News & Events

New Travel Grants Open Doors to Scholars

Have library grant, will travel. And conduct research. And make scholarly contacts. And learn about Illinois collections. And perhaps enjoy a career boost along the way.

It’s all doable via the new, open-ended Library Travel Grants.

A useful concept? “Without a doubt,” said João Júlio Gomes dos Santos Jr., an assistant professor of history at the Universidade Estadual do Ceará in Fortaleza, Brazil. “[It] was a life-changing opportunity in my research.”

The grants provide funds for travel expenses, allowing researchers to access any of the Library’s holdings. Says UI librarian Celestina Savonius-Wroth, who developed the project in collaboration with the Library Committee of the UI Department of History and others, “There aren’t that many research library travel grants … that basically say, ‘Come and use anything in our collection that would be relevant to your research.’”

This year, eight graduate or postdoc scholars will benefit—four from the United States, and one each from Argentina, Brazil, Canada, and France. Two of the researchers also secured funding from other Library sources.

The enterprise increases scholarly collaboration—applicants are asked to identify an Illinois faculty member sponsor and to present their research on campus. The undertaking also helps promote international awareness of the Library’s unique collections. In some cases, says Savonius-Wroth, who heads the History, Philosophy, and Newspaper Library, “we are it—we are the only place you can study this material.” The travel funds offer a straightforward way to unite scholars with original sources.

The grants are especially appreciated by researchers at the dawn of their careers who are underfunded or lack resources within their own universities or nations. Heidi Feldman, a historical ethnomusicologist and visiting scholar at the University of California, San Diego, was “thrilled” to learn of the Library offer. “As an independent scholar,” she said, “my research is funded entirely by grants and fellowships.” Feldman will use the Library’s holdings on the 1968 Olympics to further investigate Afro-Peruvian folklorist Victoria Santa Cruz.

For Debra Lynne Katz, pursuing a doctorate in psychology through the University of West Georgia, the open nature of the grant proved helpful. “Given the level of skepticism that exists in academia about my research topic [parapsychology],” Katz said, she worried her application would be dismissed in favor of more traditional disciplines. Katz will investigate the Merten J. Mandeville Collection in the Occult Sciences, which she was pleased to discover holds a copy of one of her own books.

“The idea of having contact with primary sources, books, and articles far from my limited research in a small and poor university” presented a stellar opportunity for dos Santos, who this summer researched the growth of Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu. He enjoyed access not only to vast resources but also the guidance of skilled UI librarians. “I think that I have collected materials for the next three to five years,” he said.

The grant proved a perfect fit for benefactress Jean Sheviak of East Greenbush, N.Y., who holds bachelor’s and master’s degrees from the UI College of Liberal Arts and Sciences, and a library degree from Northern Illinois University. A career academic librarian who’s been interested in libraries since she began working in one at age 10, Sheviak studied history as an undergraduate and firmly believes in the value of original sources.

“It’s a particularly neat idea,” she said of the grant, “in that it came from the people in the Library. And [the fact that] I can support that as an academic librarian, that makes it even better.” In addition to the monetary assistance, she suggests the grant supplies another much needed source of support: an ego boost for scholars as they follow their passions.

And Sheviak is passionate about supporting the Library, which she sees as the “heart” of the University. “When you’re an ordinary person,” she said, “it’s nice to feel that I can make a difference, too.”

It’s a feeling reflected by Katz. “I personally see this travel grant as a debt that will need to be repaid,” she said, “not with money, but through action and passing on the gift to others in some way.”