Two American Studies Professors Earn NEH Awards

October 15, 2009 Arts and Letters

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The Department of American Studies is happy to announce that two of our faculty members have won highly competitive and prestigious research fellowships from the National Endowment of the Humanities.

Kathleen Sprows Cummings

Kathleen Cummings, assistant professor of American studies and associate director of the Cushwa Center for the Study of American Catholicism at the University of Notre Dame, was awarded a fellowship from the National Endowment for the Humanities for her project "Citizen Saints: Catholics and Canonization in American Culture." 

Canonization, the process by which the Catholic Church recognizes people for having lived lives of "heroic virtue," offers a particularly revealing interpretive tool for understanding the shifting relationship between Catholicism and American culture.  Because saints become popular in certain contexts, a study of canonization reveals much more about the people promoting them than it does about the saints themselves.  "Citizen Saints" views canonization through the lenses of mission, nationalism, immigration, gender, race, and sexuality.

Cummings will spend the year finishing up research on the causes of the eight American canonized saints, the 13 beatified American saints (those that are one miracle away from canonization), and on the roughly two dozen other candidates for canonization whose causes have been approved by the Vatican.  This research involves archival work in diocesan and congregational archives, review of the positios (official petition for sainthood), and examination of promotional material.  Cummings will also be completing the following chapters: "Missions and Martyrs," "Quest for the First American Saint," "Immigrant Saints," "Unruly Women," and "Sex and Saints."

Sophie White

Sophie White, assistant professor, won an NEH fellowship for her book project, "Trading Looks: Dress, Dulture, and Racialization in French Louisiana and the Mississippi Valley, 1673-1769." "Trading Looks" investigates the process of racialization in America by charting the shift from conceptions of ethnic identity (and even of skin color) as malleable, to proto-biological definitions of 'race' as fixed and unchanging.  In French America, the process was complicated by a formal policy deigned to turn Native Americans into frenchified subjects of France: both Catholic and culturally 'French.' While historians have generally framed historical formulations of race in largely abstract intellectual terms, White's research argues that material culture -- and specifically dress -- was central to the elaboration of colonial discourses about ethnicity and race in early America.