Newton International Fellowship Awards 2020

Funded by

Dr Denisse Roman – Mexican

Gray zones in agribusiness regulation and their harmful consequences: environmental damage, precarious labour and the spread of violence.

NIF23\100188 University of Aberdeen £100,500.00

Michoacán is internationally known for being one of the most violent Mexican states, where the “war on drugs” was launched in 2006, and in 2013 an autodefensa (self-defense) movement fought the cartel that had effectively captured the state government. Michoacán is less known for being one of Mexico's largest exporters, including the largest volume of Hass avocado in the world, but also comparable volumes of strawberries, blackberries, limes and other fruits. This was made possible with the advent of the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) in 1994. Whilst this has brought economic growth to the state, the NAFTA also reconfigured regional politics. This project intends to understand how the drug-related violence that grabs international headlines relates to broader political and economic processes. It will focus on the expansion of agribusiness, a prosperous industry that has seen its most significant growth within the last ten years, coinciding with the spread of violence in Michoacán. Agribusiness has been stimulated by free trade agreements but shaped by multiple perversities in regulation, such as those regarding land-use change from forestry to agricultural purposes. This project will inquire into how illicit associations have made for the “selective implementation” (Dewey 2015) or regulatory frameworks in agribusiness whilst causing three types of “social harm” (Auyero 2012). This project will focus on: environmental damage such as deforestation and the depletion of water reserves; the exploitation of agricultural day laborers from neighbouring states; and the proliferation of armed groups across the state, since not only does the cartel profit from extorting agribusiness -at times more than from drug-trafficking- but some autodefensa groups were also financed by agribusiness sources. This project will analyse the case of Michoacán as one of Mexico’s most prosperous agribusiness states by combining an extensive dataset of interviews and field-notes from a RCUK-Newton team project (2017-2019), with further interviews, socio-legal analysis of business regulation in the state, and statistical analysis of government databases.

Dr Sacha Beniamine – French

Solving the word puzzle: morphological analysis beyond stem and affixes.

NIF23\100218 University of Surrey £99,000.00

In the few milliseconds necessary for speakers to say a word and for listeners to understand it, they both make several elaborate deductions. The internal structure of words can be a crucial source of information for these deductions, particularly when words have multiple grammatical forms, a process known as inflection. Across languages, the nature and number of contrasts expressed through inflection can vary greatly. While a language such as English has only a handful of grammatical distinctions, some languages can have up to thousands. Moreover, these distinctions can be manifested by diverse intricate sound contrasts. For example, the verbal system of English would be simple if all verbs conformed to the pattern of jump~jumped, which can be neatly segmented into a stem (jump) and affixes (-ed). But across languages, many words behave more like the pair think~thought which resist segmentation. In many languages, layers of regularity and idiosyncrasy further complicate the matter. Understanding the puzzling complexity of inflection is essential to explain the structure and evolution of the world's languages. Yet, linguistics still lacks a consistent, predictable methodology to study inflection.

To assess inflectional complexity across languages, I will investigate word structures across typologically diverse languages, using quantitative, computational tools.

Current studies in this area have two main – but related – shortcomings. First, they often start from pre-analysed paradigms, where forms have been segmented by hand into stems (removed from the data) and affixes. These affixal tables are not commensurate across languages. Second, studies focus on assessing how difficult it is for speakers to predict forms for a given meaning, and ignore the parallel problem of deducing the grammatical meaning of a given form. This question is key to automating word structure analysis.

I will remedy both of these shortcomings by providing primary data, developing language-agnostic computational tools to perform the analysis step automatically, and studying the organisational properties of both form and meaning recurrences in inflectional paradigms. To obtain primary data, I will gather, digitise, and standardise inflectional lexicons, coordinating with the international morphology community to spread the use of common standards and ensure interoperability. The collected lexicons will be gathered into a common open access database, which will adhere to the FAIR principles. I will create tools to solve the long standing Segmentation Problem by focusing on characterising gradient information in words. On this basis, I will build a quantitative typology of inflected word structure across languages.

Dr Paola Vargas Arana – Colombian

Africans in Antioquia and Chocó golden mines (1674-1792).

