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How to Apply for a Leopold Fellowship


The Leopold Fellows undergraduate program honors Professor Richard Leopold, a long-time member of the NU Department of History, by providing a small group of able undergraduate students with an opportunity to engage in genuine historical research. Leopold Fellows will work on current History faculty research projects or course development,  learning how to interpret archival and documentary materials. Successful candidates should demonstrate an interest in learning how to interpret complex primary data. Working under the guidance of a member of the Department of History, the Leopold Fellow will learn how scholars develop arguments out of diverse research materials.  Scroll down to view current faculty research projects and application details.

The program is OPEN to ALL Northwestern undergraduates, irrespective of school or major. History faculty may nominate students to apply or interested students may apply in response to specific faculty projects. Typically each year a Call for Applications with faculty projects goes out in March/April and faculty sponsors select their Leopold Fellows by early May. Applicants are asked for the following, sent as one email attachment:

Each Leopold Fellow receives financial support as a temporary employee at the current rate of $15 per hour. The CCHS may also fund travel or other expenses incurred by the Leopold Fellows. Students may apply to be Leopold Fellows for two or three quarters, which can include the summer. Leopold Fellows are expected to present their research to their peers, faculty sponsors, and Center associates. They also fill out a survey and write a short research report for the Center at the end of the fellowship period.

Questions and applications should be addressed to Asst. Director  Elzbieta Foeller-Pituch:

2024-25 LEOPOLD FELLOWS—Call for Applications

The Nicholas D. Chabraja Center for Historical Studies announces its annual Call for Applications for the undergraduate program honoring Professor Richard Leopold, a long-time member of the NU Department of History.

Each Leopold Fellow receives financial support as a Research Assistant (at $15 per hour, for an average  maximum of 10 hours a week). If the LF is Work-Study eligible, they may have their LF research hours paid as W-S hours; however, if they have another W-S job, they can have their fellowship hours paid solely by the CCHS. The program can fund travel or other expenses incurred by Leopold Fellows for their work. Students may apply to be Leopold Fellows for two or more quarters, which can include the summer. The program culminates in a presentation of the Leopold Fellows’ research at the end of one of the quarters of their fellowship. They also send in a short research report and fill out a survey for the Center at the end of the fellowship period.

Application process

Please look over our list of faculty projects below and if interested apply for a Fellowship. Undergrads from all schools of NU may apply. History faculty may nominate students to apply or interested students may apply in response to specific faculty projects. In either case, please send in your application in the form of one email attachment with the following information:

Applications should be sent to Asst. Director Elzbieta Foeller-Pituch at with the email subject line of “Last name LF application” (e.g. Smith LF application). The deadline for completed applications is Tuesday, APRIL 2 by 4 p.m. Receipt of applications will be acknowledged by email. Faculty may wish to interview you in the next few weeks. Announcement of successful candidates will occur by early May.

2024-2025 Faculty research projects

More may become available, so keep checking this website.


This project explores violence, politics, and space in the 1990s in Colorado, focusing on the role of suburbs, gun violence, and environmental contamination in shaping life and culture. Research materials will include work with the surveillance documents and the Freedom of Information Act, work with online newspaper archives, and may include travel to other archives.


Self-driven, curious, and creative—this person needs to both follow leads and generate their own questions about the material. A trip to Colorado, if time and funding permits, may allow archival experience. Spanish would be a bonus but not required. Experience in chemistry, military affairs, or environmental science would be cool if the right candidate comes along. If there is a student with mapping or GIS background, that would be excellent! Happy to work in any/all quarters.


I am probing a neglected phase in the urban history of Black Americans.  In the first decades after the Civil War, the great majority of African Americans continued to live in rural areas in the South.  We commonly think of Black people becoming northern and urban as part of the Great Migration of the 1910s and 1920s.  After the war, however, tens of thousands of Black Americans moved to the rapidly growing cities of the Middle West, many coming from the former slave states.  These migrants joined tiny but long-standing communities of Black residents in Cincinnati, Cleveland, Chicago, and other regional centers.  In several localities, the increase in numbers and the acquisition of property changed urban geography and politics.  Networking among ambitious Black residents in and between these cities created a substrate for the explosive growth of these centers in the early twentieth century.

