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Home » Discover Rackham » Susan ‘Scotti’ Parrish Named Chair of the Michigan Society of Fellows

As of January 1, 2021, Susan ‘Scotti’ Parrish has been named chair of the Michigan Society of Fellows.

Each year, the Michigan Society of Fellows (MSF) selects outstanding applicants for three-year postdoctoral fellowships in the humanities, arts, professional schools, and the social, physical, and life sciences from a diverse and international pool of candidates.

Parrish succeeds Donald Lopez, an Arthur F. Thurnau Professor and Arthur E. Link University Professor of Buddhist and Tibetan Studies in the U-M Department of Asian Language and Cultures, who served as MSF chair for 15 years, including through many difficulties caused by the COVID-19 pandemic.

“I am very excited to step into this leadership position at the Michigan Society of Fellows,” Parrish says. “The Society plays a crucial role in nurturing the early careers of brilliant scholars through spirited interdisciplinary intellectual exchange. Because my own scholarship has been interdisciplinary from the beginning, I feel especially eager to contribute to the vitality of this community.”

“I look forward to working with Scotti as the Michigan Society of Fellows builds on its strengths to further enrich interdisciplinary community and scholarship at the university.” —Dean Mike Solomon

Among her first goals as chair, Parrish aims to learn from current and past MSF fellows about which features of their experience ought to be preserved and which need innovation. She also looks to consider how the broader U-M and Ann Arbor communities could further benefit from the presence of MSF fellows through public events and she seeks to ensure the society’s selection processes do not simply reproduce past generations’ criteria for excellence, but are open to recognizing new—or newly visible—forms and sources of knowledge.

“The Society is a venerable institution, but, in order to face a changing academy, and a changing world, it needs to be nimble and creative,” Parrish says.

No stranger to leadership or the MSF, Parrish is completing her term as associate chair of the U-M Department of English Language and Literature (ELL) within the U-M College of Literature, Science, and the Arts (LSA) and has been a senior MSF fellow since 2018. She is also an Arthur F. Thurnau Professor and professor in ELL and in the Program in the Environment.

Parrish has taken on interdisciplinary leadership and mentorship roles throughout her time at U-M. She served on the Provost Committee on Academic Programs in Environment and Sustainability in 2016, the Program in the Environment transition committee in 2017, and on the Water@Michigan steering committee from 2017-2018. She has twice also been the convener for the First Book Workshop for LSA Junior Faculty.

Parrish’s research focuses on race, environment, and processes of knowledge-making in the Anglophone Atlantic world from the 17th to the 21st centuries, topics on which she has been a prolific and widely recognized writer. Her first book, American Curiosity: Cultures of Natural History in the Colonial British Atlantic World, received both the Phi Beta Kappa Emerson Award and the Jamestown Prize, and her most recent, The Flood Year 1927: A Cultural History, honorable mentions from both the Association for the Study of Literature the Environment’s biennial book prize and the Modern Language Association’s James Russell Lowell Prize.

“I am delighted that Professor Parrish will lead the Society as it pursues its mission of interdisciplinary community to advance scholarship and research,” Dean Mike Solomon says. “I look forward to working with Scotti as the Michigan Society of Fellows builds on its strengths to further enrich interdisciplinary community and scholarship at the university.”

Parrish earned a bachelor’s degree from Princeton University in 1986, a master’s degree in rhetoric, specializing in film history, from the University of California-Berkeley in 1990, and a Ph.D. in English from Stanford University in 1998. She has received the University Undergraduate Teaching Award and John Dewey Award in recognition of her teaching work at U-M. She also worked for a documentary filmmaker inside the Harvard-Smithsonian Astrophysical Observatory.

The MSF was founded in 1970 as a result of endowment grants from the Ford Foundation and the Horace H. and Mary Rackham Funds and operates under the auspices of the Rackham Graduate School.