University of Rochester history doctoral student Kira Thurman has been awarded the University of Notre Dame's Erskine A. Peters Fellowship, one of the more competitive graduate scholarships in the country. The 10-month residential fellowship will provide Thurman with mentorship, visiting faculty status, access to the extensive resources of Notre Dame, and uninterrupted time to complete her dissertation, A History of Black Musicians in Germany, 1870 to 1961: Race, Performance, and Reception.
Given to just three scholars in 2011 from a pool of nearly 70 candidates, the Peters Fellowship encourages young African-American scholars in the social sciences and humanities to complete their graduate work and secure a position in higher education. The 11-year-old program is known for its success; more than 40 Peters scholars are now working in the academy.
Thurman's research explores Germany's racial attitudes that came to the fore when black classical musicians performed in the country in the 19th and 20th centuries. The research will help scholars and citizens in general better understand the roots of German anti-black racism.
"Until the late 1980s, research on race in Germany focused almost entirely on anti-Semitism," she explains in her application. "Yet the racial landscape of Europe has changed dramatically since 1945, and attacks against black and other ethnic minorities in Europe have risen steadily."
Her research will join the growing scholarly effort to understand other histories of racism in Europe – "a story that desperately needs telling," she writes.
Thurman should know. She grew up in Vienna, Austria, where her father worked for the United Nations. "I definitely encountered racism," recalls Thurman, but such negative reactions were commonly dismissed as lack of familiarity. "We are not used to seeing blacks," she was told. Through her research, however, Thurman has found that "contrary to German popular opinion and some scholarly research, blacks have had a presence on the German national and cultural stages for centuries."
A classically trained pianist and member of the Eastman Rochester Choir, Thurman has pursued her doctoral work at both the College, with historian Celia Applegate, and the Eastman School of Music, with musicologist Ralph Locke. She completed a Fulbright fellowship year in Berlin, Germany, in 2010. At the University, Thurman has been an active participant in the David T. Kearns Center, which supports educational and professional success for underrepresented minorities. In 2006, Thurman graduated from Baldwin-Wallace College with a Bachelor of Music.