Wolfson Research Professorships Awards 2009

Funded by

The British Academy Wolfson Professorships, each at the level of £150,000 over 3 years, recognise the most outstanding scholars in the UK, enabling them to concentrate on a specific research programme while freed from teaching and administrative commitments. Four Professorships were awarded in 2009.

Professor Roy Foster FBA
Carroll Professor of Irish History, Oxford
The Development of Radicalization Among Opinion-Formers and Revolutionaries in Ireland, c.1890-1920
When does a generation become radicalized to the point of endorsing violent rebellion? This question haunts the history of the Irish revolution of the early twentieth century, with several different claims and trajectories mooted over the years. There are now enough records available, reflecting the experience of the people who took part in Irish nationalist organizations during the first twenty years of the last century, to present a new analysis. I intend to use these to study certain target groups which produced opinion-makers and activists (for instance journalists, priests, art students, teachers, and labour activists), tracing inter-connections, influences and key points of change. The intention is to show how young people, often from middle-class backgrounds with a stake in the system, opted for the politics of separatism backed by tactics of violence. It is a subject of immediate and continuing relevance for the politics of certain parts of the world today.

Professor Robert Frost
Professor of Early Modern History, Aberdeen
The Polish-Lithuanian Union, 1386-1815
Political unions bring peoples together by institutionalising diversity. Yet historians have often regarded them with suspicion, since they complicate the supposedly simple process of the ‘rise of the nation state’. Although, in the age of devolution, Britons have become increasingly aware that the United Kingdom is a political union, there is less awareness that its experience is by no means unique: Unions were common in European history; some ephemeral, others more durable. This project looks at a successful political union which lasted longer (to date) than the Anglo-Scottish Union, and was ended forcibly, without the consent of its citizens. Initiated as a loose dynastic union, by 1600, the Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth had evolved into the most radically consensual political system in Europe, which sought to encompass religious, cultural and national diversity within a parliamentary system. Its initial success and ultimate failure reveal much about the problems of political union.

Professor Mary S Morgan FBA
Professor of History and Philisophy of Economics, LSE
Re-Thinking Case Studies Across the Social Sciences
Case studies are of great importance in the social sciences from anthropology, politics, sociology, management and into social science history, but their significance has been under-rated by social scientists, and by philosophers of science, long pre-occupied by physics as a model of what a science should be. Yet, as historians of science have shown, reasoning with cases has become absolutely central to the life sciences over the last century in the form of the so-called “model organisms”: the laboratory mouse, fruit flies, and so forth.  These organisms are studied intensively by scientists to learn about the processes of life just as social scientists research some social processes by conducting case studies (for example, on the behaviour of teenage gangs in a particular time and place). Just as biologists argue from an individual model organism about other life forms (for example, inferring results about experiments on mice to likely equivalences in humans), social scientists use their exhaustively detailed case studies as a basis for broader inferences and arguments about the social world.  So this research begins from the somewhat provocative starting point that we regard the case studies of social scientists as research objects equivalent to biologists’ model organisms as a way to re-think the nature and function of case studies across the social sciences.

Professor David Perrett FBA
Bishop Wardlaw Professor of Psychology, St Andrews
Perceptions of Health
I explore cues to health in the face, and address questions such as: do pigments from the fruit and vegetables we eat prevent illness and make the skin attractive? Does fitness improve the colour of blood in the skin? Do we recognize a healthy weight? We are already finding that: (a) the skin colour which looks best is more likely to reflect a healthy diet than a suntan; (b) people find skin flushed with fresh blood healthier than skin with stale blood (low in oxygen); and (c) despite media influence and underweight models, our notion of beauty lies in the normal weight range. My research could have practical benefits in improving health by allowing individuals to see the impact of different lifestyles on their own face. For instance, demonstrating how eating fruit and vegetables, and exercise benefit appearance could provide the motivation to eat a healthy diet and keep fit.

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