UMass professor named 2016 Guggenheim Fellow

By Elizabeth Wallace

(Collegian Staff)
(Collegian Staff)

The John Simon Guggenheim Memorial Foundation named University of Massachusetts English Professor Nick Bromell a 2016 Guggenheim Fellow.

Scholars are chosen based on their previous achievements or exceptional purpose, according to the Guggenheim Foundation’s press release.

Bromell was among 178 fellows representing 50 disciplines, 71 academic institutions and 27 states, along with the District of Columbia. The candidates were chosen from a group of nearly 3,000 applicants.

“These artists and writers, scholars and scientists, represent the best of the best. Each year since 1925, the Guggenheim Foundation has bet everything on the individual, and we’re thrilled to continue to do so with this wonderfully talented and diverse group,” said the foundation’s president, Edward Hirsch, in the release.

Bromell is one of only two fellows in the American literature category.

“I feel very lucky,” Bromell said in an interview with the Daily Collegian.

“At a certain point, I started to say to myself that not getting a fellowship was not a bad reflection on the quality of my work. The quality of your work and whether you get a fellowship are independent of each other. Well, having now gotten a fellowship, I have to abide by that same logic.”

Bromell added: “I think that these foundations have to review a tremendous amount of very good work, and there is a lot of very good work they cannot give fellowships to. So, to find yourself among those whom they do award fellowships to is a truly marvelous, miraculous event for me.”

His current book project focuses on the political philosophy of Frederick Douglass, whom he has written about previously. In his first book, “By the Sweat of the Brow: Literature and Labor in Antebellum America,” published in 1993, Bromell devotes two chapters to Douglass’ thoughts on the work-slavery relationship and the work-song relationship, he said.

In his third book, “The Time Is Always Now: Black Thought and the Transformation of US Democracy,” published in 2013, Bromell looked at the work of Douglass and other African-American thinkers and activists to analyze their approach to modern-day problems with democracy, he said.

“When I finished that book, I said to myself, ‘I want to have my next book be entirely about Frederick Douglass, instead of having him just appear in my books,” Bromell said.

Bromell’s next book will explore Douglass’ political philosophy regarding democracy.

“I’m turning to: What did Frederick Douglass think about democracy?” he said. “Did he have a political philosophy of democracy? What did he think were the particular challenges that citizens have to wrestle with in order to be responsible citizens in a democracy?”

Bromell said that Douglass viewed democracy as the solution to some, but not all problems. Democracy itself posed some very difficult societal challenges to Douglass.

Bromell’s interdisciplinary approach to Douglass’ political thinking brings together the fields of literary studies, political theory and black philosophy. While other scholars have studied Douglass within each area, Bromell said his interdisciplinary approach is unique.

The vast archive of Douglass’ work, including three volumes of his autobiography and numerous volumes of his letters, editorials and speeches, allows for in-depth research into Douglass’ thoughts, Bromell said.

Bromell will spend the next year working solely on his research into Douglass for his book. In addition to the Guggenheim Fellowship, Bromell received a 2016-17 Faculty Fellowship from The Charles Warren Center for Studies in American History at Harvard University.

Elizabeth Wallace can be reached at [email protected]