UChicago anthropologist Shannon Dawdy receives MacArthur Fellowship

Anthropologist Shannon Lee Dawdy, one of the nation's leading researchers on topics related to New Orleans and the Caribbean, has been named a 2010 MacArthur Fellow.

Dawdy, Assistant Professor of Anthropology and the Social Sciences in the College, is among 23 people to receive the award from the John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation. The honor includes a $500,000 unrestricted grant, paid over a period of five years, which provides seed money for intellectual, social and artistic endeavors.

The fellowship goes to individuals who show exceptional creativity in their work and the prospect of more in the future, the foundation said. The award is designed to provide recipients with the flexibility to pursue their creative activities in the absence of specific obligations or reporting requirements.

"Through her boundary-crossing scholarship, fieldwork and efforts to engage the public in uncovering the history of their communities, Dawdy is enriching the arenas of historical archaeology and urban preservation," the foundation said in announcing the award.

Dawdy said hearing from the MacArthur Foundation was "like receiving a phone call from the Greek gods. You are not prepared for it."

She added, "It's a tremendous, humbling honor, and it's going to be a challenge grant for the rest of my life…. I'm going to be challenged to live up to it."

Dawdy is a historical anthropologist and archaeologist concentrating on the Atlantic world after 1450.

Her research focuses on the Southeast United States and the Caribbean, particularly Louisiana and Cuba. Her interdisciplinary projects seek to understand maritime and Creole societies in their own ethnographic terms while engaging with broader issues such as colonialism, modernity and informal economies.

Her 2008 book, Building the Devil's Empire, developed the idea of rogue colonialism to explain the ways in which French New Orleans, and many colonies like it, functioned outside state controls.She is the author of numerous journal articles and book chapters, as well as co-editor of Dialogues in Cuban Archaeology (2005) and Dumont de Montigny: Regards sur le monde atlantique, 1715-1747 (2008).

Her research and teaching also looks at urban planning, food, gender and sexuality, disaster, temporality, and race and ethnicity. She also offered a popular course on piracy for College students.

Her recent fieldwork in New Orleans, concentrating on the former site of the Rising Sun Hotel and St. Antoine's Garden behind St. Louis Cathedral, is part of the largest archaeological initiative undertaken to date in the French Quarter. This work provides material for her current book project, Patina: An Archaeology of Everyday Aesthetics.

Complementing her academic work, Dawdy also has been active in historic preservation. She served as special liaison between the Federal Emergency Management Agency and the Louisiana State Historic Preservation Office to ensure that recovery efforts in New Orleans after Hurricane Katrina remained cognizant of the city's singular archaeological heritage.

Dawdy, who joined the faculty in 2004, received a B.A. in 1988 from Reed College, an M.A. in 1994 from the College of William and Mary, and an M.A. in 2000 and Ph.D. in 2003 from the University of Michigan.


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Shannon Lee Dawdy describes her recent archaeological fieldwork examining Creole culture in New Orleans, and living up to the “challenge” of the MacArthur grant.

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Shannon Lee Dawdy, Assistant Professor of Anthropology and the Social Sciences in the College, is one of the nation’s leading researchers on topics related to New Orleans and the Caribbean.

Photo by John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation

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