Each year, The Huntington hosts roughly 150 long- and short-term research fellows, selected through a competitive, peer-review process that provides $1.4 million in awards. These fellows are a portion of some 2,000 researchers who visit The Huntington annually to mine its massive collection of rare books, manuscripts, maps, photographs, art, and related materials in pursuit of their projects—producing academic monographs and scholarly articles, bestselling and prizewinning books, acclaimed documentary films, and other works related to literature and history.
This year, The Huntington has awarded long-term research fellowships to 12 individuals who will be in residence for the full academic year and 126 short-term fellowships (for between one and five months), as well as six travel grants for study in the United Kingdom, Spain, and France. (See the full list of 2023–24 Huntington fellows.)
Lois Rosson—who received her Ph.D. from the history department of the University of California, Berkeley, in 2022 and took up a Berggruen Institute Fellowship at USC’s Center for Science, Technology, and Public Life the same year—is the 2023–24 Octavia E. Butler Fellow at The Huntington. Photo by Ben Grad.
Among the incoming cohort of fellows is Lois Rosson, winner of the Octavia E. Butler Fellowship. She received her Ph.D. from the history department of the University of California, Berkeley, in 2022 and took up a Berggruen Institute Fellowship at USC’s Center for Science, Technology, and Public Life the same year. Rosson is a historian of science, focusing on visual representations of the space environment. Her work has been supported by the Smithsonian’s National Air and Space Museum, Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory, NASA’s Ames Research Center, and The Huntington, where she was awarded a short-term fellowship in 2020.
As the second Butler Fellow at The Huntington, Rosson will develop her first book project, which explores why visual tropes that associated outer space with Western frontier expansion persisted into the late 20th century. At no point in this history, she argues, was the framing of space landscapes as topographies ideologically continuous with American Manifest Destiny an obvious or inevitable outcome. How then, she asks, did this perception become so dominant?
Rosson proposes two conceptual alternatives to depictions of space as a landscape couched in colonialist narrative. The first centers on Afrofuturist representations of outer space as a realm to which inhabitants of Earth can hypothetically flee—as opposed to landscapes characterized by prospective settlement or colonial resource extraction. The second compares representations of Latinx farm workers in midcentury California with visions of the labor-free space colonies developed by NASA at the time.
Rosson plans to spend her time principally working with The Huntington’s Octavia E. Butler Papers. Butler’s literary vision of space as a place of asylum, Rosson writes, is one of the most widely read of the 20th century. In Butler’s novel Parable of the Sower, the protagonist, Lauren Oya Olamina, frustrated with life in dystopian California, compares Mars—“cold, empty, almost airless, dead”—to heaven. In Olamina’s view, the Martian landscape is not an especially inviting one, but it offers the prospect of escaping a planet characterized by degraded human life and violent climate catastrophe. At The Huntington, Rosson will focus on Butler’s ideas about how life in space should be organized as well as her upbringing in Pasadena and proximity to NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory.
Along with representations of space as a realm of noncorporate diaspora, Rosson explores the centrality of agricultural production to the large-scale space station designs that emerged in the 1970s and ’80s. While illustrations of these space stations depicted fully populated colonies set against the pastoral landscapes of fully engineered agricultural systems, the labor required to maintain these environments is never depicted. Rosson plans to compare depictions of agricultural production in space with the idealized versions circulated in 20th-century American print culture, which erased most traces of human labor. She argues that images of California citrus and vegetable farming—like those illustrated on lithographed labels held in The Huntington’s Jay T. Last Collection of Graphic Arts and Social History—function as visual precursors to the inert versions eventually depicted in illustrations of futuristic space stations in the early 1970s, a time when the rights of immigrant farm workers became increasingly visible in the United States.
Erika Pérez is an associate professor of history at the University of Arizona and a 2023–24 National Endowment for the Humanities Fellow at The Huntington. Photo courtesy of Pérez.
Another long-term fellow this year is Erika Pérez, associate professor of history at the University of Arizona. Her first book, Colonial Intimacies: Interethnic Kinship, Sexuality, and Marriage in Southern California, 1769–1885 (University of Oklahoma Press, 2018), received the Armitage-Jameson Prize from the Coalition for Western Women’s History. The prize recognizes the most outstanding monograph published in American Western women’s, gender, and sexuality history.
While serving as a National Endowment for the Humanities Fellow at The Huntington, Pérez will be working on her second book, tentatively titled Knowing Her Place: Gender Regimes, Sexual Cultures, and Regulation in Nineteenth-Century California. The project is a multiracial and multiethnic study of contested sexual and gender regimes from the gold rush era through 1900.
In her proposal, Pérez writes that she will pay close attention to the role of the courts, legal authorities, and popular publications in shaping and circulating Anglo American values to reinforce U.S. conquest. California’s early social and demographic landscape—with its lack of marriage-eligible women and an influx of people from different nations, classes, and racial backgrounds—led to intense economic, political, and social conflicts over whose cultural values would prevail. Pérez’s study looks at the impact of the U.S.-Mexico War on Californios and Indigenous peoples whose intimate lives bore the brunt of geopolitical conquest.
At a more granular level, Pérez will evaluate how California’s conditions shaped a diverse array of women’s and girls’ choices, economic options, and daily lives. She examines domestic wage labor and commercial sex, courtship rituals and premarital sex, legal cases of seduction and breach of marriage promise, sexual and domestic violence, sex crimes, vice activities and popular entertainment, and transgressive sex and cross-dressing.
Pérez plans to review more than 100 boxes of materials in The Huntington’s collection of Los Angeles Area Court Records, which consist of civil and criminal dockets. District Court records provide divorce proceedings and evidence of intimate partner violence, adultery, bigamy, contestations over marital assets and child custody, claims of impotence, and economic abandonment. District and Superior Court cases on seduction and breach of marriage promise reveal different ethnic, cultural, and class-based attitudes about courtship and premarital sex. Pérez is also interested in ferreting out cases of child brides, sex crimes, and prosecutions for vice activities and abortion. In addition, she has identified relevant rare books in The Huntington’s collections regarding moral reform, sex education, municipal ordinances regulating morality, and children’s education from the 1850s to 1910.
Rosson and Pérez were among 357 applicants who competed for fellowships at The Huntington this year. Four peer review committees were assembled to judge the competition: one to consider the applications for yearlong residencies in the humanities; one to evaluate grant proposals in the history of science, technology, and medicine; and two others to evaluate applications for short-term fellowships.
While much of the work of research fellows happens in the quiet of The Huntington’s reading rooms, a subset of six Distinguished Fellows will also offer public lectures throughout the year: Gordon Chang (Stanford University), Thavolia Glymph (Duke University), Jennifer Jahner (Caltech), Gabriela Soto Laveaga (Harvard University), Peter Mancall (USC), and David Roediger (University of Kansas). We look forward to welcoming you to hear them speak next fall and spring in Rothenberg Hall.
Susan Juster is the W.M. Keck Foundation Director of Research at The Huntington.