Sara Bernstein, Katie Jarvis awarded NEH fellowships

Author: Beth Staples

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Three faculty members in the College of Arts & Letters, including two affiliated with the Gender Studies Program, have won National Endowment for the Humanities fellowships, extending the University of Notre Dame’s record success with the federal agency committed to supporting original research and scholarship. 

Sara Bernstein, an associate professor in the Department of Philosophy; Tarryn Chun, an assistant professor in the Department of Film, Television, and Theatre; and Katie Jarvis, the Carl E. Koch Associate Professor in the Department of History, are among the class of fellows announced by the NEH this week.

Since 2000, Arts & Letters faculty have received more NEH fellowships than any other private university in the country. NEH fellowships are competitive awards granted to scholars pursuing projects that embody exceptional research, rigorous analysis, and clear writing.

“We are thrilled and proud that these members of our faculty are continuing Notre Dame’s unprecedented success in earning NEH fellowships and grants,” said Sarah A. Mustillo, the I.A. O’Shaughnessy Dean of the College of Arts & Letters. “These awards recognize the outstanding research that is happening here across a range of disciplines, the creativity and originality of our scholars, as well as the excellent support provided by the Institute for Scholarship in the Liberal Arts throughout the application process.”

Notre Dame also received a significant grant for a digital scholarship project led by Robert Goulding, director of the Reilly Center for Science, Technology, and Values, in partnership with the Navari Family Center for Digital Scholarship and director Scott Weingart as well as collaborators at the University of Oxford’s Bodleian Library.

“These awards recognize the outstanding research that is happening here across a range of disciplines, the creativity and originality of our scholars, as well as the excellent support provided by the Institute for Scholarship in the Liberal Arts throughout the application process.”

Metaphysical questions

Sara Bernstein
Sara Bernstein

Bernstein will examine how different forms of inequality interact in ways that exacerbate one another in her project, titled “The Metaphysics of Intersectionality.” 

Metaphysics is the study of fundamental reality, and metaphysicians examine the nature of things like space, time, causation, and possibility. In recent years, Bernstein said, metaphysicians also have turned their philosophical attention to the social world to explore the nature of social entities, including corporations, social groups, gender, and race. 

Bernstein will explore the metaphysics of intersectionality — the idea that various forms of social oppression interact and intersect in ways that are greater than the sum of their components. The metaphysics of social categories is key to helping anyone understand how various factors or circumstances have shaped their identity, she said. 

“For instance: How would you have been a different person if you had been a different biological sex than you are? That is, in many ways, a metaphysical question about what you hold fixed and what you vary in the worlds where you are different,” Bernstein said. 

“Would you have had exactly the same personality and preferences, or have those things been shaped by social forces related to the social categories to which you belong? In this way, metaphysics can help us understand who we are through who we might have been.”

Bernstein, who is also a Gender Studies Program affiliate, will complete four papers during her fellowship. She plans to present her research at a meeting of the 2023 American Philosophical Association, the California Metaphysics Conference at the University of Southern California, and at other universities.

Forgiveness in Revolutionary France

Katie Jarvis
Katie Jarvis

Jarvis, a historian of early and late modern France, will spend her fellowship writing her book, Democratizing Forgiveness in Revolutionary France, 1789–1799, which examines how everyday citizens forged modern politics and society by reinventing reconciliation.

Jarvis is exploring how the revolutionaries, after wresting the power of pardon from the king and the Church, refashioned forgiveness en masse and channeled political overtones into routine citizen relationships.

“My project analyzes how individuals deployed institutions of the state or Church to effect these very personal repairs,” said Jarvis, who is also a faculty fellow of the Nanovic Institute for European Studies and Kellogg Institute for International Studies and affiliated faculty in the Gender Studies Program. “Enduring sociopolitical change cannot take root through constant, intense conflict alone.”

Jarvis explains that people “repaired broken bonds by arbitrating local disputes, forgiving personal loans, and settling debt in court. And they reconceptualized reconciliation through sacramental confession, innovative religious cults, and the education of youth.”

The study begins from an interdisciplinary framework, seeking to understand decisional forgiveness, which produces pragmatic resolutions through practices and procedures, rather than emotional forgiveness, which requires one party’s change of heart.

Jarvis, who plans to conduct research in France and present her work at conferences during her fellowship, became interested in the topic when doing research for her book Politics in the Marketplace: Work, Gender, and Citizenship in Revolutionary France, which won the American Society for Eighteenth-Century Studies’ Louis A. Gottschalk Prize in 2020. She noticed that revolutionary ideas, including those about equality, crept into civil court transcripts about disputes among neighbors. 

“This made me wonder how these micro-resolutions and other forms of procedural forgiveness became a way for citizens to invent and enact sweeping revolutionary transformations through everyday life,” she said.

Originally published by Beth Staples at on January 13, 2022.