Fellowship enables Iowa State University history professor to expand research on French response to African sculpture

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John Warne Monroe, associate professor of history at Iowa State University, has been awarded a George A. and Eliza Gardner Howard Foundation Fellowship to continue work on his current research project – a history of the French response to African sculpture in the early 20th century.

History professor John Warne Monroe has been awarded a George A. and Eliza Gardner Howard Foundation Fellowship to continue work on his current research project – a history of the French response to African sculpture in the early 20th century.

The project – which explores the role objects from French colonies in Africa played in establishing “primitive art” as a Western aesthetic category – is an interdisciplinary study based on extensive research in Paris, New York and Dakar. It began in 2005 and will lead to the publication of a book.

The Howard Fellowship provides $30,000 for the 2013-2014 academic year. Monroe will use the funds for a release from teaching, so he can devote his time to writing his book.

The Department of History is an academic unit in the College of Liberal Arts and Sciences at ISU.

Monroe’s interest in African sculpture began as a hobby. In 2002, he began reading about the subject in his spare time for his own enjoyment.

In 2005, as he was finishing his first book, he decided to make African sculpture the basis of his next research project. "Since France had an important colonial presence in Africa during the early 20th century, I realized that investigating the story of French responses to African sculpture could be an innovative way of exploring the complex effects imperialism had on French culture," he said. "At the same time though, I still had a lot of work to do."

He bagan that work during the 2005-2006 academic year, when he held a Curatorial Fellowship at the University of Iowa’s Museum of Art. There, he prepared a reinstallation of its permanent collection of African sculpture, which gave him an opportunity to deepen his knowledge of African material culture as a whole.

“At that point, I was mainly reading work by scholars in art history and anthropology," he said. “I started thinking about this topic from a historian’s perspective, trying to find ways my disciplinary background in European history might help me say something new."

Monroe, who joined the ISU faculty in 2006, said initial funding from the College of Liberal Arts and Sciences and Iowa State’s Center for Excellence in the Arts and Humanities (CEAH) played a crucial role in helping him obtain the Fellowship.

“I couldn’t have done this without the support of the college,” he said. "This is an interdisciplinary project that is a big departure from my previous work. The college’s research funding and willingness to support leaves made it possible for me to develop and entirely new body of knowledge, and travel wherever my research led me.

Grants from the college in 2007 and the CEAH in 2009 funded research trips to Paris and Dakar, where he took photos of thousands of archival documents for his project. Monroe said this material gave his project an "innovative dimension" that set it apart from other work in the field.

“I have conducted research not only in the usual published sources, but also in the private papers of collectors and dealers, museum archives and government archives on three continents," he explained. "This has allowed me to trace, first hand, how African art circulated from Africa to France to New York and back.

In summer 2011, he used an additional CEAH grant to pay for the time he needed to write  the first draft of an article drawing on his new research. That article eventually made its way to the American Historical Review, the most prestigious history journal in the United States, where it appeared in April 2012. In March of this year, it received the William J. Koren Prize from the Society of French Historical Studies as the best article on French history published by a North American scholar in 2012.


About Liberal Arts and Sciences The College of Liberal Arts and Sciences is a world-class learning and research community. Iowa State’s most academically diverse college, LAS educates students to become global citizens, providing rigorous academic programs in the sciences, humanities and social sciences within a supportive personalized learning environment. College faculty design new materials, unravel biological structures, care for the environment, and explore social and behavioral issues. From fundamental research to technology transfer and artistic expression, the college supports people in Iowa and around the world.

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Contacts: John Warne Monroe, (515) 294-6642, jmonroe@iastate.edu Jess Knight, Liberal Arts & Sciences Communication, (515) 294-9906, jeknight@iastate.edu