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Bahr Earns Prestigious ACLS Fellowship


The American Council of Learned Societies (ACLS), one of the foremost associations in social science and humanities scholarship, awards highly competitive scholarships to a select number of applicants to support their academic research and writing. As such, the prestigious fellowships often require years of application fine-tuning to achieve.

Assistant Professor of Literature Stephanie Bahr secured one on her first try.

Bahr learned last month that the ACLS, a private, non-profit federation of 75 scholarly organizations, had named her a 2020-21 fellow, enabling her to take a full-year sabbatical to work on her book project Reading Martyred Signs: Reformation Hermeneutics and English Literature. Her book argues that state violence involving Reformation biblical hermeneutics, or how one interprets the Bible, influenced English Renaissance literature in a way that has gone largely unexamined.

Having entered academia thinking of myself really as someone who is called to be a teacher and for whom that was the primary motivator, the main vocation, winning the ACLS fellowship is a potent reminder that I have become a serious scholar.

For example, Bahr said, one can choose to read the Bible “figuratively, literally, or with some combination of these strategies” — such as when Christ says, ‘Take, eat; This is my body,’ which can be interpreted as both a religious and a political act. Literary moments of interpretation hence existed in and referenced a context in which interpretation had tangible, often violent, consequences.

Altogether, Bahr’s book will span various genres and authors, from Thomas Wyatt to Shakespeare, and help provide a new framework with which to read 16th-century literature.

Through expanding her primary and secondary reading list, traveling to archives, and conducting and writing literary analyses, Bahr hopes to finish Reading Martyred Signs during her sabbatical. Using the ACLS Fellowship to help fund her research and writing, she particularly plans to finish a chapter dedicated to examining the “print effort” under Edward VI and Mary Tudor, “bridging the gap” between her work on literature under Henry VIII and Elizabeth I.

Having chanced upon a previously unknown 16th-century sonnet, Bahr has already made exciting discoveries in her research. The poem, Thomas Harman’s “A Sonet in the commendation of Sir Thomas More Knyght,” has illuminated her understanding of religious forethought in literature during Elizabeth’s reign. Even more, she involved her students in a Spring 2020 course, Medium is the Message, in “decoding” Harman’s handwriting and her book topics more broadly, reinforcing the academic link between research and teaching.

Bahr is elated to receive the ACLS Fellowship. She said, “Having entered academia thinking of myself really as someone who is called to be a teacher and for whom that was the primary motivator, the main vocation, winning the ACLS fellowship is a potent reminder that I have become a serious scholar.”

Reflecting on her scholarly journey, Bahr concluded, “Having my research recognized and supported by the ACLS is incredibly inspiring and I’m grateful to my mentors who helped me reach this point, especially David Landreth and Maura Nolan at UC Berkeley and Margie Thickstun here at Hamilton. My colleagues at Hamilton have been such generous interlocutors for my work, commenting on drafts and giving me feedback at talks. I feel incredibly fortunate.”

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