Prof. Jim Downs awarded prestigious Harvard Fellowship for African, African American research

Jim Downs standing outside near a stone wall
Jim Downs, Gilder Lehrman NEH chair of Civil War era studies and history at Gettysburg College

The Hutchins Center for African and African American Research at Harvard University has recently named Jim Downs, Gilder Lehrman NEH chair of Civil War era studies and history, as a Sheila Biddle Ford Foundation Fellow for the upcoming 2022-2023 academic year.

“The fellowship will allow me to be part of a community of scholars and thinkers committed to the study of Black history and culture,” Downs said. “The Hutchins Center has long been the epicenter in the field for those committed to the study of African and African American studies.”

In residence as a Shelia Biddle Ford Foundation Fellow, Downs will be at work on his new book, “Deadly Water: A New Origin of Story of Public Health,” on the cholera pandemic of 1866 and its effect on Black soldiers, freedpeople, and Native Americans. This is a continuation of his most recent book, “Maladies of Empire: How Colonialism, Slavery and War Transformed Medicine,” which was published by Harvard University Press in September 2021.

While his latest book ends in 1866 with the rise of the cholera pandemic, his new book will examine how the 1866 cholera pandemic unfolded in the postwar South and West.

“I have uncovered a ton of research about the epidemic, the government’s response, and the ways in which Black and Native communities attempted to protect themselves against what they called, ‘the deadly scourge,’” Downs added.

Downs is not only grateful for this opportunity through Harvard but also for Gettysburg College’s commitment to faculty research and to supporting faculty develop their scholarship. These explorative opportunities for faculty have a tangible impact on students too, as they’re leveraged in the classroom.

“The fellowship will not only provide me with the time and support to advance my research agenda but it will also support the courses I teach at the College, especially my 200-level course, Narratives of Illness, which is an interdisciplinary course on the history of medicine, and my 300-level course, Global Epidemics, which is on the origin of epidemiology. My research always informs my teaching,” Downs said. “The sources that I use in my research then become staples in my courses.”

Read about how Gettysburg College faculty and students explore their curiosities through research, inside and outside of the classroom.