NIF23\100312 King's College London £100,500.00

Framed in the Atlantic history and linked to the field of microhistory, this project will assess biographical data of the African individuals introduced to exploit gold in northern New Granada between 1674 and 1792, with the objective of reconstructing their individual life histories and, based on them, producing a renewed interpretation of the African Diaspora demographic trends in New Granada. Although the intention was that these Africans should be submissively dedicated to the extraction of gold, a first approach to primary sources from 16th to 17th centuries completed for my doctoral research allowed me to suggest that Africans played an influential role in the shaping of the colony, as they actively combated the dehumanization of slavery, pioneered technical contributions in the mines, and configured new identities based on the sociocultural memories brought from their West and Central African origins. For the Newton International Fellowship, the proposal is to unfold this postulate by extending the period of analysis to the 18th century and examining already identified sources that contain biographical information of these Africans which, up to the present, has been impeded by financial constraint. The documentation collected during the two years’ Fellowship will permit an understanding of the African origins of the enslaved population, proportions of men, women and children; and the differential treatment received according to gender. This data will be interpreted in two congruent directions, one to construct a review of the demographic origins of the African Diaspora in northern New Granada. Secondly, the same data will serve to build micro-level African biographies, that I will disclose at the Digital Humanities dataset “Freedom Narratives” (, which recovers West Africans biographies during the transatlantic slavery, whose general director is Distinguished Research Professor Paul Lovejoy, and is part of “Enslaved: People of the Historic Slave Trade” hub ( For children, the data will be disclosed at “Historical African Childhoods” dataset directed by Dr Érika Melek Delgado, Leverhulme Early Career Fellow at SPLAS department of King’s College. Consequently, I will guarantee access of the data produced during the Post-Doctoral Fellowship to the general public. Recovering the Africans’ biographies and interpreting the trends of their origins will be a step to re-humanize the victims of the transatlantic slave trade and, in this way, the project will partake in the educational reparations of the “crime against humanity” that, according to the UN 2001 Durban declaration, was constituted by the phenomenon of transatlantic slavery.

Dr Dolores Señorans – Argentinian-Spanish

Rethinking Urban Citizenship in Latin America: Precarious Labour and Dispossession amongst garment workers in Buenos Aires, Argentina.

NIF23\100387 University of Cambridge £100,500.00

This project addresses precarious workers’ union organisation in Argentina, examining how urban dispossession and labour exploitation are experienced and contested by unwaged workers in the garment manufacturing industry. In Argentina, garment production is predominantly outsourced to small family sweatshops run by migrant workers -from Bolivia, Paraguay and Peru- and located in shantytowns in the City of Buenos Aires or in settlements created after land occupations in its periphery. Building on over 24 months of ethnographic fieldwork with unwaged garment sector workers that belong to the Confederation of Workers of the Popular Economy -a union representing informal sector workers-, I want to analyse how these workers produce urban land, work and collective organisations in the periphery of Buenos Aires. By doing so, I seek to bring together two major debates in contemporary social sciences that have so far run separately: the conceptualisations of precarity and urban citizenship in Latin America. While some scholars have focused on social movements that claim for citizenship and urban justice, others have examined labour movements and precarity in relation to work conditions. Instead, this research will relate the economy and politics of work to the economy and politics of urban land. Moving beyond the often assumed distinction between labour struggles and struggles for place, I am interested in assessing the intersections between popular urbanisation, outsourced commodity production and collective labour politics in the city. On the one hand, I want to understand how the self-construction of these popular neighbourhoods is tied to precarious work and ways of making a living which also include debt, income pooling and payments from cash transfer programs in the context of informal land market speculation. On the other hand, I will analyse how these experiences of dwelling and making a living in the city became the basis for collective union organisation. To answer these questions, I will draw on the results and data collected during previous ethnographic studies, and I propose two further research trips to Buenos Aires which will allow me to produce additional ethnographic material through participant observation in workplaces, trade union and neighbourhood based activities; and in-depth interviews to workers, activists and state agents. This data will be combined with the analysis of official documents –maps, surveys- to examine the expansion of the sweatshop regime and the growth of informal settlements in the periphery of Buenos Aires.

