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Two liberal arts faculty receive NEH fellowships

by Cindy Weiss - February 2, 2009

Two faculty members in the College of Liberal Arts and Sciences have received National Endowment for the Humanities (NEH) fellowships to undertake scholarly projects.

They are among 74 faculty from around the country to receive NEH fellowships or faculty research awards this year.

Richard Wilson, the Gladstein Distinguished Chair in Human Rights and director of the Human Rights Institute, will devote his fellowship to completing a book on three United Nations tribunals: the International Criminal Tribunals for the Former Yugoslavia and for Rwanda and the International Criminal Court in The Hague.

International criminal trials “represent one of the most significant human rights interventions in recent history,” Wilson wrote in his NEH proposal.

His research interests center on expert witness testimony from historians and social scientists in international criminal trials.

Michael Lynch, professor of philosophy.
Michael Lynch, professor of philosophy. Photo by Jessica Tommaselli

Michael Lynch, professor of philosophy, will write a book defending an original theory of truth that is at odds with both traditional theories and what he calls the new orthodoxy.

Lynch is the author of several books on truth, including True to Life (2004), which a New York Times review described as “a passionate demonstration that truth matters.”

“An NEH fellowship is one of the most distinguished awards that a scholar in the humanities can receive,” says Jeremy Teitelbaum, dean of CLAS. “By winning this prestigious fellowship, Wilson and Lynch highlight the diversity and strength of CLAS’s programs in the humanities.”

Richard Brown, Board of Trustees Distinguished Professor of History and director of the Humanities Institute in CLAS, says, “NEH fellowships are so competitive [only 1 in 25 applicants wins an award] because they provide time for research and writing that does not require uprooting one’s family to travel to a research site.” Brown is a former NEH fellow himself.

Wilson’s interest in human rights conflicts had its origins in a trip he made to Guatemala to learn Spanish when he was 18 years old. He returned there in 1987 to do research for his Ph.D., at a time when Guatemala was coping with poverty, violent conflict, and refugees.

His research focus later shifted to South Africa, where he studied truth commissions and wrote a book, The Politics of Truth and Reconciliation in South Africa.

He then turned to studying international tribunals, the subject of the book he will complete with his NEH fellowship.

Richard Wilson, director of the Human Rights Institute.
Richard Wilson, director of the Human Rights Institute. Photo by Daniel Buttrey

While existing research has focused on the judgments of tribunals, “greater insight can come through studying what prosecuting attorneys, investigators, judges, and legal officers actually do with historical evidence during a trial,” he wrote in his NEH proposal.

He is collaborating with a former investigator from the Yugoslavia tribunal to survey some 200 former investigators, trial attorneys, and legal officers on the use of historical and social science evidence in international tribunals.

Wilson came to UConn in 2003 from the New School for Social Research in New York, where he was a visiting professor of anthropology.

Lynch will devote his fellowship to working on an alternative theory of truth and writing about it in a book that will be published by Oxford University Press.

“Many philosophers have held that truth has a single essence, even while they disagreed over what that essence is,” he wrote in his proposal.

Current researchers reject those traditional theories because they do not explain why some kinds of judgments or beliefs can be true or false, he wrote.

For example, he says, “My belief that there is an oak tree in my yard seems true because it corresponds to the objective facts …. But it is much less obvious that my beliefs about things like art and morality are true for that reason.”

While the new orthodoxy of “deflationism” holds that truth has no nature, Lynch rejects it and will develop an original theory of truth, the culmination of a decade of work on the subject.

Among the books he has written or edited in the past 10 years are Truth in Context, Truth and Realism, and The Nature of Truth: Classic and Contemporary Perspectives.

He has been interviewed extensively by the media on his views of the truth. His books have been reviewed in the Washington Post, Toronto Globe and Mail, Denver Post, and other major newspapers.

Lynch came to UConn in 2004 from Connecticut College, where he chaired the philosophy department. He is an associate fellow of the Arché Research Centre for the Philosophy of Logic, Language, Metaphysics, and Epistemology at the University of St. Andrews, Scotland.

To hear a podcast of Richard Wilson describing his research in human rights, go to http://www.clas.uconn.edu/facultysnapshots/view.php?id=wilson

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