UT Professor Wins Prestigious MacArthur ‘Genius’ Fellowship

MacArthur Foundation Fellow Jay Rubenstein

Faculty member Jay Rubenstein has brought home a major national honor to the University of Tennessee in the midst of a semester dedicated to his field of study.

Rubenstein, an associate professor of history and a member of UT’s Marco Institute for Medieval and Renaissance Studies, has been named a recipient of a 2007 MacArthur Foundation Fellowship.

The $500,000 fellowship comes to Rubenstein with no requirement for how it is to be spent. Sometimes known as the "genius grants," the MacArthur Fellowships are among the highest honors awarded to researchers. This marks the first time that a UT faculty member has won the award.

"This fellowship is a tremendous honor for both Dr. Rubenstein and for the university," said UT Knoxville Chancellor Loren Crabtree. "Each of us is proud of this achievement and the deserved attention it will bring to Dr. Rubenstein’s work and to the work of the Marco Institute."

The award carries even more meaning in the midst of this semester, which has been named the Medieval and Renaissance Semester to recognize the Marco Institute’s work as part of UT’s Ready for the World initiative.

Candidates for the award are anonymously nominated and have no advance warning that they are being considered for the fellowships. Rubenstein learned about his fellowship in a phone call in late September.

"It’s all still pretty unreal at this point," said Rubenstein, who currently is spending a year researching in Paris. "It is a deeply gratifying and humbling thing to have people put this kind of faith in me."

The fellowships, given by the John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation, are awarded to those who show "exceptional creativity and promise" in their work. They are not limited to any specific field, and this year’s awardees include scientists, writers, inventors, authors and a physician.

The MacArthur Foundation awards 24 fellowships each year. Past recipients of the grant have included Knoxville native and Pulitzer Prize-winning novelist Cormac McCarthy Oak Ridge native and acclaimed bassist Edgar Meyer. UT alumnus Loren Riesenberg (M.S., Botany, 1984) also was a winner.

Rubenstein’s research looks at the 11th- and 12th- century history of England and France, with an eye to church history. In recent years, his work has centered on the First Crusade, which occurred from 1095 to 1099. Rubenstein is examining how Europeans interpreted the violent events in the years after they occurred.

Todd Diacon, now UT’s vice provost for academic operations, was the chair of the History Department when Rubenstein was hired in fall 2006.

"This shows the power of the Marco Institute and having an integrated research program in medieval studies," Diacon said. "Jay’s award is proof that this works — that we can attract the best faculty in the world to UT."

The Marco Institute involves 30 faculty members from eight departments in the College of Arts and Sciences and began as a Center of Excellence in 2001. It became a university institute in 2003 when it won a $3-million challenge grant from the National Endowment for the Humanities.

"This is a great day in the College of Arts and Sciences, and we are extremely proud of Professor Rubenstein," said Bruce Bursten, dean of UT’s College of Arts and Sciences. "His selection recognizes not only his past scholarly accomplishments, but also the great potential in his future scholarship. Professor Rubenstein’s work adds even more luster to our internationally recognized MARCO Institute, and we look forward to his continuing excellence as a MacArthur Fellow."

Rubenstein is spending the academic year in Paris doing research as part of a National Endowment for the Humanities fellowship, and he spent last year abroad in Rome as part of a Burkhardt Fellowship from the American Council of Learned Societies. He will return to Knoxville next summer and teach at UT in the fall.

The goal of "Ready for the World: The International and Intercultural Awareness Initiative" is to transform the campus into a culture of diversity that best prepares students for working and competing in the 21st century. The initiative involves increasing the diversity among our students, faculty and staff; altering the curriculum; encouraging faculty to incorporate international and intercultural aspects in all of their courses; expanding study abroad and work-study opportunities; and encouraging students to take advantage of all of these opportunities.

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