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Penn State professor wins 'genius' award for uncovering and digitally preserving Black history

Gabrielle Foreman
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Penn State professor P. Gabrielle Foreman was named a 2022 MacArthur Fellow in the Oct. 12, 2022 announcement.

Penn State professor P. Gabrielle Foreman has been named a 2022 MacArthur Fellow.

In its award announcement Wednesday, the MacArthur Foundation highlighted Foreman’s work on the Colored Conventions Project. It’s a digital initiative which documents Black organizing efforts in the 19th Century.

“Foreman is setting a new standard for digital and collaborative humanities scholarship while also uncovering histories of African American organizing that are still relevant and resonant today,” writes the Foundation on its website.

Last year, Foreman talked with the Democracy Works podcast – which is a collaboration with WPSU – about the importance of the Colored Conventions, gatherings of African Americans that took place throughout much of the 19th century.

“What this movement shows us in these multiday meetings across the growing United States and also Canada, is the networks of African American people influencing each other, mentoring each other throughout generations,” Foreman said.

Foreman is also the co-editor of The Colored Conventions Movement: Black Organizing in the Nineteenth Century. Foreman is the Paterno Family Professor of American Literature, professor of African American studies and history and co-director of the Center for Digital Black Research.

The award, dubbed the “genius grant,” comes with a no-strings-attached $800,000 grant to each of the 25 winners.

The three criteria outlined on the MacArthur Foundation website for selecting fellows are “exceptional creativity, promise for important future advances based on a track record of significant accomplishments and potential for the Fellowship to facilitate subsequent creative work.”

“There is no other award that nominates recipients from across the spectrum of this country’s most creative cultural producers, scholars, and democracy defenders. I am humbled beyond measure to have been selected,” Foreman said. “My career has been grounded in collaborative and public-facing work that pushes against the ways my field often defines success. For me, this award affirms a collective approach to scholarship that has been the foundation of my work at every stage of my professional life.”

Other winners this year include a filmmaker, an ornithologist, a computer scientist and a jazz cellist.

Emily Reddy is the news director at WPSU-FM, the NPR-affiliate public radio station for central and northern Pennsylvania.