Meet our 2021-22 Research Fellows

Will Fenton, Director of Research and Public Programs

It is my pleasure to announce our 2021-2022 Research Fellows. While it is a smaller cohort than usual – we opted not to offer our traditional short-term fellowships during the pandemic – it is no less an impressive group than we have come to expect from our remarkable learning community.

Our dissertation and post-doctoral fellows include specialists from Anthropology, English, History, and Gender Studies, working on everything from 19th-century cranial science to the role of finance in colonial expansion in the Southeastern borderlands. These ten remarkable fellows will travel to the Library Company from a broad range of institutions, including American University, the University of California, Berkeley, and the University of Puerto Rico at Mayagüez.

Innovation Fellowship Program Logo2021-22 also marks the launch of the Library Company’s Innovation Fellowship Program. Competition was intense and of the thirty applicants who submitted proposals from across the world, our external review committee selected two truly extraordinary Francis Johnson Fellows.

Uchenna Ngwe, Ph.D. Candidate at the Trinity Laban Conservatoire of Music and Dance, will situate Johnson and his performances for Queen Victoria in the contexts of the African diaspora and British classical music. Ngwe will travel to Philadelphia this fall to explore collections at the Library Company, Kislak Center, and Free Library of Philadelphia. Following her research, she will arrange and record Johnson works of music with students in Philadelphia or London and develop a new online learning resource, replete with practical and listening activities, based upon her existing digital music project plainsightSOUND.

Ngwe will be joined by Philadelphia-native Brent White, the Director of the Jazz Orchestra and Jazztet at Drexel University. White will investigate how Johnson adapted performances for white and Black audiences through a kind of code-switching visible in the publication and circulation of his compositions. In order to highlight Johnson’s innovations in improvisation, syncopation, and call and response, White will organize a performance and recording at one of the very historic Black churches where Johnson performed in antebellum Philadelphia and develop new educational resources that might well supplement Ngwe’s digital project.

The Francis Johnson Fellowship committee opted to pair these two ambitious proposals in the hope that our fellows will benefit from collaboration. As they draw upon one another’s expertise and life experiences, they will excavate Johnson’s identity as a Black performer in white-dominated fields, situate his contributions in local and transatlantic contexts, and enliven our historical collections through artistic reinterpretation and educational application. I cannot wait to see what emerges from this auspicious start to our Innovation Fellowship Program.

Please visit Current Fellows to learn more about our twelve remarkable 2021-22 Research Fellows.

Generous support for the Library Company of Philadelphia Research Fellowship Program has been provided by the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation, the National Endowment for the Humanities, the Albert M. Greenfield Foundation, the Barra Foundation, the McLean Contributionship, the William Reese Company, ASECS, and William H. Helfand.

The Innovation Fellowship Program is made possible by the generosity of our Founding Sponsor Randall M. Miller and Sustaining Sponsors Louise M. and Peter J. Kelly, John C. and Christine K. Van Horne, and a donor who wishes to remain anonymous.