University professors awarded 2017 MacArthur genius grants

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Emma Richter/Daily

 

Wednesday, October 11, 2017 - 5:03pm

Two University of Michigan professors are included in this year's class of MacArthur Fellows, which in total comprises 24 artists, writers, researchers and community leaders. The MacArthur Fellowships, also known as "genius grants," are awarded to "talented individuals who have shown extraordinary originality and dedication in their creative pursuits and a marked capacity for self-direction," according to the MacArthur Foundation website.

The $625,000 grants come with no strings attached, and are given simply "as an investment" in the potential of their recipients. Potential recipients are nominated by a pool of experts in various fields, and then a committee of a dozen chooses awardees.

In a statement, University President Mark Schlissel said the two researchers did important work to illuminate commonly overlooked areas of scholarship.

"I am proud that two University of Michigan faculty members have been recognized for their outstanding work," Schlissel said. "Jason De León and Derek Peterson have given the world greater understanding of people and communities who are too often overlooked by the larger society."

Jason De León, an associate professor of anthropology, won the grant for his study of migration from Latin America to the United States. He is the director of the Undocumented Migration Project, a long-term study of unauthorized migration across the U.S.-Mexico border that uses various anthropological approaches including ethnography, archaeology and forensics.

De León acknowledged the award as the product of the work of many people. He was also featured on NPR's All Things Considered Wednesday afternoon. 

"I think this award is both an important recognition of the work itself and it makes a case that archeology can be a useful tool to study poorly understood social phenomena such as undocumented migration," De León said. "This award was given to me in name, but I have many collaborators who worked on this project and who made this award possible, including a lot of University of Michigan undergraduate and graduate students."

De León said he will use the funds to continue his current work and begin a new project to improve identification of bodies of migrants who have died crossing the border, as well as funding a museum exhibit to immerse participants in the clandestine migrant experience.

Derek Peterson, a professor of history and African and Afroamerican studies, won the grant for his research on the history and experience of colonialism and culture in Eastern Africa. Peterson said he plans to use the grant to continue his work of preserving endangered government archives in Uganda, as well as starting a new project to preserve radio and television archives of the government's broadcasting service.

"Winning the award is a great affirmation of my scholarly work," Peterson said. "Scholars of Africa usually labor in dignified obscurity. This award means that I have a chance to engage with new and wider audiences. I am hugely honored."