Brian Bockelman awarded residential fellowship at Harvard-owned research center

Brian Bockelman, professor of history and interim director of strategic initiatives, has been awarded a residential fellowship at Dumbarton Oaks, a Harvard-owned estate, museum and humanities research center in Washington, D.C., for the spring 2023 semester. The competitive national fellowship, which provides both a stipend and housing near the estate in Georgetown, will support his research and writing while he is on sabbatical from Ripon College next year.

“Dumbarton Oaks has three great collection strengths: Pre-Columbian Studies, Byzantine Studies and Garden and Landscape Studies,” Bockelman says. “My fellowship will be in the third category, which is related to a book that I am finishing on Argentine history in the 1880s — ‘Down with the Palms of the Plaza!’: Replanting the Seeds of Argentine Discord in Modern Buenos Aires, c. 1883.’ ”

The book tells “a forgotten but funny story about a heated clash of city officials over what kind of tree to plant in the central plaza of Buenos Aires, which is arguably the single most important historic and symbolic space in the Argentine nation,” Bockelman explains. “The choice of palm trees during a major multi-year effort to make Argentina look more European and hence more ‘modern’ struck many at the time as ridiculous — and in fact the whole episode is filled with satire, ridicule, name-calling, pettiness and melodrama, all of which give us a window onto the political culture of the era.”

Bockelman began this book project with a Franklin Research Grant from the American Philosophical Society, allowing him to do archival research in Buenos Aires, and he did much of the early writing while on a year-long fellowship from the National Endowment for the Humanities.

“In this sense, my time at Dumbarton Oaks will be my ‘capstone experience’ for the book,” he says. “I also am looking forward to sharing my research with other experts on the history of landscape architecture. I have had many opportunities to discuss the project with historians of Argentina, but there are many sections of the book that touch on more general subjects, such as the evolution of green spaces in cities or the use of palm trees as urban adornments. It will be great to get feedback from scholars who may not know much about Argentina but are specialists in garden and landscape history.”

He adds that this experience also will be a “great adventure” for his whole family. “My son, Teddy, will attend a public school in Georgetown and, I hope, awaken his own interest in history by living in our nation’s capital,” he says. “And my wife Emma Kuby, who is a historian at Northern Illinois University, will continue work on her own book project about American Jews in postwar France by having access to multiple archives in the city.”

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