About the Fellowship
Through an international competition, the BMRC offers 1-month residential fellowships in the summer (May-August) in the City of Chicago for its Summer Short-term Fellowship Program. Generously funded by the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation since 2009, the Summer Short-term Fellowship Program has engaged scholars, artists, writers, and public historians from the United States and Europe to better formulate new historical narratives of Chicago’s past. The new, original research and art developed through this program is significant as it illuminates the national and international importance of Chicago’s African American community.

The purpose of the Summer Short-term Research Fellowship is:
* To create research opportunities for scholars and artists to conduct primary research in Chicago-based archival repositories;
* To generate new knowledge in the field of African American history;
* To engage the local Chicago community in the history of their city.

The BMRC has introduced a new cohort model in which scholars, researchers, and artists will be selected based on their work in broad, yet defined, subject areas.

The subject areas slated for 2017 are: Gospel Music; Design, Urban Design and Architecture

August 2017 will mark the 85th anniversary of Thomas A. Dorsey’s (Father of Gospel Music) gospel music standard, “Take My Hand, Precious Lord,” which was composed in Chicago.  The BMRC will invite scholars, musicologists, and musicians to submit proposals to research the under-investigated musical genre of Chicago gospel music and its impact on American popular music, Jazz, and/or other music genres.  

In 1937, Laszlo Moholy-Nagy, a Hungarian photographer as well as professor in the Bauhaus school, was recruited from Europe to found the New Bauhaus in Chicago, which would later become the School of Design and then the Institute of Design.  We will invite researchers to investigate the lives and careers of African American designers working in Chicago and/or how modern design approaches, through architecture and urban design, affected African American communities in the City of Chicago.

For more information on application and eligibility requirements, please click here.

2017 BMRC Summer Short-term Fellows 

(arranged alphabetically)

William Adams

Ph.D. Candidate, American Studies, University of Kansas

Project title: Windy City Heroines: Black Women’s Activism During the Harold Washington Campaign in 1983

The subjects of race, gender, and Chicago politics has not been adequately discussed in historical or current scholarship. Scholars and historians have given limited attention to the role of African American women in Black Chicago politics and social movements. Nevertheless, the lack of scholarship on African American women should not be taken as proof that these women were not involved activism in Chicago, particularly with the campaign and election of Harold Washington as Chicago’s first African American mayor. The rise of Washington from U.S. Congressman to mayor came as a result of Black women led organizations and programs that both spurred and kept the Washington campaign afloat.

My research will examine the strategies and roles Black women had in the 1983 Chicago mayoral race that Washington won. The research will delve into what encouraged Black Women individually and collectively to advocate for Washington to run for the mayoral seat. Additionally, I will probe into the activism and demands that Black women sought during Washington’s tenure as mayor. Consequently, the current narrative on political, social, and cultural activism in Chicago will be challenged and be rewritten.

LaVerne Gray

Ph.D. Candidate, College of Communication and Information, School of Information Science

University of Tennessee Knoxville

Project title: In a Collective Voice:

Uncovering Community-Based Information Environments of African American Activists-Mothers in Chicago Public Housing, 1955-1970

My research seeks to illuminate grassroots community information networks in an urban public housing landscape. It takes a bottom up approach, by examining  Black feminist agency in community development within constructed urban spaces. The research seeks to expand information history research by presenting a Black Feminist epistemological understanding of informal information networks. The study introduces the complexity of culture, environment, and community engagement in 1960’s Chicago public housing.