This project is an offshoot of my previous work on nineteenth century Cincinnati and my ongoing interest in poor migrants, Black and White, who started very small businesses in nineteenth century cities.  I have relevant data and other information from that previous work.  I would like to have help in expanding and exploiting my troves of statistical data, and doing library and archival work to further the project. (Winter/Spring 2024)


In the 17th and 18th centuries, elite French women regularly visited convents in order to engage in spiritual retreat, seek female companionship, and even escape domestic violence and abuse. I am looking for a Leopold Fellow who can assist me in searching through elite women’s memoirs from this period to explore how women engaged with site of the convent throughout their lives. The Fellow will also have the opportunity to work with manuscript sources from these monastic communities, compiling a database of pensioners who entered these religious houses in the early modern era.

Strong French skills are a must, as is a willingness to learn how to read 17th- and 18th-century handwriting! Ideally, the fellowship would begin remotely during the summer, and carry on into the winter term. (Summer/F/W)


Can “moments” of considerable imperial expansion that result in a near global exchange of people, objects, and ideas, change also how communities bury and treat their dead, or understand the experience of death and afterlife?

During the thirteenth and fourteenth centuries, the Mongols established the largest contiguous land empire in world history. While the conquests were devastating, the empire also generated opportunities for, and actively promoted cross cultural exchanges on a new, unprecedented scale. Recent studies of the empire have focused on the exchange of technologies, intellectual traditions, and material and artistic motifs, between China and the Islamic world under Mongol domination. In my new project, I seek to use a comparative lens to explore how the expansion of Mongol rule across Asia and the Middle East (or Eurasia) was further informed by the formation of new “afterlife arenas,” where traditions surrounding death and the hereafter were mobilized and disseminated, fostering, interactions between different belief systems.

I am seeking a Leopold Fellow for the 2024-2025 academic year to assist me in research for an article that compares changes to burial practice, ancestor veneration, and devotional practices related to relics and mementos made of human remains at different locations across Mongol-ruled Eurasia. I am especially looking for students with working knowledge in Chinese or Russian, The student will work on surveying relevant references from primary sources in translation (to English), and may summarize related publications in Chinese/Russian (such as archeological studies). I am looking for curious and creative students able to generate and contribute their own questions and perspective to this new research project. I can also work with a student with no knowledge of Chinese or Russian. This is an ongoing project. Quarters: Fall/Winter/Spring, 5-7 hours weekly.   


Prisons and jails across the globe currently hold more than 10 million people.  It might be difficult today to imagine a time when mass confinement did not seem an inevitable response of states to individuals considered dangerous, but the practice of imprisoning large numbers of people for extended periods of time is, historically speaking, a recent development.  This project examines the history of two different sites of confinement – the prison and the camp – that traditionally have been studied separately. Its working hypothesis is that mass incarceration is at once a product of the modern state and a constituent element of the modern era.  With often enormous differences in the degree of regulation and brutality, those in power have used prisons and camps to control and subdue racial, religious, political, and other identified groups, and have sought to exploit their labor for public and private use. Authorities have justified confinement as necessary to achieve justice, protect society, and rehabilitate the condemned. Irrespective of the great variety of pretexts under which regimes have imprisoned citizens and subjects and the immense disparities in the treatment of those confined, there have been and remain common elements to both the physical structures of incarceration and the lived experiences of prisoners that this project aims to explore as the foundation for a book focused on the topic.  In particular, the Leopold Fellow(s) will help to assemble a bibliography of primary and secondary sources and will begin exploring them to map out what scholars have already studied and what remains to be researched.  Quarter: Fall, Winter, and Spring


 My book, FROM PROTEST TO POLITICS, explores the political labor of a number of African Americans who were the first to earn appointments to positions of substantive political and administrative authority in the federal executive branch in the Kennedy, Johnson, and Nixon administrations. From key advisory, cabinet, and other important managerial positions, they opened a new front of civil rights activism—federal public service—as they endeavored to translate the spirit of the civil rights movement into concrete political and policy prescriptions.

