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May 13, 2002

Two faculty named
Guggenheim Fellows

By Eric Rangus


Two faculty members of Emory College have earned Guggenheim Fellowships for 2002. The six-to-12-month fellowships are awarded by the John Simon Guggenheim Memorial Foundation to scholars, artists and scientists for their distinguished achievement and the promise of future accomplishment.

Larry Barsalou, professor of psychology, and Kristen Mann, associate professor of history, are the two Guggenheim recipients. Each plans to use the funding from the fellowships to write a book and will be on sabbatical next year to put in the necessary labor.

“Fellowships like the Guggenheim are vitally important to the research mission of the University,” said Mann, a specialist in colonial African history. “Although I really enjoy it, when you’re teaching a full classload it can be tough to put two thoughts together. Having blocks of time where you can concentrate on research is crucial.”

Mann already has written much of a book that will be called The Birth of an African City: Trade, State and Emancipation in 19th Century Lagos. She said she will spend the next year revising the manuscript and readying it for submission to her publisher.

Through the book, Mann said she intends to probe the relationship between the long-term changes in the economy and culture of the Atlantic world and the origins of Lagos, now the capital of Nigeria and one of the largest cities in the world.

An adjunct faculty member in anthropology and the Institute of African Studies, Mann also has done research on marriage and the family, gender, and slavery and emancipation.

The title of Barsalou’s proposed book is The Human Conceptual System. A cognitive psychologist, Barsalou said he wants to re-examine theories about the way the human mind represents concepts.

For thousands of years, Barsalou said, philosophers agreed that sensory-motor representations played a major role in the mind’s conceptual system; we experience something, store the experience, then partially reactivate the experience when thinking about the original object.

Over the last 100 years or so, the dominant theories have stated instead that the conceptual process is more symbolic and amodal. The growth of computer science has played a role in this shift.

Now, Barsalou said, the pendulum is swinging back toward a more sensory-motor way of thinking, reinventing older views in the modern contexts of cognitive psychology and neuroscience.

“It’s the most basic conceptual system,” Barsalou said of his image-based theory. “You can imagine a simple organism having it, and seeing it evolve continuously into the human conceptual system.”

With his new book, Barsalou said he will sketch out an alternative to the current, more amodal ways of thinking about concepts. It’s the culmination of work he has been doing over the past 10 years.

Fellowships are based on recommendations from hundreds of experts and approved by the Guggenheim Found-ation’s board of trustees. For the 2002 fellowships, 184 scholars, artists and scientists were selected from more than 2,800 applicants around the country, with awards totaling $6.75 million. Since its creation in 1925 the foundation has granted more than $200 million in fellowships to more than 15,000 individuals.