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Surprising research gems at VHS

Scholars spent the summer studying kidnapped free blacks

9/10/2013, 3 p.m.

— A woman who kidnapped free black people and sold them into slavery in Mississippi in the 1810s and 1820s, the importance of political friendships in the outcome of the Civil War. Disability and masculinity among Virginia’s Revolutionary War veterans, the development of grassroots conservatism in the 1970s and 1980s. The portrayal of Pocahontas as a folk heroine, gender and labor in the 1850s plantation culinary sphere, faith in public education, pilots in the Southern maritime trade. Literary illustration in 19th century America. Reynolds Metals Company and the global aluminum industry and how physicians treated African Americans in the antebellum U.S. These are just some of the topics that the 2013 Virginia Historical Society (VHS) fellowship recipients have explored this year.

Thirty-three researchers were awarded a stipend to conduct research at the VHS using the 8.5 million items in the society’s collection. Of the thirty-three fellowship winners, two reside in Virginia, 27 come from across the United States, and four from countries abroad: Australia, Scotland, England, and France. The Virginia residents are Adrian Brettle of the University of Virginia in Charlottesville and Christopher Jones of the College of William and Mary in Williamsburg.

These scholars benefited from access to the society’s extensive holdings for up to two weeks. Most conducted their research from June to August, making the VHS library a busy and active area during the summer months.

The Mellon Fellowship program promotes the interpretation of Virginia and American history, supporting research on political, constitutional, religious, African American, military, and social issues. Mellon Fellows are chosen based on their scholarly qualifications, the merits of their proposals, and the appropriateness of their topics to the society’s collections. The Mellon Fellowship program is funded in part by the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation.

The VHS offers two additional fellowships: the Frances Lewis Fellowship in Gender and Women’s Studies and the Betty Sams Christian Fellowship in Business History. Of the thirty-three fellowships granted by the VHS in 2013, 19 were Mellon Fellowships, seven were Frances Lewis Fellowships, and three were Betty Sams Christian Fellowships.

In addition to the fellowships, the VHS offers two research awards: The Guy Kinman Award and The Reese Award in American Bibliography and the History of the Book in the Americas. The Kinman award, made possible by the Gay Community Center of Richmond, supports work on such topics as lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender studies; civil rights; and First Amendment issues. The Reese award covers literary studies, the evolution of book publication, and bibliography.

Three of the thirty-three recipients were Reese Awards, and one was a Kinman Award. The VHS has bestowed more than 800 awards since the first fellowship program began in 1988.

“For twenty-five years, researchers have taken advantage of the Virginia Historical Society’s strong and varied collections to explore areas of Virginia history as well as topics that illuminate the history of America as a whole,” said Frances Pollard, VHS chief librarian and chair of the Research Fellowship Committee. “The research conducted by fellowship winners has resulted in a great number of academic and popular publications. This year’s group of talented fellows helps us continue to fulfill our mission of interpreting Virginia and American history.”