Dr Yi Lu – Chinese

The Dustbin of History: Archival Politics in Modern China.

NIF23\100424 University of Oxford £96,000.00

How does one rescue history, literally, from the dustbin? For nearly a century, scholars of China have used de-accessioned government records, often peddled at flea markets outside the law, to peel away the country’s opacity. These documents have spawned private collections and academic careers, but little understood is their provenance and circulation, let alone their enduring impact on Chinese history and historiography. My project, “The Dustbin of History”, is the first study of bureaucratic information management in modern China. Using a mix of archival, ethnographic, and digital methods, it examines the dynamic relationship among writing, authority, and memory in modern China. I ask: For all its bureaucratic tradition and documentary heritage, how could China also be such a lax custodian of state secrets and historical records? From sold-off papers of the Qing Empire to remnants of the Mao era, I examine what was discarded and dispersed from the archives to rethink bureaucratic governance as a material practice. I show that the Chinese state was not only saturated with leaks, but also dependent on them for political communication. Meanwhile, tracing paper ephemera to a transnational cast of collectors and scholars, I explore how former instruments of state repression, now commodified as collectibles, shape the practice and ethics of history. As objects of witness and forgetting, resistance and repression, archives make insistent, painful, and ultimately fragmentary claims on Chinese history and our understanding of it.

Dr Emeka Thaddues Njoku – Nigerian

De-Risking Policy: Terrorism Financing and the Securitization of Muslim Charities in the United Kingdom and Nigeria.

NIF23\100457 University of Birmingham £100,500.00

The de-risking policy, which is a key part of counter-terrorism financing measures, has hampered the operational capacities of charities across a spectrum of states. Nevertheless, few works have interrogated how Muslim charities make sense of and respond to the de-risking policy and the ways their responses are shaping state-Muslim community relations. Thus, this study examines the responses of Muslim charities to the de-risking policy in the United Kingdom and Nigeria. In doing so, it will underscore how the experiences of Muslim charities to the policy is changing the relations between the state and communities in both countries. Therefore, this study adopts a comparative case study of the United Kingdom and Nigeria to examine the similarities and differences of the experiences and responses of Muslim to de-risking policy. There has been an increase in studies on the effects of counter-terrorism measures on the operations of charities in various political contexts. Also, arguments have centred on how Muslim charities have faced more constraints in the implementation of counter-terrorism measures, as state actors often deploy discriminatory practices that are rooted in the narrative that equates terrorism with Islam. Through a purposive sampling technique, Muslim charity executives, bank managers, Charity commission, National Counter-Terrorism Security Office, Nigerian Financial Intelligence Unit, the Office of the National Security Adviser, will be selected for interview. The interviews will be triangulated with official documents analysis. The study makes a significant contribution to the literature on how the enforcement of counter-terrorism is closing civic spaces. It would inform the rethinking of a de-risking policy that is inclusive.

Dr Shaena Weitz – American

Rescinding Genius.

NIF23\100510 University of Bristol £100,500.00

Rescinding Genius investigates through the lens of publicity how fame and designations of musical genius were lost in the nineteenth century. By targeting the birth and growth of negative ideas for composers widely considered geniuses in the early nineteenth century, it will provide a new assessment of the role of marketing and publicity in the construction — and deconstruction — of nineteenth-century musicians’ careers. The project centers on five composers who were all considered geniuses before their reputations rapidly (and except in one case, permanently) declined: Daniel Steibelt, Frédéric Kalkbrenner, Henri Herz, Johann Nepomuk Hummel, and Gioachino Rossini. I argue that these composers did not lose their fame naturally through the ebb and flow of changing tastes, but that they actively had their genius rescinded by those who were better able to control media processes and who needed to make room for new idols. My aim is not to rehabilitate anyone’s reputations as a victim, but rather to illustrate the means by which interested parties achieved their goals by looking at music journalism as a media discourse, and identifying various nascent publicity tactics that helped manipulate public discourse toward a desired end. Further, since I argue that negative press represents a disruption of positive publicity or a reverse marketing tool, then focusing on these disruptions, their aftereffects, and their counteractions will bring invisible publicity strategies into view. This project combines detailed, archival research (revisiting known materials, finding new ones, and putting them into dialogue in new ways) with emerging research on media and celebrity. This will transform loose collections of stories into broader paradigmatic phenomena that will radically alter our understanding of publicity practices and attention, media standards and propaganda, and the competing nature of celebrity and genius more broadly. Rescinding Genius targets the assumptions that form the very foundations of musicology (ie. how we understand value and success historically) and has significant potential to reshape nearly two centuries of musical thought through its innovative inversion of focus toward decline and failure instead of growth and success. As the first project of its kind, Rescinding Genius will result in a fundamentally new understanding of historical publicity, nineteenth-century celebrity, and the relationship between publishers and criticism that will generate new insight and methodologies that are not only valuable for studies of the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries, but also for understanding the roots of media, celebrity, and publicity today.