Nicholas Kryczka

Ph.D. Candidate, Department of History, University of Chicago

Project title: Renewal by Choice: Schools, Space, and the Black Metropolis in Post-Civil Rights Chicago

As a historian, I bury my head in old documents. As a communicator of history, I try to lift my sights higher. My work, which traces the history of Chicago’s magnet schools during the late twentieth century, has the potential to reach and impact three audiences: my professional peers; educational policymakers; and my Chicago neighbors. As scholarship, the project intervenes in debates among historians of cities and education, demonstrating the role that race-conscious, choice-based school reform has played across eras of urban crisis and urban renaissance. In the realm of contemporary policy, my research presents a necessary historical grounding for incessant debates about equity, excellence, and choice in American urban education. As a local history of Chicagoans in struggle, my research sheds light on episodes of civic participation in public education. By centering these narratives, I suggest that schools lie at the heart of public memory in Chicago, and that neighborhoods and institutions can draw strength from the traditions and lessons of the recent past. In short, burying my head in old documents does not isolate me. It binds me to broader communities– of historical scholarship, public policy, and civic belonging– and grants me the chance to help sustain them.

Ruby Mendenhall

Ph.D., Sociology and African American Studies, University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign

Project title: The Role of Architecture and Urban Planning in the Connection between Race, Space and Health in African American Communities in Chicago

One anticipated impact of this project is to create new historical narratives about how architecture and urban design historically shaped the life chances and health of Black families in the Altgeld Gardens public housing community in Chicago. Erected in 1945 with 1,498 units, Fuerst (2005:190) reported that Altgeld was “surrounded by chemical plants, steel plants, garbage dumps, and a sewage treatment facility that assaults the senses when the wind blows in the wrong direction.” The second anticipated impact of this project includes rescuing and recovering lost history of two Black women Altgeld activist, Hazel Johnson (environmental justice activist) and Dorothy Gautreaux (the named plaintiff in a lawsuit which resulted in one of the largest housing desegregation programs in U.S. History). I am also hoping to highlight these new historical narratives on a national scale by finding some primary source information that could be included in the National Public Housing Museum in Chicago. Altgeld residents and Black residents in Chicago will be the most affected by this research because it will create new knowledge about how Black women pushed for decent housing that was not toxic on a variety of levels: social, environmental, economic and health.

Shannon Missick

Ph.D. Candidate, Department of History at the University at Albany, State University of New York

Project title: The Evolution of a Desert: A History of Food Access in Chicago, 1950-1999

Access to nutritious, whole, unprocessed food has garnered the attention of the Illinois Advisory Committee to the United States Commission on Civil Rights, and of Mayor Rahm Emanuel himself. What has not been studied to date, is the historical nature of food access and the evolution of food deserts themselves. My research on the history of food access in Chicago examines the impact of systematic discrimination, via federal public policy, city policy, urban design, real estate steering practices, business decisions, and suburbanization, on African American communities within the city. This research will shed new light on the plight of African Americans. By exploring how food deserts evolved, perhaps we can determine how to dismantle and eliminate food deserts today, making access to nutritious foods within the grasp of all Americans.

Amani Morrison

Ph.D. Candidate, African American and African Diaspora Studies, University of California, Berkeley

Project title: Domestic Architecture and Spatial Performance in Great Migration Chicago

My research will provide added insight into Chicago’s fraught history of racially-informed housing policies and practices. By bringing together architectural documents, oral histories, and performance and design theories, my project offers an interdisciplinary analysis of how the built environment choreographs domestic practice and how black Chicagoans made themselves “at home” in the racially segregated city. This project contributes to Black Chicago studies and aims to offer a nuanced perspective on the South Side’s residential history. I hope my research will help guide present and future housing policies, practices, and domestic strategies in light of the returning rhetoric of “urban renewal” that disproportionately impacts black and brown people.

Eric Peterson

Ph.D. Candidate in Architecture, University of California, Berkeley

Project title: Black Design and Housing Activism in 1960s Chicago

My aim in this project is to bring the concerns of unrepresented actors to the fore in rethinking the histories of modern design and urban America. Architecture historians continue to privilege the influence of certain designers while downplaying the role of architects of color as well as the users of modernist urban spaces. Recuperating these histories is essential, in my view, in understanding the inherently political and social nature of the built environment and more specifically in fostering the agency of designers working to use design for the social good. Ultimately, my goal with this work is to allow designers as well as non-designers to understand their agency in shaping urban space by understanding that agency historically. How can design processes in the urban context build constituencies and alleviate the material needs of those constituencies? What forms of design activism have historical actors pursued and what are some of the consequences of that activism? These are some of the questions I am interested in answering, as I believe they have the potential to inform contemporary debates over urban design and housing in Chicago and elsewhere.

