Associate Professor of History Kelly Whitmer has been awarded a research fellowship from the Alexander von Humboldt Foundation.

Beginning next April, Whitmer will spend a year as a scholar-in-residence at the Georg-August-Universität in Göttingen. With her hosts, Professor Margarete Vöhringer, an expert on the material culture of scientific knowledge, and the Göttingen Institute for Advanced Study, she will pursue a collaborative project focused on pedagogies of objects and collections in the history of science and technology. She will also complete a book manuscript tentatively titled “Useful Science, Youth and the Pedagogies of Innovation in the Early Modern World.”

Whitmer’s ongoing research project is engaged with the history of education and youth culture. She offers two courses at Sewanee that grow out of that expertise: “Children and Childhood in History” and “Youth and Social Networks in the Early Modern World.” With the fellowship, she will continue to study how changing expectations about the capacities of young people informed new efforts to create a culture of innovation through educational reform in the early modern period (c. 1500-1800). 

Whitmer has also pursued a variety of creative projects intended to involve students in her research program and to help them appreciate the power of working with archival materials. She has taught both introductory and upper-level courses that connect to her ongoing work on the history of science, collections, and teaching, which also uses the act of collecting, arranging, and systematically observing objects as a starting point for studying how new scientific theories and even entirely new disciplines were formed. Her classes explore such questions as, how can we use archival materials and historical methods to enhance our understanding of science and technology?

The Science, Society and the Archives class was developed by Whitmer and colleagues from Davidson, Washington & Lee, and Furman, all of whom are interested in studying science, technology and medicine as historically developing enterprises. A “Monsters, Marvels and Museums” class took students to Sewanee’s Archives and Special Collections to build “curiosity cabinets.” Through their engagement with objects and their efforts to organize or classify them, students experienced the challenges of making new knowledge first-hand. 

Founded and funded by the German government, the Alexander von Humboldt Foundation furthers international collaboration between leading scholars in Germany and around the world. Alexander von Humboldt fellowships and awards are highly competitive and among the most highly sought after in Germany. The Foundation’s alumni network includes 50 Nobel laureates.