Harvard Prof. Sunil Amrith receives MacArthur Foundation ‘Genius Grant’ fellowship

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Sunil Amrith

NEW YORK – Indian American Sunil Amrith, a Mehra Family professor of South Asian studies and professor of history at Harvard University, has been awarded a MacArthur Foundation fellowship, also known as the “genius grant,” and will be award $625,000 over the next five years with no strings attached.

Amrith earned his bachelor’s and doctorate degrees from the University of Cambridge and was a research fellow of Trinity College at the University of Cambridge.

He taught Modern Asian History at Birkbeck College at the University of London prior to joining Harvard University in 2015 where he is currently the director of the Harvard Center for History and Economics, a Mehra Family Professor of South Asian studies as well as a professor of history who focuses on migration, colonialism and the movement of ideas and institutions in South Asia.

He has been working on global migration focusing on India, Bangladesh, Sri Lanka, Myanmar, Thailand, Malaysia and Singapore; tying centuries of movement of people and goods around and across the Bay of Bengal.

Amrith has written various publications including “Decolonizing International Health: India and Southeast Asia, 1930–65” and “Sites of Asian Interaction: Ideas, Networks and Mobility” and books “Migration and Diaspora in Modern Asia” and “Crossing the Bay of Bengal,” in which he combines the theoretical frameworks of oceanic and environmental history with archival, ethnographic and visual research to chart how migration transformed individuals, families and communities by using narratives and records left by coastal traders, merchants and migrants of India who made homes in new lands across the bay.

According to the foundation, Amrith also provides an analysis of how climatic patterns around the bay defines the lives of migrants and coastal residents in the Bay of Bengal and will expand on this work in his current project which is on the history of environmental change in Asia, he will focus mainly on the monsoon season.

The foundation stated that Amrith won the fellowship for “illustrating the role of centuries of transnational migration in the present-day social and cultural dynamics of South and Southeast Asia.”

“From transforming conditions for low-wage workers to identifying internet security vulnerabilities, from celebrating the African American string band tradition to designing resilient urban habitats, these new MacArthur Fellows bring their exceptional creativity to diverse people, places, and social challenges,” Fellowship program managing director Cecilia Conrad said in a statement. “Their work gives us reason for optimism and inspires us all.”

According to Harvard’s website, the fellowship is awarded annually to 24 “talented individuals who have shown extraordinary originality and dedication in their creative pursuits and a marked capacity for self-direction”; the recipients include academics, artists, activists, and others.