The British Academy / Wolfson Fellowships Awards 2023

Funded by

We will be commissioning an external evaluation of this scheme to inform our thinking about future funding in this area. While this work is being undertaken, we will not be accepting any new applications for these fellowships.

Professor Philip Ernst

Sustainability of Agrarian Societies in the Lake Chad Basin

Imperial College London

Lake Chad, a great body of fresh water in semi-arid North Central Africa, is critically important for millions of people in this impoverished region. The lake’s levels have varied dramatically over many decades. The region’s farmers, fishermen, and pastoralists have adapted to these extreme changes, including devastating droughts in the 1970s and 1980s. Many governments and international authorities believe that Lake Chad is drying out due to climate change, though this is not supported by published data or studies. We propose to study how Lake Chad’s agrarian societies in Nigeria have operated over the long term, the value of ecosystem services they draw, and whether their path is sustainable to 2100 under realistic population increase climate scenarios. Working with African colleagues and local stakeholders, including village chiefs and elders, we will curate a comprehensive climate and agriculture dataset, and analyse it using probability models and Bayesian statistics.

Dr Martha Gayoye

Courts and judges as agents of social change

Keele University

Courts (and judges) can act as catalysts of social change and law reform. I utilise a socio-legal theoretical lens that underpins the role that law (including judge-made law) plays to bring about social change. Through a participatory action research methodology, I co-design and plan a new research project association with women judges' associations across Africa the impact of their work towards gendered social change. By conducting, publishing and disseminating new research on the important role of judicial leadership towards socio-economic justice for the dispossessed majority in Africa, and adjudication of African customary law towards gendered social change (using Kenya as a case study), I make the case that judicial leadership and the work of women judges are key towards long-term, court-mandated social change in Africa. Global trends of popularist politics against courts, long-fought gender justice and minorities’ rights makes judicial leadership and women judges crucial to safeguard against popularist backlash.

Dr Chloe Ireton

Freedom In Black Thought in the Early Modern Atlantic (1450-1750)

University College London

The project traces how enslaved and free Black Africans in the early modern era reckoned with the violent Atlantic world that they were forced to inhabit, and how they shaped the intellectual life of colonial societies by exploring how free and enslaved Black Africans conceptualized freedom in the Spanish Atlantic. The project makes an important intervention into the academic and public debates on race, slavery, freedom, and empire by centering on Black thought and develops innovative historical research methods to trace Black people's lives and ideas through fragmentary pieces of archival evidence in and across diverse places and institutions of colonial governance in the Spanish empire. The project will result in the publication of a major academic monograph, a trade book aimed at a broad public audience, and an open-access online primary sourcebook aimed at cultural heritage and secondary education sectors in Spanish- and English-speaking regions.

Dr James Poskett

The Scientific Revolution as Global History, 1200–1800

University of Warwick

My project will provide a major reassessment of the concept of the “scientific revolution”. The scientific revolution was not a period of radical unidirectional change, nor was it unique to Europe. Rather, early modern science was made through a process of creative re-engagement with the global past. In this project, I examine the connection between old and new knowledge in five early modern empires: the Ming, the Mughals, the Ottomans, the Mexica, and the Holy Roman Empire. Drawing on recent work in the anthropology of history and global historiography, I show how a remarkably similar process shaped the development of science in each society. Knowledge drawn from other cultures and languages, ranging from Persian to Sanskrit, was understood as a way to integrate old traditions with new experiences. More broadly, this project will provide a new basis for presenting science and its global past to public audiences around the world.

Dr Kavita Ramakrishnan

Heat Imaginaries: Making Sense of Extreme Climate Conditions in Urban India

University of East Anglia

Between March and May 2022, parts of Northern India reached record-breaking temperatures of 49 degrees Celsius, leading to thousands of deaths. Government heat plans utilised meteorological data for service closure alerts and offered coping recommendations to workers. For policy-makers, these plans represent key urban adaptive strategies for a rapidly changing global climate. However, for people most at risk of thermal stress – like daily labourers – a singular interpretation of how heat is experienced obscures thermal inequalities. To fully understand the relationship between heat, livelihoods, and urban development, attention to multiple knowledges is required: how heat is standardised through meteorological measurement, captured in official heat readiness plans, and felt in embodied experiences. Through interviews with Indian meteorologists, climate scientists, government officials, planners, and daily labourers; and engagement with archival records on colonial heat management, this proposal will produce a novel, book-length examination of social and data lives of urban heat.

Dr Alexandra Reza

Sarah Maldoror: the radical lens of anticolonial film

University of Bristol

This Fellowship will support research on the French filmmaker of Caribbean heritage, Sarah Maldoror (1929-2020), and the cultural and political worlds in which her work intervened. Maldoror’s groundbreaking films about African decolonization, gender and immigration in Europe continue to speak to the urgent dilemmas of postcolonial society today. Maldoror is a major figure in histories of militant filmmaking in French and Portuguese, but this Fellowship will enable the first sustained critical engagement with Maldoror’s work and legacy in English. Through archival research, film analysis, intellectual history and a series of participatory research events and public engagement activities in the UK, France, and West Africa, this project will chart thematic and comparative lines through Maldoror’s oeuvre. It will use her work to understand changing articulations of culture and politics in the 1970s and 1980s as anticolonialism moved beyond national independence projects and turned towards immigration and racism in Europe.

Dr Olivia Sheringham

Home-city spaces of care: networks of solidarity and belonging for refugees and asylum seekers in London

Birkbeck, University of London

A decade into the hostile environment and with a deepening cost-of-living crisis, refugees and people seeking asylum are still facing inhumane asylum procedures, open-ended periods of illegality, threats of deportation, the loss of residency rights and protracted periods of living in limbo. Yet within these contexts, they are building ‘homes’ and networks of care that are vital for their own lives and the societies in which they live. This collaborative and multidisciplinary project will produce innovative conceptual and methodological tools to understand and document forced migrants’ ‘home-city spaces of care’– including charities, places of worship, friendships and urban green spaces – and the barriers they encounter when accessing and creating them. Working with refugee and asylum-seeker participants and two arts-based refugee charities, it will produce urgently-needed knowledge and resources for researchers, civic-organisations, and policymakers to challenge and mitigate the effects of the repressive migration system and foster solidarity and belonging.

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