By Keely Sexton
Mount Holyoke College Associate Professor of Art History Jessica Maier got a delightful holiday surprise when she opened an email in December from the National Endowment for the Humanities that informed her that she had been selected to receive a fellowship for her work.
“It didn’t seem real. It took a while to sink in,” she said, explaining that she had applied for the fellowship eight months earlier.
Maier will use the fellowship funds to finish her book that examines 15th-, 16th- and 17th- century Italian prints and how they changed with the Renaissance. These prints are largely maps, but rather than the modern interpretation of geographical maps, they depicted cultural and political events during a period of conflict between European powers and Ottoman Turks — early documentation of Western/Islamic tensions that persist to this day.
Examining the prints gives insight into how cultural and political issues of the day were framed, from the anodyne and apolitical to purely political propaganda—or, as Maier puts it, “fake news.” In one case of such propaganda, a print depicted Europeans retaking a port city that the Turks had won in battle — an event that never happened.
In receiving the fellowship, Maier is one of 188 grantees from around the country who received a total of $30.9 million from the NEH in support of their projects.