seminars, where fellows present their work for feedback and discussion, Jamison said. If space is available, they may receive an office at the center.

SHC seeks out intellectual diversity among scholars, with many varying fields of focus, to inspire meaningful conversations and creative approaches, Jamison said. She hopes research questions that are relevant across intellectual disciplines can create conversations between different academic disciplines, causing breakthroughs and sparks of inspiration.

Ellis expressed deep appreciation for the diversity of academic backgrounds.

“It’s easy, if you study music, to talk about research with another music scholar. But it’s much harder to do that with someone who studies medieval sculpture or Indian literature,” Ellis said. “I think if you’re trying to make a contribution beyond your disciplinary bubble, you have to learn to do that — it’s a really exciting challenge.” 

The SHC’s efforts strive to create a stimulating intellectual environment and “offer a place for people to dive deep into the work they want to do… to really focus on their own research projects,” Jamison said. 

During his fellowship, Nauert hopes to complete and refine his dissertation. Nauert combined his background in environmental history and U.S. foreign relations in his current research, which investigates post-war U.S foreign policy decisions, and their impact on the Great Acceleration and the current climate crisis. 

The dissertation highlights the role of human action on global environmental change and will focus on the shift from policies of resource redistribution to mass reindustrialization in West Germany and Japan, Nauert said.

Nauert hopes to eventually turn his dissertation into a book that is accessible to an audience beyond historical specialists, including policymakers, activists and scholars from other fields. The opportunity to interact with scholars from other fields at the SHC will allow him to become more experienced at communicating his research in a more digestible way.

Nauert also hopes to engage with digital humanities methods, like sentiment analysis, through the relationship between the SHC and the Center for Spatial and Textual Analysis (CESTA).

Like Nauert, Ellis intends to refine his dissertation, which examines the thematization of “not-feeling,” exemplified by Frank Ocean’s “Novacane,”  in contemporary popular music, including the causes, effects and aesthetics of this phenomenon.

While Ellis is grateful for the fellowship and its support, it does not resolve his concerns over prospects in the humanities.

“It’s hard to think about the future right now, just because things are so uncertain,” Ellis said. “The job market for professors right now is not very good.”

Ultimately, Ellis is “excited to be working in a group of people who work on such different things, and come from such different stages in their careers.” He also hopes to communicate his research to a broad audience and believes talking with other fellows who aren’t music specialists “will definitely help” and “be an exciting challenge.”

As for what artist a music doctorate student recommends — Drain Gang, a Swedish music collective that makes what Ellis terms “bizarre, futuristic, space-age hip hop” is Ellis’s current obsession.

Ellis, Nauert and the other fellows will be joined by around 10 Stanford recipients of the Hume Honors Fellowship for undergraduates, who will be announced in the fall.

Sophia Zhang is a high schooler writing as part of The Daily’s Summer Journalism Workshop

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