FSU modern languages professor wins fellowship to pursue book on Caribbean history

FSU scholar Martin Munro will spend the 2020-2021 academic year at the National Humanities Center in North Carolina completing his latest book.

A Florida State University faculty member from the Department of Modern Languages and Linguistics has won a coveted fellowship from the National Humanities Center.

Martin Munro, Eminent Scholar and the Winthrop-King Professor of French and Francophone Studies, will spend the 2020-2021 academic year completing his residential fellowship at the NHC’s campus in Research Triangle Park, North Carolina.

The fellowship gives academics the ability to focus solely on their projects for up to a year. He will use that time to complete a book, “Listening to the Caribbean: Sounds of Slavery, Resistance, and Freedom.” Munro said the new project is something of a follow-up to an earlier book about sounds in Caribbean culture, society and history — but with themes rarely attended to in existing scholarship of the region.

“Control of sounds was a key aspect of plantation life, and it was in sounds — of dance, song, language, revolt — that enslaved people maintained a sense of liberty and individuality,” Munro said. “Sounds became a site of conflict on the plantation and became entwined with the identity and culture of enslaved people and their descendants.”

Reinier Leushuis, chair of the Department of Modern Languages and Linguistics, said Munro’s win is a testament to the quality and scope of his research agenda. The center offers up to 40 scholars in humanities fields around the world a yearlong residence at its facility. The application process is exceptionally competitive with more than 600 applicants vying for a spot.

“Having our colleague win an NHC fellowship is an extraordinary honor for our department,” Leushuis said. “The NHC is among the top three most prestigious and selective national fellowships in humanities research.”

The department prides itself on its interdisciplinary potential, and Munro’s exploration of the societies and cultures of the Caribbean has earned him an international reputation, Leushuis said.

Munro’s new project will be of interest to numerous scholars, both at Florida State and world-wide, as well as to the general public, Leushuis said. Munro will investigate his ideas in multiple ways, including analyzing descriptions of sounds in slave revolts, how sounds figured in early Haitian poetry and in showing how sounds became again a site of conflict in U.S. occupations of the Caribbean. His study — and its relation to resistance and liberation in the region — could help scholars juxtapose those experiences in other times and places throughout history.

“There have been works that focus on the U.S. South, for example, and my project will be a useful point of comparison for those studies,” he said.

Matthew Smith, most recently a professor of Caribbean history at the University of the West Indies, Mona, and an expert in Haitian history, said Munro’s pioneering analysis of Haitian literature of the 20th century has sharpened his own insight into that period of history.

“His works are often informed by anthropology, history, sound studies and of course literature, which are all balanced effectively in his prose,” Smith said. “This is one reason why his books make for such profitable reading.”