Meet the Fellows: 2018 Newcombe Fellow Joseph Bartzel

The Charlotte W. Newcombe Doctoral Dissertation Fellowship fosters the original and significant study of ethical or religious values in all fields of the humanities and social sciences. The 2018 class, announced by the Woodrow Wilson National Fellowship Foundation, includes Joseph Bartzel, a doctoral candidate in religious studies at Indiana University Bloomington. Joseph’s dissertation, titled  From Riot to Reconciliation: The Ferguson Commission and the Future of St. Louis, envisions the collective retelling of history as a means to racial reconciliation.

Joseph looks back at his three-decade relationship with his hometown and how that has influenced his research:

When I was a fourth grader at Enright Classical Junior Academy, my teacher announced one day that our class would be writing an essay as part of our language arts lesson. The theme: “Our City: St. Louis.” Mrs. Johnson explained to us that she’d be entering the best of our essays into the district-wide Herbert Turner Sr. Memorial writing contest; mine won first prize.

In that essay I wrote, “out of all the things I like about St. Louis, there is hardly anything I don’t like.” In the nearly thirty years since, I’ve learned quite a bit about St. Louis that I don’t like—most notably, its history of legally codified racial segregation and discrimination that perpetuates racial inequality to this day. Over the past few years, St. Louis has gotten a significant amount of media attention—very little of it good. Whether it’s the city’s place atop yet another “most violent cities in America list” or the racial inequalities that protests there brought to light following Michael Brown’s death in 2014, St. Louis’s problems have been in the spotlight lately.

I no longer take the naïve view that there’s nothing not to like about St. Louis. And yet, three decades removed from that fourth-grade writing prompt, I’m still thinking and writing about St. Louis. Much of its racial history has been ugly, but the work that I’m doing in my dissertation begins from a conviction that St. Louis’s future need not be defined by its past. My project is, in a real sense, a continuation of that prizewinning essay I began back in the fourth grade, making a case for the greatness and the potential for greatness in a region that I continue to deeply love.

For more information about the 2018 Newcombe Fellows and a list of their dissertation titles, click here.



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