Pitzer Professor Harmony O’Rourke Honored with Graves Award for Outstanding Teaching

Claremont, Calif. (March 2, 2016)—Pitzer College Assistant Professor of History Harmony O’Rourke has received a 2015-17 Arnold L. Graves and Lois S. Graves Award in the Humanities. The biannual award, administered by Pomona College in conjunction with the American Council of Learned Societies, encourages and rewards outstanding teaching in the humanities by younger faculty members.

O’Rourke is a cultural historian who has researched gender, ethnicity, race, mobility, colonialism and Islam in nineteenth- and twentieth-century West Africa.  With support from the Graves Award, O’Rourke will expand her field of study to the East African coast, where she will explore the relationship between religion and gender. Her project, “Islam, Gender, and Swahili Cosmopolitanism,” will take her to the cities of Malindi, Mombasa and Zanzibar, where she will spend nearly six weeks examining religion and gender through the lens of the region’s architecture and clothing.

“At different points in time, all of these cities were centers of commerce, slave dealing, architectural innovation and political contestation,” O’Rourke said. “My goal is to document the gendered ways historic ‘stone town’ districts, slave trade market sites, museums, primary mosques and central markets have shaped social and economic interactions as well as how these sites create meaning and memory for both locals and visitors.”

O’Rourke will examine how Africans appropriate Islamic and Western forms of clothing and architecture, as well as the meanings that evolve from these practices and how those meanings have been affected by tourism and commercialization.

At Pitzer, O’Rourke’s courses cover world history, modern Africa, oral history, comparative slavery and histories of gender and sexuality. The Graves Award will help her develop a new collaborative digital humanities course that will focus on culture, art and politics in Africa since the 1960s. The course will challenge stereotypes in the US of gender in Islamic African societies that oversimplify cultural borrowing as a matter of Western cultural hegemony, O’Rourke said.

“Such intellectual work is essential, not only to enhance students’ ability to understand the lives and experiences of African people with nuance and sensitivity, but also, more generally, to broaden our understanding of how to generate knowledge about African history outside of traditional archival sources.”

This is the fourth Graves Award for a member of Pitzer’s faculty since 2003; previous winners are Professor of Art Bill Anthes (2008); Professor of History Andre Wakefield (2005); and Professor of History Carina Johnson (2003).

The Graves Awards recognize young or early-career faculty members from fully accredited liberal arts colleges in California, Oregon and Washington State. The awards administrator, Pomona College, is a top-ranked private liberal arts college in Claremont, Calif., and a member of the Claremont University Consortium. The award is given under the auspices of the American Council of Learned Societies, a private, nonprofit federation of 73 national scholarly organizations that advances scholarship by awarding fellowships and strengthening relations among learned societies.

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