University of Iowa Assistant Professor of English and African American Studies Tara Bynum began a nine-month term as the Barra Sabbatical Fellow at the University of Pennsylvania’s McNeil Center for Early American Studies on Sept. 1.
The fellowship is a highly selective funding opportunity that affords tenure-track/tenured faculty the time necessary to engage in a scholarly pursuit. Bynum’s time will be focused on Six Degrees of Phillis Wheatley, a book and digital humanities project that explores how Black communities in Newport, Rhode Island, cared for each other during and after the Revolutionary War.
The goal is to offer a more representational view of the early years of the United States, which will celebrate its 250thanniversary in 2026.
“The McNeil Center is a community of scholars, graduate students and faculty who are curious and in pursuit of stories of early America,” says Bynum. “The fellowship provides an opportunity to be part of all kinds of interdisciplinary conversations about the field of early American studies.”
While at Penn, Bynum will be immersed in her research for a full academic year, while working and living in proximity to several relevant east coast archival libraries.
“I have to learn more about what I don’t know from secondary sources as well as the 18th primary sources,” says Bynum, who also received funding from the UI Office of the Vice President for Research’s Early Career Scholars program. “I’ll be going to archives in Providence and Newport to read more about the lives of these men and women who helped make this nation a reality.”
Research proposals from the Barra Sabbatical Fellowship will be entertained for book-length projects falling within the McNeil Center’s area of interest at any stage of research and writing.
Bynum’s current book project, Reading Pleasures: Everyday Black Living in Early America, examines the many ways that early Black writers—Phillis Wheatley, James Albert Ukawsaw Gronniosaw, John Marrant, and David Walker—named and explored their pleasures despite the privations of slavery or freedom. The book is set to be released in January 2023.