Academics and Research / Magazine Feature

History professor awarded Guggenheim fellowship

Susan Schulten, associate professor of history at DU, has received a fellowship from the Guggenheim Memorial Foundation. Edward Hirsch, president of the foundation, announced the grants to Schulten and 179 other artists, scientists and scholars April 15 as part of the foundation’s 86th annual competition. The fellowships, according to the Guggenheim Web site, “are intended for men and women who have already demonstrated exceptional capacity for productive scholarship or exceptional creative ability in the arts.”

The award will fund Schulten’s current book project, A Nation in Time and Space. The book, which is under contract with University of Chicago Press, will examine the rise of new forms of mapping and graphic knowledge in 19th and 20th century American life.

Schulten says that while historians routinely characterize the 19th century as an era of expanding knowledge about the world, her research concerns the cartographic form this knowledge took. As a historian, she is drawn to the rise of thematic maps — or maps of information — such as the first maps of slavery in 1861 and the first atlas of the census in 1874. In many ways, she argues, this use of maps to ask and answer questions about the world anticipated the more recent revolutions in cartography, such as geographic information systems.

“I investigate how these and new maps — and other types of graphic information — both reflected and created new ways of thinking, acting and governing in American life,” says Schulten, who applied for the Guggenheim fellowship in September. “My main point is that the proliferation of these new maps was closely linked to the growth of the nation in both abstract and concrete ways.”

Ingrid Tague, chair of the history department, describes Schulten as a model scholar and teacher, one the department is lucky to have.

“Her research achievements and scholarly reputation rival those of scholars with much longer careers, and it’s particularly impressive that she has accomplished so much while also excelling as a teacher,” Tague says. “Students and colleagues all share enormous admiration for her because she obviously loves this career and cares deeply about her students.”

Schulten has written about half of the book and will use the fellowship to finish it while on sabbatical from fall 2010 to fall 2011. She will spend the bulk of her time in Denver writing the book, but the short-term fellowship will allow her to spend June researching at the Huntington Library in Pasadena, Calif. She also will make short trips to study archives in Chicago, Washington, D.C., and Milwaukee.

Guggenheim Fellows are appointed on the basis of achievement and exceptional promise.  The successful candidates were chosen from a group of around 3,000 applicants.

“This is a huge honor for the department and the university,” Tague says. “If you look at the list of awardees, the vast majority of faculty winners are from much bigger departments at large, research-intensive universities. It’s an incredible achievement for someone from a small department like ours, with a strong emphasis on undergraduate teaching, to win such a prestigious fellowship.”

In addition to the book, Schulten plans to deliver a companion Web site where visitors can see high-resolution versions of the maps.

“Maps are unusually rich artifacts for exploring history,” she says. “I’m grateful for the award and thrilled that my interest in the history of cartography is shared by others.”

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