Interdisciplinary Team at UMass Amherst Awarded $175,000 Grant to Broaden Approach to World History

AMHERST, Mass. – A team of University of Massachusetts Amherst scholars in English, economics, comparative literature and history has won a $175,000 grant to support their interdisciplinary approach to understanding and teaching history with a focus on the long interrelation of culture, politics and economics.

The John E. Sawyer Seminar Grant for the comparative study of cultures, awarded by the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation, will support the team’s project, “Beyond Medieval and Modern: Rethinking Global Paradigms of Political Economy and Culture.”

The team is led by professors Laura Doyle, English, and Mwangi wa Githinji, economics. It includes Joselyn Almeida Beveridge, English; Annette Damayanti Lienau, comparative literature, and Johan Mathew, economics and history.

The award will fund a postdoctoral graduate fellow, award two dissertation-writing fellowships and support a series of seminars. Also, in the 2015-16 academic year, the team will host leading scholars from the U.S. and abroad who bring long-historical, global and post-colonial orientation to their research. 

“The lack of a longer sense of history in many of our disciplines leads to a false picture of how we got to be the modern world,” Doyle said. The team believes a wider and longer-term approach to history can provide a more accurate view.

Before the great accomplishments of European society, there were scientific academies, public forums, engineering achievements and great libraries elsewhere, Doyle said, but that history has been neglected.

“Each state or empire has tended to tell its narrative, and that has often left out the stories of other empires,” Doyle said.

“Historians and anthropologists in the past 20 years have built up very different pictures of these earlier societies,” she said. “That material is what our group wants to get to the population.”

The project has two goals, Doyle said: to foster a broadened picture of world history that leads people to ask new questions about how we got where we are; and to encourage scholars and teachers to read outside their disciplines, especially to read history.

A focused dialogue can foster cutting-edge interdisciplinary research in global and postcolonial studies with a strong historical focus, Doyle said.

“We’re really interested in the difference this makes to teaching teachers and their students. Our sense is that all this scholarship is really a version of public access to information,” Doyle said. “We’re very keen about creating conversations that carry into the classroom.”

The Mellon Foundation's Sawyer Seminars program was established in 1994 to provide support for comparative research on the historical and cultural sources of contemporary developments.