Balto, Stern receive prestigious NEH Fellowships

Wednesday, January 22, 2020

Simon Balto
Simon Balto

David Stern
David G. Stern

Two University of Iowa professors have earned highly competitive and prestigious National Endowment for the Humanities (NEH) Fellowships to enable them to pursue their research.

Simon Balto, Assistant Professor of History and African American Studies, and David G. Stern, Professor of Philosophy, are among just 99 NEH Fellowship recipients nationwide for the 2020-21 cycle, and the only two from the state of Iowa.

NEH Fellowships are granted to individual scholars pursuing projects that embody exceptional research, rigorous analysis, and clear writing. The fellowships provide $60,000 to give the recipients time to conduct research or to produce books, monographs, peer-reviewed articles, e-books, digital materials, translations with annotations or a critical apparatus, or critical editions resulting from previous research.

Simon Balto: Racial Framing: Blackfaced Criminals in Jim Crow America

Balto's project is a book on the practice and implications of Jim Crow-era criminal minstrelsy, or white criminals donning blackface before committing crimes. Balto describes his research:

"The controversy over early-2019 revelations that Virginia politicians had donned blackface in their college years has generated a resurgence of interest in the history and currency of blackface minstrelsy in the United States. In op-ed pages like the New York Times and the Wall Street Journal, nighttime news reports on MSNBC and CNN, and podcasts such as BackStory and NPR’s Codeswitch, scholars, journalists, and other commentators have tried to make sense of this phenomenon and its place in American life. At the root of these discussions has been a recognition of blackface as a complex and disturbing practice—steeped in racist mythology, beloved by white audiences, despised by black publics, stubbornly present in nineteenth- and twentieth-century American culture, and still informing American culture and racial perceptions to this day.

"And yet there is a whole other layer to the history of blackface that has been overlooked both in contemporary conversations about blackface and in all of the established literature on it. During the late nineteenth century and persisting well into the middle of the twentieth, at least hundreds (more likely, thousands) of white criminals drew from the blackface traditions that stage actors, composers, playwrights, and cultural marketers had forged, donning blackface before going out to commit crimes and, in the process, framing black people for them. They made use of a range of items from the blackface minstrels’ visual toolbox, including burnt cork, greasepaint, and field hand overalls. Some of them used gum, cotton, and other materials that could be used to widen the appearance of noses, enlarge cheeks, or make lips more prominent. In this process, they labored to present themselves as black criminals to divert attention from their own white crimes, which included all manner of offense, from murder to robbery to rape, and transcended region across the country. 

"Racial Framing: Blackfaced Criminals in Jim Crow America, explores this history in detail for the first time. It is a crucial history that reveals a great deal about culture, race, crime, and violence in America."

Balto teaches, researches, and writes about African American history in the United States. His first book, Occupied Territory: Policing Black Chicago from Red Summer to Black Power (University of North Carolina Press, 2019), explores the development of a police system in Chicago’s Black neighborhoods that over the course of the mid-twentieth century became simultaneously brutally repressive and neglectful. His writing has also appeared in TIME magazine, The Washington Post, The Progressive, the Journal of African American History, Labor, and numerous other popular and scholarly outlets.

David G. Stern: Retranslating the Tractatus: The First Complete Translation of Wittgenstein’s Tractatus and its sources

Stern's project will lead to publication of a complete English-language translation  of Ludwig Wittgenstein's Tractatus (1921) and its manuscript sources, with the original German on facing pages. Wittgenstein, an Austrian philosopher who lived from 1889–1951, is one of the most influential and widely read twentieth century philosophers. Stern's project includes continuing work on the University of Iowa Tractatus map, a collaboration with two UI philosophy graduate students and the UI Libraries' Digital Studio that presents the structure of both Wittgenstein's book and an early draft in the form of a pair of subway-style maps. The map enables the reader to explore the crucial role played by the book’s unique scheme of numbered and nested sections and subsections. Stern describes his research:

"Wittgenstein’s Tractatus Logico-Philosophicus, first published in German in 1922, is a foundational work of early analytic philosophy and a modernist literary masterpiece. Three short books will provide the first consistent, accurate, and complete translation of Tractatus and its sources. It will be the first translation of the book’s 526 numbered remarks to use the tree-structured order used to write it, as well as the numerical order in which it was published. This new arrangement will give experts a fresh way of looking at how the book was written. Beginning readers will find it considerably less difficult to read. The new edition will include the first translation of three successive drafts of Tractatus from 1915, 1916, and 1917, and of ten thousand words of wartime diaries which were silently omitted from previous publications.

“Interpretive debates about the Tractatus pit “traditional” readers, who take it at face value as a treatise on the philosophy of logic and language, against “resolute” readers, who construe it as a self-undermining critique of such traditional readings. I believe that approaching the book genealogically, as a series of successive drafts, makes it possible to reconcile the two seemingly opposed readings: Wittgenstein began by writing a traditional treatise which he later transformed into a resolute work. Whether or not I am right about this, any serious reader of the book will want to be able to read the book in the order in which it was first written down, and to be able to take in the structure of that first draft. This will be the first print edition of the book to make that possible, not only in English translation, but also in German.

“At present, the complex process of multiple stages of revision, rearrangement, rewriting, reorganization—culminating in the gradual assembly of the finished book—is only available to those scholars who can read German fluently, and are familiar with the many editions of the source texts. This edition will comprehensively and clearly connect the book with all its manuscript sources, in both the original German and a new unified translation. For the first time, a global audience will be able to take in how the book was put together, and how the book’s character changed as it was written."

David G. Stern's research interests include history of analytic philosophy, philosophy of language, philosophy of mind, philosophy of science, and digital editing of philosophical texts. He is the author of two books on Wittgenstein, and an editor of three collections of essays on that philosopher's work. Most recently, he has edited Wittgenstein in the 1930s: Between the Tractatus and the Investigations (Cambridge UP, 2018), and Wittgenstein: Lectures, Cambridge 1930-1933, From the Notes of G. E Moore (Cambridge UP, 2016), and the parallel online Wittgenstein Source Facsimile Edition of Moore’s Notes of Wittgenstein’s Lectures.  

He is also the series editor for 33 short books on Wittgenstein as part of the Cambridge Elements series. The books will offer concise and structured introductions to central topics in the philosophy of Wittgenstein. Collectively, the series will provide an accessible guide to his work on a very wide range of topics, and the leading approaches to interpreting his work, written by a diverse group of experts. The outcome will be a book series offering balanced, comprehensive coverage of the leading areas of Wittgenstein research.


Created in 1965 as an independent federal agency, the National Endowment for the Humanities supports research and learning in history, literature, philosophy, and other areas of the humanities by funding selected, peer-reviewed proposals from around the nation. Additional information about the National Endowment for the Humanities and its grant programs is available at:

The College of Liberal Arts and Sciences at the University of Iowa is a comprehensive college offering 73 majors in the humanities; fine, performing and literary arts; natural and mathematical sciences; social and behavioral sciences; and communication disciplines. More than 17,000 undergraduate and 1,900 graduate students study each year in the college’s 37 departments, led by professors at the forefront of teaching and research in their disciplines. The college teaches all UI undergraduates through the General Education Program, and confers about 70 percent of the UI's bachelor's degrees each academic year.