Jennifer Palmer, associate professor of history in the Franklin College of Arts and Sciences, has been awarded a fellowship from the National Endowment for the Humanities for 2022. The award was announced in January and will provide course release for a full academic year. Seventy-three fellowships were awarded by the NEH this year, among 208 grants worth $24.7 million for humanities scholarship and programming across the country.
Palmer will use the fellowship for a book project entitled Possession: Gender, Race, and Ownership in Eighteenth-Century Atlantic France, which explores “how the process of owning something gradually excluded women and people of color,” she said, as a result of the emergence of plantation capitalism.
In her research, Palmer said, “I’m looking at the ownership practices of women: White women and free women of color, and hopefully, depending on the archive situation, enslaved women as well… how they asserted ownership over things or land or people in ways that weren’t necessarily about contracts.” As a result of a legal shift which saw the emergence of a system in which ownership became more contractually based, Palmer said, women’s opportunities to assert ownership disappeared. Ownership became a privilege, largely, of those who were both wealthy and literate – traits that applied, in the French Atlantic empire, overwhelmingly to white men.
The NEH is not the first prestigious fellowship Palmer has earned in recent years. In 2021 she was awarded a highly competitive fellowship from the American Council of Learned Societies for the same book project, and she has been selected for a 2022-23 faculty fellowship from the Willson Center for Humanities and Arts, which she will take consecutively with the NEH. This is the third time Palmer has been awarded the Willson Center fellowship, for which faculty are eligible only once every five years. She co-directs the Gender and History Workshop, which is supported by an annual Willson Center grant for Research Seminars (the workshop’s other director, Cassia Roth, assistant professor of history, received an NEH fellowship in 2021), and her department of history faculty page contains a long list of other awards.
Palmer credits some of her success with grants and fellowships to persistence. She has long followed a former colleague’s advice to “have a research proposal ready and apply for everything that you’re eligible for.”
But she stressed the importance of mutual support among peers and colleagues. The Willson Center has been a resource for help and advice on proposals, she said, as have her fellow department of history faculty. And she consistently meets once each month with a writing group whose members read all of each other’s writing and offer feedback. “That has been really instrumental in helping to make my proposals, and my research in general, stronger. I think that points to the importance of scholarly collaboration.”
Information on the Willson Center’s fellowships and other grant programs is available here. The Willson Center also has numerous resources available for those who wish to apply for external funding from sources including the NEH, ACLS, and many others.