News Release

UTSA professors receive NEH grants to support historical works

The grant will help the professors expand their research on relevant societal issues

Grant and Award Announcement

University of Texas at San Antonio

UTSA history professors receive grant to study societal challenges

image: History professors Catherine Nolan-Ferrell (left) and Cindy Ermus (right) have each received one-year, $60,000 grants from the National Endowment for the Humanities to support their research. view more 

Credit: The University of Texas at San Antonio

UTSA history professors Catherine Nolan-Ferrell and Cindy Ermus have each received one-year, $60,000 grants from the National Endowment for the Humanities (NEH) to support their research on relevant societal issues, including questions of citizenship and human rights and lessons learned from past pandemics that impact our understanding of COVID-19. Their projects were selected from among more than 2,000 applications submitted to the NEH in 2021.

The NEH grants recognize the outstanding research accomplishments and continued excellence of Department of History faculty, underscoring the strength of the scholarly work taking place in the university’s College of Liberal and Fine Arts (COLFA).

Glenn Martinez, dean of the college, noted that the faculty members’ work is exemplary.

“These projects are prime exemplars of the engaged, relevant and interdisciplinary approaches to the humanities that are increasingly becoming a signature of COLFA,” Martinez said. “This recognition of the innovative work of Dr. Nolan-Ferrell and Dr. Ermus by the National Endowment for the Humanities will continue to elevate our profile in the discipline of history particularly and in the humanities more broadly.”

The two projects explore vastly different focus areas.

Nolan-Ferrell, an associate professor whose work on the history of Guatemalan migration has appeared in The Washington Post, is using oral histories and archival sources to explore questions of citizenship and human rights in communities along the Guatemala-Mexico border.

Her NEH grant will support her latest book, Migrants or Refugees? Violence and Forced Migration in Southern Mexico and Guatemala. The book will examine the causes and consequences of the Guatemalan genocide that resulted in the death of roughly 200,000 indigenous Guatemalans and the flight of another 200,000 to Southern Mexico.

While Nolan-Ferrell’s work focuses on the 1950s through the 2000s, the causes of mass migration from Central American countries remains consistent over time. Unchecked violence, extreme poverty and corrupt officials—leaders who are often supported by the U.S. government, she added—have left the Guatemalan government too weak to protect people’s basic rights.

The UTSA professor explained that the contemporary refugee crisis on the U.S.-Mexico border echoes previous forced migrations from the region.

“It's a relatively similar process to what a lot of immigrants have experienced once they have come into San Antonio,” she said. “I am looking at this process of how do people really carve out spaces for themselves? Where do they gain access to human rights even though they are not citizens? My work explores what we can learn about the Mexican-Guatemalan crisis and how Mexico incorporated the refugees and eventually developed a stronger community and economy because of them.”

Ermus, an assistant professor, has written on pandemics for publications such as The Atlantic, The Washington Post and Stat News. She is the co-founder and co-executive editor to the digital open-source publication Age of Revolutions.

Ermus’ project centers on her book, The Great Plague Scare of 1720: Disaster and Society in the Early Modern World, which focuses on the Plague of Marseille (also known as the Plague of Provence) in southern France. Ermus engaged professionals in a variety of fields, including sociologists, geographers and microbiologists to capture a comprehensive look at how this particular plague changed the world. The impact of this particular plague scare was felt across Europe and Asia, as far away as the trading capital of Manila and overseas to the colonies in the Atlantic.

Ermus shared how her work is particularly relevant as the world works to recover from two years of significant disease.

“My research highlights the 18th century, but that does not make it any less relevant to us today,” she said. “Diseases have been affecting people since the beginning of human history and they will continue to do so. The lessons that we have learned through the centuries still matter.”

This year, $24.7 million was awarded by the NEH to support 208 humanities projects across the country.

“These NEH grants will support educators and scholars in enriching our understanding of the past and enable cultural institutions from across the country to expand their offerings, resources and public programming, both in person and online,” said NEH Acting Chair Adam Wolfson. “We look forward to the many new insights and discoveries that these 208 exemplary projects will make possible.”

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