The British Academy / Wolfson Fellowships 2021 Awards

Funded by

Lloyd de Beer

The Age of Copper, Ivory and Gold: England and West Africa in the Middle Ages 

The British Museum

This project will reframe public understanding of the historical connections between England and West Africa during the Middle Ages by researching the two-way trade of materials and objects across the Sahara Desert, in particular the movement of copper, ivory and gold. The relationship between the two geographic zones has been narrated in terms of the subsequent history of transatlantic slavery but this project will investigate surviving material evidence of much earlier interconnections. Its central case study is a group of three medieval copper-alloy jugs produced in England and taken to West Africa in the 15th or 16th century. The main outputs will be a travelling exhibition, opening at the British Museum before moving to Leeds City Museum, where one of the jugs is held, and an accompanying publication. Based at the British Museum, this project contributes to current debates about the status of objects from Africa in public museums.

Dr Daniel Edmiston

Determinants, Dynamics and Policy Implications of Deep Poverty

University of Leeds

Mainstream poverty analysis tends to rest on a binary distinction between ‘the poor’ and the ‘non-poor’ on the basis of an anchored threshold. Inevitably, this reveals little about the changing income dynamics, socio-demographics or concentrations of poverty. These limitations are all the more acute within the context of COVID-19 and an increasing depth of poverty in the UK. Drawing on a mixed methods design, this fellowship will offer novel quantitative and qualitative longitudinal insights into the changing nature and significance of deep poverty in the UK. Partnering with the Joseph Rowntree Foundation and Leeds Poverty Truth Commission, a creative programme of engagement activities will stimulate critical academic debate alongside public scholarship and pedagogy to improve public understandings of deep poverty, and policy responses to it.

Dr Ewan Gibbs

Decarbonising the Economy and Society: Policy, Labour and Community in Energy Transitions

University of Glasgow 

This project investigates energy generators’ transition out of coal through investments in refineries, power stations and wind farms which produced a more diverse and less polluting energy mix. Big changes in energy generation have reshaped society and both protected and threatened the environment in recent decades. The transition towards a greener and fairer economy is the key contemporary global challenge. Britain is at the cutting edge of international energy trends – during 2020 it went months without coal-fired electricity for the first time since the 19th century. Archival research and oral history interviews will reveal how energy shifts have been experienced in workplaces and communities that have undergone major changes with both positive and negative consequences. Understanding the earlier experience of coal’s displacement by oil and nuclear fuels during the second half of the 20th century can help forge a pathway to a decarbonised society in the 2020s and 2030s.

Dr Jake Hodder

Internationalising race: The League of Nations and the struggle for racial equality in the United States, 1919-1939 

University of Nottingham

This fellowship investigates the impact of the League of Nations on the early African American civil rights movement in the United States. It examines how black activists capitalised on the new institutions and norms of global governance created after the First World War in their campaign for domestic racial equality. Although the US never joined the League, its national and racial politics were profoundly shaped by the League’s internationalist ideals in ways that remain largely overlooked. Through new research in London, New York, and Geneva, this fellowship will re-evaluate the League at its centenary and offer the first book-length account of the organisation’s influence on US race relations. It will support a bold public engagement programme which includes primary schools, an exhibition, and a BBC radio show, to offer fresh perspectives on one of the most important political issues of our times: the global struggle for racial justice.

Dr Juli Huang

The New Data Economies of Social Enterprise

University of Edinburgh

What is data’s value? Firms such as Google and Facebook accumulate vast wealth by treating data as an asset that produces market intelligence and generates financial value. By contrast, social enterprises – third-sector organisations that engage in trading activities to generate societal benefits – consider how data might be mobilised to produce forms of value other than shareholder profit. As data increasingly becomes monetised and circulated within new data economies, what kinds of value are extracted from data and for whom, and with what socio-political and economic effects? Through research in Bangladesh and Scotland, this project will generate important new ethnographic evidence and interactive digital products exploring how data is used by social enterprises to pursue social objectives and challenge large institutions’ hold on defining and exploiting data’s value. It will produce interlinked academic-, public-, practitioner-, and policy-oriented outputs that enable stakeholders to imagine and contribute to data economies that challenge inequalities.

Dr Sneha Krishnan

Errant Girls: Intimate Internationalisms in 20th-Century South Asia

University of Oxford

In the early and mid-20th century, internationalist imaginations undergirded a range of political projects. While there is prolific academic and popular writing on major organisations, social movements, and key thinkers, the lived experience of this political moment is less well documented. This work examines the letters that South Asian girls – fifteen to twenty-five years of age – wrote to friends elsewhere in the world between 1900 and 1970. Developed through humanitarian internationalist networks, these friendships were often transformative: reshaping subjectivity beyond ‘national womanhood’. A multidisciplinary method that combines research in family archives, with oral history and filmmaking will be developed. The use of visual methods in historical research draws attention to the material geographies of intimacy that shaped internationalism as lived experience. Findings will be disseminated through academic publications, a school's outreach programme, and a documentary film. Overall, the project reorients debate on internationalism to focus on everyday life.

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