Dr Daniel Fuks – Israeli-American-British

The flowering desert: first millennium CE agricultural developments in the Negev reconstructed from dung microbiomes and rubbish-dump plant remains.

NIF23\100633 University of Cambridge £100,500.00

The proposed research will employ archaeobotanical and biomolecular techniques to reconstruct ancient agropastoral change over the first millennium CE in two adjacent microregions, the Aravah valley along the southern border of modern Israel-Jordan and the Negev Highlands. The region witnessed unprecedented agricultural developments during this period, alongside major socio-political, climatic and environmental changes. Rich and well-preserved organic remains from rubbish dumps at ten archaeological sites will provide the basis for this study.

Through data on crop plant remains, the study will gauge regional effects of the “Islamic Green Revolution” thesis, according to which the Early Islamic empires introduced important cultivars from eastern and central Asia to the Mediterranean. New archaeobotanical data collected in this study will yield unprecedented information on local agricultural developments, including contested changes in the average person’s diet and seasonal work routine. It will also enable comparison of Early Islamic crop diffusion to that brought about by the Roman Empire, in an unprecedented critical evaluation of first millennium CE crop diffusion based on local empirical evidence.

To identify seasonal effects and rhythms of agropastoral activity, the research will include an extensive study of dung microbiomes in the study region which will also develop multi-proxy methodologies. This is expected to produce: (a) effective screening procedures and protocols for maximizing multi-proxy analysis of dung pellets; (b) data on herbivore diets, local vegetation and seasonality; (c) data on herbivore species and sex; (d) detection of parasites and other microbial components; (e) synthesis reconstructing rhythms of pastoral production, inhabitation, grazing and foddering, variations in vegetation, and agropastoral evolution.

The production of new datasets and the development of innovative methodologies for investigating ancient agricultural regimes will allow engagement with larger themes in Mediterranean history, including: 'connectivity', by illuminating patterns of pastoralism and processes of crop diffusion; 'continuity and change', by assessing long-term agropastoral developments; and 'multi-scalar linkages', wherein analysis of locally consumed and seasonally produced organic remains will provide a window into the effects of global millennial processes. Lessons on agricultural continuity and change from the Negev desert in the face of first millennium CE global climate change and cultural conflict hold great promise for understanding historical effects of environmental stressors. In unearthing such lessons, this research will contribute to long-term environmental risk assessment and the urgent reflection on the future of our own society, offering a model for environmental humanities research.

Dr Awanish Kumar – Indian

The Dalit Land Question in India: Ideological Roots and Political Praxis.

NIF23\100699 University of Edinburgh £98,040.00

Land struggles are witnessing a resurgence in many parts of the world. These movements draw, in part, from the colonial histories in the global south (for instance, the Rural Landless Workers’ Movement [MST] in Brazil) and from the growing agrarian unrest against neoliberal policies in food and agriculture disenfranchising peasants (agitations against land grab for commercial farming in parts of Africa). India, on the other hand, has had a distinct land problem. Historically, a certain class of people in India i.e., Dalits, was customarily not allowed to hold land because of their “untouchable” caste status. This situation has remained largely unchanged even after independence. My doctoral project studied the Dalit social movements for land in Maharashtra state in western India. These movements are unique because they draw their ideology from B R Ambedkar, regarded as the father of the Indian constitution, who himself came from a Dalit background. This is significant because most land movements in India are led by either Marxists or Maoists. In this post-doctoral project, I wish to develop a comparative theoretical framework between the Dalit and Marxist land movements in India. Additionally, I would like to undertake fresh fieldwork to study new Dalit land struggles in the states of Punjab, Gujarat and Bihar that have arisen since 2016. Further, Dalit demand for land has often been understood as privatising common land. In this context, the project will investigate the contemporary meanings of land vis-à-vis Dalit land movement, and the projected trade-off between social equality and the protection of commons.

