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Meet the Fellows: 2018 Newcombe Fellow Fernanda Bretones Lane

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 Fernanda Bretones Lane, a doctoral candidate in history at Vanderbilt University. Fernanda’s project, titled Spain, the Caribbean, and the Making of Religious Sanctuary, is about religious sanctuary, law, and inter-imperial politics in the Caribbean.

Fernanda shares how an early passion has shaped the way she approaches her research and writing:

I originally wanted to be a filmmaker. I was particularly interested in making documentaries, which is why, as a high school senior, I applied for both film school and history (in Brazil, where I am from, you apply to a specific major from the start, not just to a college). I got into both, and for a couple of months, I would go to film school in the morning, and took history classes at a different university in the evenings. I fell in love with historical methods and theories, and eventually decided to pursue historical research rather than cinema.

But that initial passion for telling stories still shapes my work, which is why I try to incorporate as many details as possible in my writing about the past. In my dissertation, I use a series of case studies to structure the narrative, which allows me to paint a rich picture of a particular historical moment. These cases are about slaves who ran away from English, Dutch, Danish, and French colonies in the Caribbean and found refuge in Spanish colonies in the region through conversion and baptism. At the same time, I try to understand how these stories fit into the historical framework of the project—that of imperial rivalry and competition in the early modern Caribbean. Akin to a movie director changing back and forth between close-ups and long shots, I alternate the scale of analysis between the micro-histories of the cases, and the macro history of slavery, religion, and empire.

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


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