Campus & Community

FAS professors honored as Cabot Fellows

6 min read

Six professors in the Faculty of Arts and Sciences (FAS) have been honored for their achievements in history, literature, or art, as broadly defined by the Cabot Fund. This year’s Walter Channing Cabot Fellows are David Blackbourn, Coolidge Professor of History; Giuliana Bruno, professor of visual and environmental studies; Daniel Donoghue, John P. Marquand Professor of English; Michael Herzfeld, professor of anthropology; Jay Jasanoff, Diebold Professor of Indo-European Linguistics and Philology; and Mary Waters, Harvard College Professor and professor of sociology.

“It gives me great pleasure to recognize the exceptional quality of these scholars’ work,” said William C. Kirby, dean of the FAS and Geisinger Professor of History. “These professors enrich the republic of letters through their delvings into history, literature, language, society, and art. I’m gratified we can count such gifted colleagues in our midst.”

David Blackbourn specializes in modern European history, with a focus on 19th and 20th century Germany. “I feel truly honored by the Cabot Fellowship, news of which came as a wonderful surprise,” Blackbourn said. He is currently completing “The Conquest of Nature: Water and the Making of the Modern German Landscape,” which spans three centuries in German history.

“The book explores a series of major transformations in the German landscape: draining marshes and moors, straightening rivers, building dams, and harnessing hydroelectric power. Why were these things done (all were contested at the time), who were the winners and losers, what were the environmental effects?” Blackbourn said.

“I have a consuming interest in trying to join together ‘material’ (including environmental), social, political, and cultural history – and to make the thing readable as well.”

Giuliana Bruno is a cultural theorist who works at the intersection of film, architecture, and the visual arts. She is currently working on a book about Harvard philosopher Hugo Munsterberg, whose research on perception led him to early studies of film as a projection of our cognitive processes. “I’m interested in exploring the way in which the space of our imagination, our memory, and affect is constructed, and the ways in which film projects the way our mind works,” Bruno said.

Bruno’s most recent book, “Atlas of Emotion: Journeys in Art, Architecture and Film,” spanned “five disciplines and seven centuries,” as she put it, to explore the ways that exterior landscapes in paintings, architecture, and film correspond to our interior mental space.

“I’m really happy about this fellowship, because it will allow me to continue my interdisciplinary research and connect philosophy, experimental science, and film,” Bruno said.

Harvard, she says, “has really been a great intellectual playground, which I have enjoyed tremendously.”

Daniel Donoghue’s forays into Old English literature, Middle English, and the history of the English language resonate with trends in popular culture. “The recent blockbuster success of Harry Potter and Tolkien’s Ring Trilogy is proof enough that medievalism is alive and well, and it puts specialists like me in an intellectually stimulating middle-earth between popular culture and our academic subjects,” Donoghue said.

His recent book, “Lady Godiva: A Literary History of the Legend,” traces the transformation of the Godiva story over successive generations. His newest work, “Old English Literature: A Short Introduction,” illuminates the enduring appeal of the earliest literature.

“I was delighted, and utterly surprised, at being chosen as a Cabot Fellow,” Donoghue said. “To be singled out is a special honor indeed, because behind just about any office door on campus is a worthy candidate.”

Michael Herzfeld’s anthropological research on Greece has focused on reciprocal animal-theft and political patronage; historic conservation (and the ways that bureaucracies and ordinary citizens respectively “read” history); and artisanal apprenticeship, in which notions of the “traditional” are learned in a society whose elite selectively regards tradition as exclusive with the “modern.” His related studies in Italy and, more recently, Thailand, have heightened his awareness of human rights associated with these issues.

“Ultimately I want to use my research in all three countries to understand what the concept of ‘the West’ means for ordinary people caught up in the politics of ‘Western culture’ in widely divergent situations and places,” Herzfeld said. “I was delighted to get the fellowship; anthropology’s importance as a source of critical commentary on cultural politics all too easily gets overlooked.”

Jay Jasanoff, who chairs the Linguistics Department, specializes in historical-comparative linguistics of the Indo-European language family. Nearly all European languages, and many Asian languages, belong to the Indo-European family and descend from the hypothetical parent language “Proto-Indo-European,” or PIE. Linguists attempt to reconstruct PIE by noting resemblances in its earliest descendant languages; that knowledge of PIE enables them to write the history of individual words and forms.

Jasanoff explains, “We can use the different words for ‘ten’ in Sanskrit, Greek, and other languages to reconstruct *dekm as the PIE form. Once we have gotten to this point, we can study the ‘sound laws’ and other changes that caused *dekm to become dasa in Sanskrit, deka in Greek, and eventually taihun in Gothic and ten in English.”

Jasanoff’s current research, as seen in his recent book “Hittite and the Indo-European Verb,” attempts to “revise our picture of PIE in light of our expanding knowledge of Hittite and the other early Indo-European languages of Asia Minor.”

“I’m extremely pleased that the kind of work I do is being honored in this way,” Jasanoff said. “Many people are unaware of how well developed a field historical linguistics is, and how it relates to other historical studies.”

Mary Waters, who chairs the Sociology Department, specializes in ethnicity, race relations, and the ways in which immigration is reshaping America.

“At a place like Harvard, where everyone really is, to say the least, above average, it is a special honor to win a fellowship like this that recognizes my scholarship,” Waters said.

For the past decade, Waters has studied young adults whose parents immigrated to the United States from Asia, South America, Russia, the West Indies, and other regions; she has compared their experiences with the lives of native-born whites, blacks, and Puerto Ricans. She is also working on a project to understand American young adulthood more generally.

“I am interested in how the transition from adolescence to young adulthood has been changing in our society, occurring later and in a less predictable sequence, and how institutions such as community colleges, universities, workplaces, and the military are adapting to these changes, as well as how young people themselves think about becoming adults.”

The Cabot Fund was created in 1905 by Elizabeth Rogers Cabot and her children, in memory of Walter Channing Cabot.