McNeil Center Fellowships: Research Opportunity for Doctoral Researchers in Early Americas

The McNeil Center for Early American Studies is offering at least eight research fellowships for dissertation-stage graduate students who would benefit from one semester or nine months in residence in Philadelphia and access to library, archival, or museum collections in the area.

While the McNeil Center supports work in multiple disciplines and historical fields, legal historians and historians of law and society have been well represented in recent fellowship cohorts. The Docket asked a few of them to share their experiences as McNeil fellows (their generosity in writing at the end of the semester and beginning of the holiday should tell a great deal about their enthusiasm for the MCEAS).

No historian needs to be reminded about the scarcity and value of time. Nora Slonimsky, an Assistant Professor of History at Iona College who held a fellowship in 2018-19, writes that having “fairly unlimited time to write was crucial” to successfully completing her dissertation while on fellowship. Aaron Hall, currently Presidential Postdoctoral Fellow at Cornell University and future faculty in history at the University of Minnesota, recalls that he was “able to slow down and concentrate fully on finishing an article and the clarifying arc of my dissertation.” (Hall’s work, based on this dissertation, appears in LHR’s originalism symposium and on The Docket.)

While time is important to any dissertator, the McNeil Center also offers proximity and access to significant museum, archival, and electronic research resources. As Hall notes,

For those who study early America and are far removed from the east coast, the spatial-historical-institutional dimensions of the McNeil Center and its friends can be stirring. A not insignificant archival facet of this point is that the Historical Society of Pennsylvania, Library Company and American Philosophical Society are right there, almost demanding attention.

Aaron Hall, Presidential Postdoctoral Fellow, Cornell University

Slonimsky also points out that McNeil fellows in legal history enjoy proximity to Penn Law and to the electronic resources of Penn’s libraries.

The McNeil Center also purposefully supports intellectual community among its doctoral, postdoctoral and faculty fellows. Kelsey Salvesen, a past fellow and current coordinator of the brown bag program for MCEAS, describes the “vast” scope of early Americas research, and notes that the current brown bag schedule includes “presentations from people working on Florida missions, early American theater, material culture, music and slavery, and seventeenth-century Iroquoia.” Yet, while the research interests of fellows are diverse, MCEAS fosters an intensive climate of supportive critique:

I tell people frequently that presenting my own work at a brown bag a couple of years ago yielded more valuable feedback than most conferences I’ve attended–it is hard to beat over an hour of focused feedback from fellow scholars who took the time to read your work closely, care about the questions you are asking, and are interested in how they can help you to productively move forward with your project.

Kelsey Salvesen, Phd Candidate in History, University of Pennsylvania, MCEAS Brown Bag Coordinator and past Fellow

Nora Slonimsky recalls of regular seminars and brown bag research talks, “you learn a lot, including how to move beyond your comfort zone, and that’s wildly important.” Current fellow Sarah Templier, PhD Candidate in History at Johns Hopkins University notes that the McNeil community “offers great support for fellows on the job market, organizing mock interviews and job talks [and] offering to read materials.” Sherri Cummings, PhD Candidate in History at Brown University, and another 2019-2020 fellow, writes that fellows “genuinely celebrate each other’s achievements, encourage each effort and offer comfort to cushion academia’s blows.”

Indeed, because MCEAS prioritizes maintaining an intellectual community, applicants should demonstrate that they are interested in actively engaging with others’ work, particularly outside their specialty. Slonimsky advises potential applicants who haven’t worked at McNeil before that “reaching out to the director or others involved in programming to learn more about a specific fellowship” can go a long way to “help people involved get to know a little about you and your work.” And, although the process of outreach can be daunting, Slonimsky reminds legal history grad students that

because Penn does have such a terrific law school and there are phenomenal legal historians involved with McNeil, ABD folks studying legal history can be sure that their work is a great fit!

Nora Slonimsky, Assistant Professor, Iona College

The deadline for applications for the 2020 fellowship cycle is February 3.