Two Northeastern professors receive prestigious Guggenheim Fellowships

Left: Jessica Silbey, professor of law. Photo by Mark Ostow; Right: Theo Davis, professor of English. Photo by Matthew Modoono/Northeastern University

Two Northeastern University professors—Jessica Silbey and Theo Davis—are among a diverse group of 173 scholars, artists, and scientists to be awarded fellowships this year from the Simon Guggenheim Memorial Foundation.

The fellowship is a prestigious honor recognizing prior achievement and exceptional promise. This year’s Guggenheim Fellows were selected from a group of nearly 3,000 applicants. The winners represent 49 scholarly disciplines and artistic fields—and Silbey is the only law professor among them.

Silbey is a leading scholar and nationally recognized expert on intellectual property and the use of film to communicate about law. She co-directs the Center for Law, Innovation and Creativity, or CLIC, at Northeastern’s School of Law, and her research and teaching focus on law’s entanglement with other disciplines such as the humanities and social sciences. In her latest book, The Eureka Myth: Creators, Innovators and Everyday Intellectual Property, she challenges the traditional notion that intellectual property is merely a financial incentive to spur innovation.

With her Guggenheim Fellowship, she will work on a new book that considers intellectual property debates in law and culture as a bellwether of changing social justice needs in the 21st century. She explained that IP was once an “isolated legal space” like tax law or maritime law and is now present throughout popular culture.

“People know more about IP than they ever have before,” Silbey said. “Stories about intellectual property, copyright, patents, and trademarks are getting woven into what matters to people in everyday life, like privacy and equality.”

In the new book, she will argue that intellectual property law is becoming a central framework through which to discuss essential socio-political issues, and how art and science are becoming increasingly important for social justice today.

Davis, professor of English, is a scholar of 19th-century literature whose work focuses on the nature of experience in relation to literary criticism. Her most recent book, Ornamental Aesthetics: The Poetry of Attending in Thoreau, Dickinson, offers a new theory of ornamentation, which differs from most other accounts in emphasizing attention and accompaniment rather than materiality. She called that 2016 book her most important professional accomplishment to date.

Those moments of teaching are such a great place to test my thinking, expand my perspective, and see what the students think; they really shape the direction I go.

Theo Davis, Professor of English

With her fellowship, Davis will work on a book titled Sensations of Freedom: Somatics and Personal Development in American Literature. The book will focus on individual embodiment as a site of transformation, looking at how authors experience the body and how they respond to problems of mobility, energy, and orientation by changing the body and being changed by it.

Davis said this latest book project ties closely with her teaching at Northeastern. Certain chapters were developed through her conversations with students in her courses focusing on people and topics such as naturalistic fiction, 19th-century female authors, and the Transcendentalists Ralph Waldo Emerson and Henry David Thoreau.

“Those moments of teaching are such a great place to test my thinking, expand my perspective, and see what the students think; they really shape the direction I go,” Davis said. “In teaching I always have to think about the literature anew in relation to what each group of students has to say about it, and that pushes me in my own work. With this book in particular, I really see the link with what I’ve been teaching at Northeastern and how I’ve developed this project.”