Congratulations to this year’s MacArthur Foundation award winners!
There are your everyday, humdrum grants and awards and prizes, and then there are the MacArthur Foundation’s “genius awards.” They’re special. They’re an event. It’s not just that they’re valuable, or that the money comes with no strings attached. It’s that they’re shrouded in secrecy: recipients receive a phone call out of the blue informing them that they’ve won—in other words, that, unbeknownst to them, someone has been quietly paying attention to their work and thinks it worthy. Whether an honoree is famous or obscure—and this year’s list includes both—surely there’s a moment, holding the phone, when they feel like they’ve fallen into a fairy tale?
Today’s MacArthur-sponsored fairy tale features a University of Chicago Press author as one of its characters. Shannon Lee Dawdy, an anthropologist here at the University of Chicago, was honored for her work
combining archaeological scholarship with historical preservation to reveal the dynamics of intellectual and social life in New Orleans from its establishment as a French colony to the present day.
That research is the basis of her book Building the Devil’s Empire, a fascinating, picaresque account of the early years of New Orleans that traces the town’s development from its origins in 1718 to its revolt against Spanish rule in 1768. The Nation called it “a penetrating study of the colony’s founding.” And it even impressed the locals: the Baton Rouge Advocate wrote, “By untangling myths, Dawdy has left us all with a richer inheritance. . . . Good history contains surprises, of which there are an abundance in this eye-popping yet scholarly book.”
Congratulations to all the MacArthur winners, and especially to Professor Dawdy—we can’t wait to see what this newly minted MacArthur fellow comes up with next!