I am excited to work with students who have a background in the humanities or social sciences and broad interests in political history, public policy, and race and relations. The Leopold Fellow will be asked to conduct a variety of tasks, including online and on-site archival research, surveys of secondary literature, fact-checking, and bibliographic work. Summer/Fall 2024


Project 1—Leaving New Orleans: A Personal Urban History

I will be completing my book manuscript, which addresses the history of race, class, and environmental issues in New Orleans from the nineteenth century to the present, through the experiences of my family. The Leopold fellow will assist me in researching topics in the urban, racial, and economic history of New Orleans.  This might include newspaper research; reading and summarizing relevant historical books and articles; or other primary source research (government documents, for example).  The fellow might help me put together the draft and/or final version of the manuscript (checking citations; copy-editing; maps and other images). Summer/F/W/S

Project 2—The history of race and medicine at Northwestern University

A group of scholars (historians and School of Medicine doctors and lecturers) is interested in investigating the history of race and medicine at Northwestern. The Leopold Fellow would work with us to figure out what sources at Northwestern and in the Chicago area are available to study the history of race and medicine at Northwestern in the twentieth century.  Some questions might involve investigating the experiences of non-white medical staff and patients at Northwestern hospital; investigating Northwestern’s history of relationships with non-white communities in Chicago; investigating how non-white communities view Northwestern hospital.  Research might involve Northwestern archival materials (including figuring out what’s available); Chicago area archives (e.g., Chicago History Museum, DuSable Museum, Newberry Library); perhaps oral histories with Northwestern staff and community members.  Student will work with Professor Harris but may also work closely with other scholars.  Student should feel comfortable traveling to different sites in Chicago, as listed above. Summer/F/W/S


My project focuses on Native Illinois people and the French who colonized among them in early America. I am looking in particular on how practices of gender and sexuality facilitated the Illinois-French relationship and on methods for recovering gender and sex practices in the archive. A Leopold Fellow would help with the section of my project focused on mixed-race households, inheritance, and slavery. They would conduct research to establish the makeup of households in 17th and 18th century Illinois, using parish registries, notarial records, and censuses to establish the details of Native, French, and African lives, including tracing the names and origins of enslaved people. A Fellow would also help to track people down across different parishes and colonies.

French reading ability would be very useful. Fellow does not have to be in residence; summer work may include travel to archives around St. Louis, MO. Summer/F/W/S


I am writing a book that reexamines the history of reason in modern Arab Islamic thought. Many scholars today still subscribe to a story of rational decline, whereby the so-called “Golden Age” of scientific curiosity in the medieval era gave way to the religious obscurantism of contemporary Islamic movements. Arguing against this story of rational decline is one thing, but understanding where it comes from is another thing. The story of rational decline in Islamic thought has a history of its own: it appears to have emerged in Europe, and it probably did not come into existence until the 19th century. How and why did that happen? I need a Leopold Fellow to help me answer these questions by tracking down the origins of this narrative of rational decline in Western books, articles and newspapers of the 19th and early 20th centuries. We may find out that we need to go as far back as the 18th century or even earlier, though I doubt it. The initial task will be to sift through online databases looking for specific issues and keywords that are associated with this narrative. More extensive reading of selected sources will follow. A lot of the work could be done at home and online with a variety of sources. Proficiency in more than one European language (especially German) would be an asset. If the Leopold Fellow reads Arabic, then we may extend the scope of the research to Arabic sources. (F/W/S)


Project 1–The VAT Laggard: A Comparative History of U.S. Resistance to the Value-added Tax

This project explores how and why the United States has historically rejected national consumption taxes.  Nearly all developed countries, and many in the developing world, have some type of a national consumption tax, frequently in the form of a value-added tax (VAT).  The United States is an exception.  This project uses a comparative and historical perspective to address the fundamental question: why no VAT in the United States? Because VATs in many other advanced, industrialized countries fund robust national spending on healthcare and education, scholars have identified a strong correlation between VATs and resilient social-welfare states.  Thus, this project uses the central research question of “why no American VAT?” to explore the historical and comparative relationship among fiscal policy, social-welfare spending, and inequality.

This fellowship is for summer 2024 plus F/W/S.  Reading knowledge of Japanese would be very helpful.

Project 2—American Law & Political Economy in Historical Perspective

 This project is related to potential new course I plan to teach in the near future about modern U.S. legal, political, and economic history.  The course will explore postbellum U.S. periods of economic and political development, beginning with Reconstruction and ending with the Reagan administration.  The course will revolve around several themes: from late nineteenth-century industrialization to Progressive Era reforms to World War II political mobilization and Cold War civil rights.  The Leopold Fellow will assist in gathering secondary and primary sources for the course and helping think about how others have taught similar classes.  The project will begin over the summer and likely continue into the next academic year.  Residence in Evanston is not required.  Summer, F/W/S.


