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WVU English professor awarded prestigious Carnegie fellowship

West Virginia University English professor Stephanie Foote has been named one of the 2018 Andrew Carnegie Fellows for her work related to cultural production in and around the Anthropocene, the geological epoch in which human activity has had a global effect on Earth’s climate and environment. 

The Carnegie Corporation of New York awards the high-profile fellowship, known as the “brainy award.” Foote was chosen from among 270 nominees from across the country and is the first WVU professor to receive the prestigious recognition.

The fellowship recognizes “high-caliber scholarship that applies fresh perspectives to some of the most pressing issues of our times, shows potential for meaningful impact on a field of study, and has the capacity for dissemination to a broad audience.” 

Each member of the class of 31 scholars will receive up to $200,000 in order to devote time to significant research, writing and publishing in the humanities and social sciences. 

“Stephanie Foote is the most recent example of how West Virginia University’s faculty are finding creative and exciting ways to address the challenges that face modern society,” said President E. Gordon Gee. “It is an example of the tremendous quality of our faculty research and a reminder of the power that higher education has to transform our state and the world.” 

“The selection is also further indication that West Virginia University scholarship is being recognized more and more at the highest levels and furthers our status as a significant research university.”

Provost Joyce McConnell called the Carnegie Fellowship “an exciting next step” for Foote, who has already been recognized as a fellow at the National Humanities Center in North Carolina, where she is in residence this year. 

“Stephanie Foote’s work is both urgent and important to our region,” McConnell said. “More than that, it has tremendous potential to change the way we think about our place in the world.”

For Foote, Jackson and Nichols Professor of English in the Eberly College of Arts and Sciences, the fellowship will support her research in the emerging field of environmental humanities.

She will complete her third book, "The Art of Waste: Narrative, Trash, and Contemporary Culture," which argues that garbage, perhaps the most ubiquitous feature of contemporary life, is the richest, most powerful text of our time.

By paying close attention to garbage, we can trace the histories of the global and local circulation and transformation of raw material, the human costs of making, using, and discarding commodities, and the intense anxiety about personal responsibility toward environmental toxicity embodied by trash.

Further, these stories allow us to grasp the ethical challenges driven not only by physical consequences on the world, but also by our investments in the material world.

Foote looks at social, medical, psychological, industrial, historical, literary, and statistical evidence. For example, she analyzes a broad range of data from how garbage circulates globally, to records of how it is burned, buried, salvaged, or resold, to psychological models about the intensity of our relationships to objects and how it expresses our cultural values.

“I use the stories garbage tells and the stories that we tell about garbage to explore a broad range of cultural narratives about human choices and environmental degradation,” Foote said. “If literary creation is the sign of human civilization, garbage is the visible sign of its costs.”

In addition to completing her book, Foote is planning to use the fellowship to fund the establishment of a public humanities website and the formation of a working group to where scholars can collaborate on issues related to the environmental humanities .

She will also organize a symposium in which scholars, activists and citizens from the Appalachian coal-producing region can exchange ideas about the global and local circulation of garbage.

The Carnegie Corporation of New York was established in 1911 by Andrew Carnegie to promote the advancement and diffusion of knowledge and understanding. The corporation’s work focuses on international peace, education and knowledge, and a strong democracy. 

The Andrew Carnegie Fellows program was established in 2015. As part of the nominating process, the heads of more than 600 institutions, representing universities, think tanks, publishers and nonprofit organizations nationwide are invited to nominate scholars.

The final selections are made by a panel of 17 jurors, including leaders of some of the nation’s preeminent institutions dedicated to the advancement of knowledge. They include current and former presidents of universities, foundations, and scholarly societies.