UC research sheds light on historically marginalized communities

Grad students’ research rewarded with competitive fellowships

At the University of Cincinnati’s College of Art and Sciences (A&S), students are often given the opportunity to complete in-depth research tailored to their individual interests. For two graduate students in the history department, this research included challenging the notion that the only research with impact is done by those in white lab coats.

Maurice Adkins and Katherine Ranum have spent their graduate school years bringing to light stories of marginalized people, helping to fill gaps within U.S. historical studies. As a result, many institutions are taking notice of Adkins and Ranum, rewarding them with fellowships that allow them to continue their efforts to make historical research more inclusive.

Adkins, a recent graduate from the history department’s doctorate program, spent seven years traveling between Cincinnati and North Carolina, scouring archives and hunting down public records to complete his dissertation, which explores Black leadership at historically Black col- leges and Universities (HBCUs) in North Carolina from 1863-1931.

This quickly became laborious, Adkins says, due to the underfunding that many HBCUs have faced historically, resulting in poorer record keeping than that of other universities.

Maurice Adkins, researcher and recent graduate from UC's doctoral program in history.

Maurice Adkins, researcher and recent graduate from UC's doctoral program in history.

Despite the difficulty of the task, Adkins’ hard work paid off as he received the competitive American Council of Learned Societies’ (ACLS) Emerging Voices fellowship for his research, making him one of only 45 people in the country to receive the fellowship this year. “When I received the fellowship, I immediately knew that this is going be a game changer for me,” Adkins said.

Ranum, also a doctorate student in the history department, has spent the past seven years at UC researching her dissertation on people with disabilities to examine how they are accepted within their respective faiths.

“What I thought I was going to find in studying religion and disability, I thought it'd be all about exclusion,” Ranum said. But as she was researching records from Colonial New England, she found the story of a deaf woman who had received full membership to the puritan church— the highest level of citizenship a woman could hold at that time. This is unusual, Ranum says, because she had expected that someone who was unable to hear the teachings of the sermons would have been disqualified from church membership in the Colonial era.

As Ranum dug deeper, she became interested in burial processes in the Atlantic World during the early modern period, and how those who had not participated through certain religious rites were denied proper burial when they died— another form of exclusion.

Ranum expanded her dissertation to include people who are “ritually disabled,” as she de- scribed it. She eventually unearthed several examples from Cincinnati of people being denied proper burial according to their religion. This included the discovery of several bodies underneath Washington Park, who were buried face down—away from heaven—which is considered improper burial in the Christian faith.

Katherine Ranum, researcher and doctoral candidate in UC's history program.

Katherine Ranum, researcher and doctoral candidate in UC's history program.

Ranum’s A&S professors have taken notice of her novel research. “She’s an amazing thinker,” said Erika Glasser, associate professor of history. “Even though scholars have done this type of research in the medieval period and in the modern period, there aren't many people who have done it in the early modern context that Katie is looking at.”

As Ranum was wrapping up her dissertation, she was concerned that her research funding would run out. A friend suggested that she apply for the Dean's Dissertation Completion Fellowship, which awards tuition and research funding to five doctoral students each year.

Despite being initially unsure if she wanted to apply for the fellowship, Ranum learned that the UC history department has had numerous students apply for the fellowship and receive it. Ranum felt that this was a sign that she needed to apply, and weeks later received the scholarship. “I felt just very, very surprised,” Ranum said while also saying she was relieved her research would be funded for the next year.

Like Ranum, Adkins was unsure about applying for a fellowship. However, several months after applying, he learned that he had received the ACLS fellowship. “It was a moment that really brought things full circle for me,” Adkins said.

They can really lead us into the next generation of both scholarship and teaching in universities.

Tracy Teslow UC associate professor of history

Growing up in North Carolina, Adkins attended preschool on an HBCU campus and cites this as an early inspiration for his interest in HBCUs, and his decision to research how leadership at HBCUs during the 19th and 20th century fought white supremacy.

“I particularly look at how HBCU leaders’ childhoods shaped their ideas about education, but also how they fought against white supremacy in a time when race relations in the United States were at their harshest,” Adkins said.

His interest grew when he attended North Carolina A&T, a historically Black university. “I was immersed in African American history, and growing up in North Carolina, surrounded by history constantly,” Adkins said. He spotted buildings on campus named after HBCU leaders and began to wonder how they came to have buildings named after them.

“There's got to be more to this,” Adkins remembers thinking. “They’re not just statues. There’s more to it. What’s the background? How did they get to where they were at? How did they have agency at the time when Black agency was restricted?”

The effort that Adkins puts into his research had not gone unnoticed by his A&S professors. “I was always really impressed with how curious he always was,” said Tracy Teslow, associate pro- fessor of history. "He was always digging further and looking for more material for class or digging further in his own research. He was amazingly diligent.”

When it came time to nominate students for the ACLS Emerging Voices Fellowship, Adkins was an obvious choice, Teslow said. “Being one of a handful of people deemed an Emerging Junior Scholar in the United States, they can really lead us into the next generation of both scholarship and teaching in universities,” Teslow said. “His research is giving us a more nuanced examination of these complexities of power and race and gender.”

Featured image at top: Books in a research library. Credit/Inaki Del Olmo for Unsplash.

Headshot of By Joseph Frye

By Joseph Frye

Student Journalist, A&S Department of Marketing and Communication


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