Two University of Michigan researchers have been awarded $625,000 grants to continue their work.

The John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation said Wednesday it has given the no-strings-attached grants, called "genius grants," to UM anthropologist Jason De León and historian Derek Peterson. The Chicago-based foundation awarded fellowships to a total of 24 people.

"I am proud that two University of Michigan faculty members have been recognized for their outstanding work," Mark Schlissel, UM's president, said in a Wednesday statement. "Jason De León and Derek Peterson have given the world greater understanding of people and communities who are too often overlooked by the larger society."

Both De León and Peterson work in the university's College of Literature, Science, and the Arts.

De León, an associate Anthropology professor, studies violence, materiality and the social process of migration between Latin America and the United States. He also directs a long-term study that focuses on different aspects of clandestine border crossings.

"I think this award is both an important recognition of the work itself and it makes a case that archeology can be a useful tool to study poorly understood social phenomena such as undocumented migration," De León said in a statement. "This award was given to me in name, but I have many collaborators who worked on this project and who made this award possible, including a lot of University of Michigan undergraduate and graduate students."

He said he plans to use the grant to fund further research and support a touring multimedia exhibit to help people understand the migrant experience.

The other winner, Peterson, is a history and Afroamerican and African Studies professor. He studies the intellectual and cultural history of eastern Africa.

"Winning the award is a great affirmation of my scholarly work," he said in a statement. "Scholars of Africa usually labor in dignified obscurity. This award means that I have a chance to engage with new and wider audiences. I am hugely honored."

Peterson said he plans to use the award to develop a project to preserve the radio and television archives of Uganda's national broadcaster.

The John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation annually awards its fellowship grants to people who show exceptional creativity in their work and the prospect for more in the future. Recipients get their grants in quarterly installments for five years.

There is no application process. Instead, an anonymous pool of nominators brings potential fellows to the foundation’s attention. Those selected learn they’ve been chosen shortly before the awards are announced.

Since 1981, the nonprofit said it has named 989 people MacArthur Fellows. Previous winners have included “Hamilton” playwright Lin-Manuel Miranda, and author-journalist Ta-Nehisi Coates. ​​​​​​


The Associated Press contributed.

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