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Three Graduate Students Win the Fulbright

April 3, 2018

UMD Graduate Fulbright Scholars 2018-2019Three graduate students from the University of Maryland have been awarded the prestigious Fulbright research fellowship. Saswathi Natta (Sociology), Samuel Miner (History), and Thomas Messersmith (History) will spend 2018-2019 in India, Germany and Austria, respectively.

According to the Fulbright Program these fellowships have "aimed to increase mutual understanding between the people of the United States, and the people of other countries" over the last 70 years. Furthermore, Fulbright alumni have become heads of state, judges, ambassadors, cabinet ministers, CEOs, and university presidents, as well as leading journalists, artists, scientists, and teachers. They include 59 Nobel Laureates, 82 Pulitzer Prize winners, 71 MacArthur Fellows, 16 Presidential Medal of Freedom recipients, and thousands of leaders across the private, public and non-profit sectors. Since its inception in 1946, more than 380,000 'Fulbrighters' have participated in the Program.

Natta came to Maryland after completing a degree in Electrical Engineering at Princeton University.  While there, she completed a great deal of work in the social sciences with a focus on South Asian Studies.  After completing her degree, she had a fellowship, and subsequent research positon at Lok Capital - an impact investment fund, financed in part by the Rockefeller Foundation, and the World Bank.  Concurrently, she did research with the University of Pennsylvania's Center for Advanced Study of India.

Natta's current research, entitled Family Aspirations for Girls in India: What are motives for Growing Girls' Education? examines the paradox of increasing female education, and decreasing female labor force participation in India. Her aim is to understand this recent development from a social structure perspective, and examine families’ aspirations, and motives for educating their daughters. She hopes that her findings will help inform Indian communities on how to facilitate female empowerment, and labor force participation. Her Fulbright work of 8-12 months based in Delhi will draw from her affiliation with the National Council of Applied Economic Research (NCAER), and the National University of Educational Planning and Administration (NUEPA), while also conducting interviews in the surrounding area, and the city of Vijayawada. She will also volunteer with Udyam Trust, an NGO that provides tutoring services, and community organization for disadvantaged children.

"As a scholar, the Fulbright is an amazing opportunity for a scholar to travel, and produce research. It is a great honor to be chosen because it indicates that my research has relevance to both the U.S. knowledge base, and India as the host country. It is gratifying to be a part of the long history of reseachers who have furthered the cultural exchange that was intended by this program," says Natta.

Miner agrees, "I'm incredibly thankful to the Fulbright Program for placing me in this illustrious, and historic program. One of the central contentions of my dissertation is that the exchange of people, and ideas between the United States and Europe in the 20th century has greatly enriched the lives of people on both sides of the Atlantic. To be a small part of a program whose stated purpose is to support that very same endeavor feels very fulfilling. I look forward to the opportunities presented by living amidst Frankfurt's exciting intellectual atmosphere through the mentorship of Professors Sybile Steinbacher of the Fritz Bauer Institute, and Martin Cüppers of the Research Center Ludwigsburg."

Originally from Ohio, Miner completed a degree in History at Ohio University. He is a recent recipient of the Cosmos Foundation's Cosmos Scholars Grant.  He has had several research assistantships over the years, which have taken him to the National Archives, the National Defense University's Maxwell Taylor papers, the German National Library, and German National Archives.

Miner's work focuses on Democracy Negotiated: Criminal Law, Constitutionalism and the Nazi Past in West Germany. During the Flubright, he will examine the origins, and structure of constitutional law in postwar West Germany. In his preliminary research, Miner found that jurists persecuted by the Third Reich played a crucial and under-examined role in the reconstruction of Germany. He uncovered that the same jurists who prosecuted war criminals during the Allied occupation of Germany went on to write West Germany's constitution, and staff its Federal Constitutional Court. Miner plans to visit multiple state, and federal archives around Frankfurt am Main. He has secured affiliations with the Fritz Bauer Institute for the Study of the History, and Impact of the Holocaust at Goethe University, and the Research Center Ludwigsburg of the Central Office of the State Justice Administrations for the Investigation of National Socialist Crimes at the University of Stuttgart.
 
Miner's colleague, Thomas Messersmith, will head to neighboring Austria for his Fulbright work entitled the Theology's Destructive Gifts: Austrian Catholic Theology and the Development of Catholic Political Culture, 1848-1888. This research explores the theological arguments that developed within the Austrian Catholic Church between 1848, and 1888, how they were received, accepted, and, subsequently, modified by the laity to shape the political environment in the Habsburg Monarchy. These theological conversations included questions about the nature of the Church, and faith itself in state governance, the role, and (il)legitimacy of ultramontanism, and the (in)compatibility of liberalism, and socialism with Church doctrine. Through the Fulbright, Mettersmith will utilize sources from the major diocese, and archdiocese archives throughout Austria as well as sources from the Karl von Vogelsang Institute, Austrian State Archives, Austrian National Library, and press sources. This project seeks to understand the ways in which religious, and political ideals worked together (sometimes unconsciously) to create the modern European political culture of the late nineteenth century, and beyond.
 
Messersmith hails from Cullman, Alabama, a German colony founded in 1873, about 50 miles north of Birmingham. He earned a bachelor's degree in History from Auburn University, followed by a Master's in Modern European History from Northern Illinois University.  Last fall, Messersmith was awarded the Central European History Society Travel Grant.  He has extensive research experience at the Viennese Staatsarchiv, Diözesanarchiv, Archiv des Vereins für Geschichte der Arbeiterbewegung, Karl von Vogelsang Institut, Österreichische Nationalbilbliothek, the Library of Congress, and the National Archives.
 
Concludes Messersmith, "The Fulbright is a significant marker in each of our academic careers. After working for years on our research, this fellowship serves as validation that indeed, our work is significant, and resonant with the greater academic community. Moreover, the time, and opportunity to examine sources first-hand is priceless. We can be extremely grateful to the Fulbright Board for selecting each of us."
 
(Photo A. De Cheke Qualls)

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