Dr Russell Kapumha – Zimbabwean

On missing links and bridging gaps: The Archaeology of Kubiku, a Zimbabwe culture site in Masvingo, south eastern Zimbabwe.

NIF23\100740 University of Oxford £99,000.00

As southern Africa is well endowed with widely distributed dry-stone walled enclosures, the most outstanding belonging to the Zimbabwe Culture, a considerable interest in smaller and less grandiose sites is growing. Formerly, Great Zimbabwe was seen as the epicenter of a ‘core and periphery’ model of the Zimbabwe culture where almost all other forms of monumentality were seen as peripheral nonentities of the culture. It is this elision that has seen the need to go beyond Great Zimbabwe and wholly comprehend the Zimbabwe culture for what it is. This study is an archaeological investigation of Kubiku, a dry-stone architecture site in Masvingo, south eastern Zimbabwe. It is investigated within the guise of a new paradigm shift with in the Zimbabwe Culture debate which questions and works beyond the rigidities of past models used to account for its origins, development and demise. Kubiku, in this instance is used to collect datasets that can contribute to already existing information that is being used to reconceptualize the Zimbabwe Culture. The aim would be to record, document and map the archaeology of the site. A study of Kubiku’s archaeology will be projected through a detailed study and analysis of its ceramic typologies, architectural characterization, organizational layout and archaeobotanical and animal economy. Above all, establishing the site’s chronostratigraphic frameworks will be key to this research. It is from this investigation that an attempt will be made to publish and present the projects results as a way of realigning the Zimbabwe Culture’s regional centre’s trajectories and settlement hierarchies in Zimbabwe.

Dr Aila Santi – Italian

At the Origins of the Holy City: Reconstructing the vanished landscape of early Islamic Medina from topography and written sources.

NIF23\100810 School of Oriental and African Studies £100,500.00

The origins of the “Islamic city” is a major subject for discussion, not just among Islamists and students of the history of the Middle East but among the among the wider community of urban historians and planners. The fundamental question remains whether the “Islamic city” has particular distinguishing characteristics and, if so, how did these originate.

There is one city above all whose history might answer some of these questions, Medina, one of the two holy cities of Islam, the place where the Prophet lived the last years of his life and the capital of the expanding Muslim world in the first half century of Islam. Despite its importance, the urban geography of the city has never been the subject of detailed scientific analysis. This is in part because the last century has seen massive rebuilding that has destroyed virtually all the physical remains of the ancient city. However, using old maps and records, and the extraordinarily rich Arabic language discussions of the ancient topography, it is possible to reconstruct the evolution of this most celebrated of Muslim urban sites.

This research proposal will be the first attempt to outline a reconstruction of the urban morphology of Medina and its development throughout the formative period of Islam. By merging data drawn from textual records, in particular the work of a 16th century-Medinan scholar, and evidence obtained by the appliance of topographical research methods to the study of cartography, it will seek to overcome the problem of lacking archaeological evidence and provide a new platform for the study of the city’s historical development. The outcome will be a series of phase-maps illustrating the changes the city-oasis underwent in the two centuries after the Hijra (emigration) of the Prophet in 632, when the city reached its largest, most vibrant form. By producing the first detailed simulation of early Medina’s urban pattern and its growth, I aim to provide new perspectives for investigating the relationship between the shaping of the ‘Islamic City’ and the conceptual fluctuations of Muslim Rulership throughout the first centuries after the Hijra. The urban-development model obtained will be employed to investigate, from a fresh standpoint, early Islamic urban practices and the formative process of Islamic monumental vocabulary.

Meanwhile, the project intends to foster mindfulness about protection and valorisation of sites associated with early Islam in Saudi Arabia, recognising them as a source of identity and cohesion for all Muslims.

