Mount Holyoke College professor awarded prestigious Andrew Carnegie Fellowship



Published: 05-02-2017 2:02 PM

SOUTH HADLEY – Mount Holyoke College professor of environmental studies Lauret Savoy has been awarded a prestigious Andrew Carnegie Fellowship to further her research on the intersection of history, race and the physical landscape of America.

The Carnegie Corporation of New York annually names 35 scholars, journalists and authors, who are nominated by their institutions and receive up to $200,000 in funding toward a project in the social sciences and humanities.

“I was amazed, I’m still amazed,” Savoy told the Gazette about receiving the award. “There were times that I went to bed thinking this was a dream.”

The award will allow Savoy to take a year off of teaching to work on her winning project — a book she has started research on, titled “On the River's Back: Seeing Roots of an ‘American Dilemma’ in a History of Landscape and Mixed Heritage in the Chesapeake Tidewater and Piedmont.”

“My research will explore some roots of the ‘American dilemma’ through the lens of an African-American family of mixed heritage and the environmental history of Chesapeake landscapes they inhabited from the colonial era onward,” Savoy said.

Drawing on her own African-American, Euro-American and Native American heritage, Savoy said the project will be "a deep dive into time," using her father's family's history as an entry point into an exploration of the land and the history of human experience on that land.

The book is in many ways an extension of Savoy's earlier work; the project builds, she said, on her latest book, “Trace: Memory, History, Race, and the American Landscape.” That work, which won the 2016 American Book Award from the Before Columbus Foundation, tells a mosaic of history and personal tales to connect the country's past, its notions of race and the environmental legacy left behind.

Savoy’s new book will center on one region in particular, the Chesapeake tidewater and Piedmont, where among other things the nation's capital was eventually built. 

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Savoy said she will miss teaching in the coming year, which she sees as an opportunity to learn from her students as much as a chance to impart wisdom. Nevertheless, she is excited to have the time needed for such an ambitious work of history, which also has clear implications for the present.

"The legacy of slavery, near-slavery, and racism fed and reinforced by both, remains a malignant symbiosis. It feeds who we Americans think we are, as citizens and as communities. It festers as untended wounds, open and disfiguring to some, hidden from view to others,” Savoy said in her project proposal. “Addressing this legacy requires recognizing the depth and complexity of its origins."

Dusty Christensen can be reached at