The 2015 MacArthur Foundation Fellows have been announced. Unofficially called the Genius Awards, each year’s disparate class of Fellows mixes scholars, artists, and activists on the cutting edge. Criteria for selection includes “exceptional creativity, promise for important future advances… and potential for the fellowship to facilitate subsequent creative work.”
The back story, or what the Foundation calls the “track record of significant accomplishment”, for three of the scholars chosen this year can be gleaned from articles in the JSTOR archive. (It seems unlikely that these were not read with great attention by the Foundation’s selection team.)
Matthew Desmond, an urban sociologist at Harvard University, “reveals the impact of eviction on poor families and the role of housing policy in sustaining poverty and racial inequality in large American cities.” Desmond’s first book, however, was about rural firefighters, the subject of this Ethnography article from 2006. He wondered why “individuals seek out high-risk occupations when safer ways of earning a living are available.” The research was done during his own employment as a firefighter for the U.S. Forest Service.
Dimitri Nakassis, a classicist at the University of Toronto, was cited for his “challenging of long-held assumptions about modes of economic exchange and political authority in prehistoric Greek societies and reveal their connections to the origins of modern civilization.” In this Transactions of the American Philological Association article, Nakassis examined how the archaic Greek epics described remote places, and why they did so.
Marina Rustow, a historian at Princeton University, mines “textual materials from the Cairo Geniza to deepen our understanding of medieval Muslim and Jewish communities.” The Cario Geniza texts are made up of hundreds of thousands of documents deposited in a Cairo synagogue over more than a millennium. In Past & Present, Rustow looks into three cases of supposed Jewish heresy amongst the Karaites, a sect distinct from mainstream Rabbinic Judaism in that they did not accept the oral tradition of the Midrash and Talmud.