Ashlie Sandoval

Ph.D. Candidate, Performance Studies, Northwestern University

Project title: Staging Equity: The Evolution of Carceral Architecture in African American Communities in Chicago

Despite the wide-ranging literature on Chicago urban renewal projects and their egregious effects on African American communities, there is yet to be a study on why architecture and design initially seemed capable of curing slum conditions created by social inequality. Nor is there research on the historical evolution of these carceral architectural projects. Sandoval’s research will uncover how the design and architecture of urban renewal projects in Chicago, from the 1930s to the 1970s, were used to stage the promise of a better future, and the long-term effects of these approaches. In doing so, Sandoval aims to show how African American history in Chicago is pivotal for understanding how architecture has been used to stage a solution to social inequality but without broader structural changes such approaches have had consistently devastating consequences. This project will ultimately culminate in publications that will find a readership in black history studies, urban studies, and performance studies.

Dr. E. James West

Teaching Fellow, University of Birmingham

Project title: Black Media Architecture in Chicago

My research will provide the first cultural history of black media architecture in Chicago, offering an important intervention into the study of the black press, race, and urban development in Chicago, and shedding fresh light on the experiences of the city’s African American residents. In addition to the research impact generated by peer-reviewed articles and a longer monograph, the digital history project www.blackmediaarchitecture.org will help to disseminate this scholarship to a public audience, providing interactive maps and audio-guides to some of Chicago’s most important black media spaces. As part of my fellowship, I also hope to organise a public event on the theme of Black Media Architecture to be held at either the University of Chicago or Chicago Public Library, which will bring together architectural critics such as Lee Bey with artists such as Barbara Karant for a public conversation into the future of 820 South Michigan Avenue.

Douglas Williams

Postdoctoral Research Associate, College of Applied Health Science, University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign

Project title: Chiseling, Welding, and Painting: A Chicago Landscape’s Casting of a Black Artist

Like the founding of Chicago by Jean Baptist Point Du Sable, Douglas R. Williams’s contributions to the Chicago Black Arts movement is not common public knowledge. I anticipate the impact of this research will fill a volume of Black history; even internationally – in the likes of the IKA: Journal of Contemporary African Art to the historic anthologies covering African American art and culture. Often awarded in his early career, he tirelessly worked behind the scene, providing access for black artists to make a living through education, exhibitions, and equitable acquisitions among art collectors. Historians, public archives, and students of all ages will have a new primary source for inquiry. Scholars can further examine, revise, contextualize, and advance the study of African and African American art with new insight from this shared additional content. Expanding the existing public archives on exemplary Black Chicagoans and their contributions to the broader community is vital for the public to have an understanding of Chicago’s past and present. Students will find the noteworthy firsthand accounts of Black life in Chicago to be nothing less than
inspiring. New knowledge gathered from this proposed research can enhance and increase Chicago’s recreational programing and cultural tourism economy.

Sonja Williams

Professor/Assistant Chair, Howard University, Washington D.C.

Project title: Affirmative Lives

I anticipate that Affirmative Lives, the case study and group biography that will be written as the result of this summer’s and past research, will be a valuable resource for scholars and students of sociology, education, history, psychology and communications. Beyond statistical analyses of affirmative action educational outcomes, this study will put a human face on the successes, failures and hopefully forthcoming possibilities of affirmative action mandates. In that regard, I hope that what I write as a result of this research will influence policy makers and legislators who likely will determine the future trajectory of affirmative action policies in education. And, as in my book Word Warrior, I plan to write a strong, research-based and engaging narrative that also will speak to the general reader – anyone interested in and concerned about how educational policies and practices effect the career opportunities of future generations of students.