Dr Sasha Frade – South African-Portuguese

Exploring Gender-Based Violence Among Displaced Migrant Women from Venezuela and El Salvador.

NIF23\100829 University of Southampton £100,459.50

Women migrants are particularly vulnerable to various forms of exploitation, abuse and violence. The consequence is severe negative psychological and health consequences. Studies have found that GBV not only negatively affects women’s mental, emotional and physical health; but also has negative reproductive health outcomes. This project seeks to explore and investigate GBV among migrant women in the context of protracted displacement and how this affects their Sexual and Reproductive Health (SRH), specifically in Central and South America. Furthermore, it seeks to understand how and to what degree GBV is understood by migrant women, and how this would affect the perceived experience, and subsequent health outcomes, of GBV episodes among these women – laying a foundation for a theory of the perception of GBV among migrant women. This project is nested in a larger GCRF-funded study, named Redressing Gendered Health Inequalities of Displaced Women and Girls in contexts of Protracted Crisis in Central and South America (ReGHID), which commenced in February 2020. ReGHID uses qualitative and quantitative methods in order to understand the SRHR of reproductive age women (aged 25-49) and adolescent girls (15-24) from Venezuela and El Salvador in situations of protracted displacement. Two rounds of quantitative surveys have been planned. The first round will be collected in March/April 2021 among Venezuelan migrants and in July 2021 among El Salvadorian migrants. Round 2 will occur around the same time in 2022. Furthermore, FGDs with migrant women in both populations will be conducted during the first round of surveys. Four FGDs will be conducted in each country, two FGDs among women aged women (aged 25-49), and another two among adolescent girls (15-24) in each country. The qualitative and quantitative analyses will be used (1) to investigate the experience of GBV among Venezuelan and El Salvadorian migrants in conflict areas of origin, the migratory journey and the area of destination; (2) to explore the understanding of, and level of severity of, GBV among Venezuelan and El Salvadorian migrants, and (3) to assess the effect of GBV among Venezuelan and El Salvadorian migrants’ SRH. The project aims to develop our understanding of GBV amongst migrants in order to feed into a wider framework of SRHR amongst women in protracted displacement.

Dr Pedzisai Maedza – Zimbabwean

Chains of Memory in the Postcolony: Performing and Remembering the Namibian Genocide.

NIF23\100864 University of Warwick £100,500.00

This project is an interdisciplinary investigation of the cultural memory of the 1904-1908 Namibian genocide by Germany. It lies at the intersection of performance, memory and genocide studies. It examines how performance representation(s) enact memory in response to the ‘social amnesia’ surrounding the first genocide of the 20th Century. The Namibian genocide was orchestrated by colonial forces under the command of Adrian Dietrich Lothar von Trotha (1848-1920) against the San, Herero, Nama and Damara indigenous populations in present day Namibia, then known as German South-West Africa. The project pays attention to how contemporary performative representations of these events evoke and facilitate remembering of the events, in Namibia and in the diaspora. It uses Namibia as a case study to investigate how performance enacts memory in response to the ‘social amnesia’ of these historical events in the representation(s) of the extermination of minority peoples by established governments. It investigates how this memory is remembered, contested and performed through the medium of performance. The project positions the remembrance performances under review as a fertile ground to investigate the memory contestations between subaltern forces and government agencies that deny or refuse to officially recognise the Namibian genocide. The research contributes to the emerging body of scholarly work on the cultural memory of genocide. It offers a variety of perspectives on the relationship that exists at the intersection of violence, memory and space. The project considers ‘memory as performing history’ and contributes to an understanding and reconstruction of memory and performance firstly as a cultural phenomenon and secondly as a form of elegy and memorial in contemporary times (Campbell et al., 2000, p. 8). That for over a century Germany has refused to acknowledge the Namibian genocide lends credence to the need to understand memory as a contested terrain. Using five selected contemporary artistic and cultural representations, this project investigates how performance informs the way societal history is presented and remembered. It suggests that it is chiefly through the medium of performance that the German colonial genocide memory is remembered, contested and transmitted across time and space.

Sign up to our email newsletters