Three U.Va. Professors Awarded Guggenheim Fellowships

April 25, 2011 — Three University of Virginia professors from the College of Arts & Sciences – historian Alon Confino, environmental scientist Paolo D'Odorico and anthropologist Kath Weston – have been awarded Guggenheim fellowships to further their research.

The John Simon Guggenheim Memorial Foundation this month awarded 180 fellowships to a diverse group of scholars, artists and scientists in its 87th annual competition for the United States and Canada. Selected on the basis of prior achievement and exceptional promise, the successful candidates were chosen from a group of almost 3,000 applicants. 

"To have three Guggenheim Fellows from the College this year is a great honor," Meredith Jung-En Woo, Dean of the College of Arts & Sciences, said. "Their scholarship and range of expertise is outstanding, and the recognition for Alon, Kath and Paolo is well deserved."

Alon Confino, Professor of History

Confino is working on a manuscript, "A World Without Jews: Nazi Germany, Representations of the Past and the Holocaust." It will tell the story of ordinary Germans' historical imagination, emotions and desires that made the Nazi empire possible and the persecution and extermination of the Jews conceivable and indeed deemed necessary, he said. He is tracing how Germans radically re-imagined German, European and Christian history in order to give moral legitimacy to their empire, their actions and place in civilization.

"While there is a massive literature on German memories of the Holocaust after 1945, I am writing a book on German memories that made the Holocaust," Confino wrote in an email. "I propose a shift in perspective – from what happened during the Holocaust and what Germans did or did not know about it, and from an emphasis on Auschwitz, to how Germans came to conceive of the idea of a Germany without Jews: how they came, from 1933 onward, to imagine this world, internalize it, make it part of their own vision of the present and future, at times even when they were opposed to Nazi policies."

Confino is the author of "The Nation As a Local Metaphor: Württemberg, Imperial Germany, and National Memory, 1871-1918" and "Germany As a Culture of Remembrance: Promises and Limits of Writing History." His latest book, "Foundational Pasts: An Essay in Holocaust Interpretation," is slated to come out in September.

Paolo D'Odorico, Ernest H. Ern Professor of Environmental Sciences

D'Odorico will use his fellowship to shift research directions – to study the globalization of water resources and the effects on societal and environmental resilience. He will explore how humans might decide to deal with changes in the demand for, and availability of, water.

"I am interested in adding a societal dimension to my research in hydrology," he wrote in an email. "In a world with constantly rising demographic pressure, water availability is becoming increasingly crucial for food security and human welfare. While the societal demand for water is increasing, water availability to ecosystems and societies is also changing as an effect of global and regional climate change, and land-use dynamics."

"While it is recognized that in the short term this globalization of (virtual) water resources may prevent malnourishment, famine and conflicts, its long-term effects on the coupled human-natural system remain poorly investigated," he said.

He will work with experts in the water engineering department of the Polytechnic University of Turin, Italy, and at the École Polytechnique Fédérale de Lausanne, Switzerland.

Kath Weston, professor of anthropology and director of the Studies in Women and Gender program

Weston will work on a new research project and future book on "Rethinking the Magic of Capital: A Cultural Critique of Circulation and Generation in Finance."

A sociocultural anthropologist, Weston has written about a wide range of topics, from gender and families to her last book, "Traveling Light: On the Road with America's Poor," about talking to people on buses about what it means to live poor in the world's wealthiest country.

This project will be a cultural critique of the 2008 financial crisis and how economists and policymakers have used metaphors from 17th-century scientific discoveries about blood circulation and organic processes involved in growth to describe how to repair it, as if talking about an ailing patient. They have talked about credit being the "lifeblood" of the economy and debated whether central bankers should attempt to stem the "blood loss" or administer "cash transfusions."

Scientific discoveries and capitalism were developing at the same time during the 17th century, she pointed out, and people were trying to understand how markets worked. Money generating more money seemed magical. Critics of the recent financial crisis have talked about financial techniques intended to create more monetary value out of nothing.

Weston will be a visiting professor at Cambridge University next year and will pursue research in England. Starting in fall 2012, she will take a year's leave with the support of the Guggenheim Foundation and U.Va, she said. "That leave will allow me to pursue the research on this project full-time."

Since its establishment in 1925, the Guggenheim Foundation has granted nearly $290 million in fellowships to more than 17,000 individuals. "Time and again, the foundation's choice of fellows has proved prescient: thousands of celebrated alumni and scores of Nobel, Pulitzer and other prizewinners grace its rolls," the announcement of new fellows reads.

In a time of decreased funding for individuals in the arts, humanities and sciences, the Guggenheim Fellowship program is all the more important, foundation president Edward Hirsch said.

— By Anne Bromley

Media Contact

Anne E. Bromley

University News Associate Office of University Communications