I’m looking for two Leopold Fellows who are interested in the intersections of material history and material science. This is why: I’m working on a material history project that uses recent advances in chemistry to study deep-time African history spanning 2,500 years. Chemistry—the study of chemical elements that make up matter—has been at the forefront of several scientific breakthroughs that impact our everyday lives today. The same instrumentation techniques that led to those discoveries are now being used to study the elemental and isotopic properties of ancient objects. Some of these studies have been transformational in that they help us rewrite African history and tell new stories.

Students will do two types of research. The first is bibliographic. This means assembling literature that uses isotopic, ADNA, lipid, and elemental analyses to study Africa’s past. We will develop a database of these material chemistry publications and summarize their findings. We will then aspire to co-write a bibliographic paper that uses these new sources and their findings to answer historical questions about people and place, identity and belonging, culture and time, innovations and technology, taste and trade, and mobility and rootedness in Africa from the Early Iron Age to the Early Modern period (400 BC-AD 1840).  Second, students will use pXRF instrumentation to build the material chemistry archive for several excavated artifacts in the Material History Lab in Harris Hall (Department of History). These objects originated from diverse sources in present-day Nigeria: from a 400 BC Iron Age homestead to a seventeenth-century palace complex of the Oyo Empire.  Students will collaborate with me to write a paper that focuses on one of these topics—migration, technology and craft production, and regional trade.

Successful applicants will use the Northwestern University Library resources and work at the Material History Lab (Harris Hall). They may also be asked to travel to the Field Museum (Chicago) for additional research.

These research positions are ideal for students who want to combine interests in physical sciences with historical thinking and are willing to work with objects and learn about deep-time African history. However, applicants do not need to have a background in the sciences. Knowledge of spreadsheet management is required.  Late summer (August)/Fall/W/S


 Yohanan PETROVSKY-SHTERN—two projects

 Project 1— Behind Bars: Ukrainian and Jewish dissidents in the gulag, 1959-1989 

 I am working on a book manuscript tentatively entitled “Behind Bars: Ukrainian and Jewish dissidents in the late USSR.” By “dissidents” I understand a wide range of the representatives of USSR intelligentsia – artists, writers, poets, journalists, engineers, teachers, scholars – who opposed the Soviet regime and sought various ways to reform it. Most of them were actively involved in the national revivalist and human rights movements and most of them ended up in the correction colonies. Two groups of inmates, one of Jewish another of Ukrainian descent, established close relations in the colonies and produced a significant corpus of literary texts about one another. Looking into multiple KGB (state security committee) documents, I am analyzing this counter-intuitive encounter which defied the xenophobic ethno-national stereotypes of both groups, and the way modern-day historians understand nationalism.  

The Leopold Fellow will be reading Ukrainian-language memoirs, diaries, other ego-documents of the dissidents of Ukrainian and Jewish origin and helping reconstruct the network of inter-ethnic connections of the human rights activists in the Soviet underground and in the correction colonies, focusing on the period of the Cold War, from the late 1950s through the late 1980s. The Fellow will have taken a couple of courses in history and will be interested in developing critical skills while reading dissident memoirs in the original. All work could be done at home, at the library, and online with a variety of sources, including specially ordered ILL ones. Summer, Fall, Winter, Spring, 2024-2025. 

Project 2—History of Laughter 

My book on the history of laughter takes the reader from the 16th-century Praise of Folly by Erasmus Desiderius of Rotterdam through the 20th-century One Hundred Years of Solitude by Gabriel García Márquez. I focus on tragicomic laughter generated by fantasy, memory, creativity and other functions of human mind. The forms of laughter I am interested in traverse linguistic, cultural, and geographical boundaries. Building my book around 14 “monographic” chapters dedicated to Erasmus, Rabelais, Cervantes, Montesquieu, Voltaire, Sterne, Gogol, Flaubert, Sholem Aleichem, Joyce, and Bulgakov, I demonstrate how grotesque forms of imagination generate the fantasy laughter that, in turn, shapes who we are as modern human beings. 

I am looking for a Leopold Fellow interested in general humanities, particularly in the intersection of literature, history, and philosophy in the early modern period. My Leopold Fellow will identify, read, and annotate general theoretical books on wit, humor, satire, grotesque, and laughter centered in and around Francois Rabelais; will create bibliographies of the most recent English-language critical studies of the authors discussed in the book; and will read my manuscript as my interlocutor who critically evaluates my theory and the way I prove it in my study. All readings will be in English, yet I would very much need a person able to read secondary sources in French too. Most of the readings available through the library, ILL, and online journals and book publications, regular interaction with the mentor in person and/or on zoom. Summer, Fall, Winter, Spring.