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Moglen awarded fellowship for Bethlehem book project

Photo of South Side Bethlehem by Dana Grubb.

Seth Moglen, associate professor of English, has been awarded a 2014-15 Fellowship from the American Council of Learned Societies (ACLS), the nation’s preeminent foundation of scholarly organizations in the humanities and social sciences. With the fellowship, Moglen will continue his exploration of the egalitarian promise of American life, and the betrayal of that promise, by focusing on our own iconic city of Bethlehem.
 
Moglen’s book project, Bethlehem: American Utopia, American Tragedy, was one of only 65 research proposals among thousands to receive the distinguished support of the ACLS.

To Moglen and many others, tiny Bethlehem stands as a microcosm of America itself. Founded as a utopian religious community by the Moravians in the 1740s, it emerged as one of the emblematic steel towns of industrial America by the turn of the 20th century, attracting working-class immigrants from dozens of countries and producing the steel that built American skyscrapers, bridges and battleships. Yet by the turn of the 21st century, deindustrialization brought Bethlehem’s way of life to an end.
 
Today, with a casino looming over Bethlehem and the ghostly smoke stacks of an abandoned factory the city’s most iconic structure, Moglen is exploring the city as an embodiment of the “enduring contradiction between egalitarianism and domination in American life.” The book will trace “the long arc of the city’s development, from 18th century founding to postindustrial present,” uncovering the egalitarian aspirations of the people of Bethlehem “as well as the evolving structures of racial and gender hierarchy and economic exploitation that have constrained those aspirations over the course of three centuries.”

The book, says Moglen, will depart from familiar conventions of historical narrative by telling the story of Bethlehem through a series of brief, archivally researched and metaphorically resonant vignettes, each of which captures a single moment in the history of the city or in the life of an individual.  The vignettes will be organized chronologically in three sections: Moravian Bethlehem; Industrial Bethlehem; and Postindustrial Bethlehem.  Some will focus on those who have amassed wealth and exercised power, including the charismatic spiritual leader Count Zinzendorf,  Bethlehem Steel magnate Charles Schwab, and the casino mogul Sheldon Adelson.  Others will trace the lives and egalitarian visions of Bethlehem’s less celebrated residents, including Moravian slaves and peasants, immigrant union organizers, and civil rights activists.  A public humanities project, written for both scholars and a broad general audience, Moglen’s book will provide “an archive of popular egalitarian feeling that may help to reinvigorate discussion of what equality has meant – and might yet mean – in the United States.”

The book is an outgrowth of Moglen’s earlier work, some might say “calling,” both as a scholar and as founding co-director of Lehigh’s South Side Initiative (SSI). Through SSI,  faculty, students and staff work hand-in-hand with the people of Bethlehem to share knowledge and history, address challenges the city faces, and improve the quality of life through democratic deliberation and action. SSI achieves these goals by developing courses, supporting community-based research, and sponsoring public forums and events.
 
The mission of the American Council of Learned Societies is "the advancement of humanistic studies in all fields of learning in the humanities and the social sciences and the maintenance and strengthening of relations among the national societies devoted to such studies." Institutions and individuals contribute to the ACLS Fellowship Program and its endowment, including The Andrew W. Mellon Foundation, the Ford Foundation, the Rockefeller Foundation, the National Endowment for the Humanities, the William and Flora Hewlett Foundation, the Council's college and university Associates, and former Fellows and individual friends of ACLS.

“ACLS employs a rigorous multi-stage peer-review process to ensure that humanities scholars select those fellows deemed to represent the very best in their fields,” said Matthew Goldfeder, director of fellowship programs at ACLS. “This year’s fellows, chosen for their potential to create new knowledge that will improve our understanding of the world and its diverse cultures and societies, represent over 50 colleges and universities, and a vast array of humanities disciplines, including music, philosophy, art history, and sociology.”

Posted on Wednesday, July 02, 2014

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