UHV history faculty member receives prestigious fellowship, grant

A University of Houston-Victoria professor is preparing for academic leave to research at the renowned Institute for Advanced Studies in Princeton, N.J.

Esther Cuenca, a UHV assistant professor of history, is among a select group of about 250 scholars from around the world chosen to be members during the 2022-2023 academic year at the institute, where Albert Einstein was a founding professor. Additionally, Cuenca is one of only a few of those scholars who received a Mellon Fellowship for Assistant Professors with funding from the Andrew Mellon Foundation.

Esther Cuenca

“I look forward to meeting scholars working on their projects and who can provide different perspectives on my own work,” Cuenca said.

The Institute for Advanced Studies was founded in 1930 as a center for theoretical research and intellectual inquiry. It is dedicated to independent study across the sciences and humanities and to advancing the frontiers of knowledge without concern for immediate application. Each year, it invites more than 200 new and returning post-doctoral researchers and scholars to be members. Members receive a stipend and access to the extensive resources of the institute, including offices, libraries and subsidized restaurant and housing facilities. Past and present institute faculty and members have included 35 Nobel Laureates and dozens of other prominent medalists, laureates and prize winners.

Kyoko Amano

“We are proud to see Dr. Cuenca’s hard work receive this acknowledgement and support from one of the highest research institutes in the nation,” said Kyoko Amano, dean of the UHV College of Liberal Arts & Social Sciences. “Her work brings important perspective to a portion of history that gets very little attention. We are looking forward to seeing how her work progresses during her membership period.”

Cuenca plans to use her time at the institute to research the development and evolution of customary law in English towns from the 12th to the 16th centuries for her book in progress, “The Making of Urban Law in Medieval England.”

“My book project is important for advancing knowledge about a subject that is not very well known in medieval and legal studies,” she said. “My objective is to finish the book manuscript and obtain an advanced contract with an academic publisher.”

The membership and fellowship came with a stipend that will match Cuenca’s normal salary and benefits for a year. She also recently won a $6,000 grant from the American Philosophical Society for travel related to her book project.

Cuenca will be in residence in the School of Historical Studies, one of four schools at the institution, under the mentorship of Suzanne Conklin Akbari, a professor of Medieval Studies at the institute. Cuenca will be given a subsidized apartment on campus shared with other scholars, who are on a variety of other fellowships in the other three schools.

“It’s a very unique place,” Cuenca said. “They have a small faculty, and there are no students. Just scholars hanging out, discussing ideas and working on projects.”

Some of her activities will include attending lectures and seminars at the institute and nearby Princeton University, tea times with other scholars, and having the space and time to think about big ideas, she said.

“I hope to contribute to the convivial and intellectual environment there as best I can,” said Cuenca, who joined UHV’s faculty in 2019.

In addition to this award and fellowship, Cuenca also has received other fellowships, including two from the Medieval Academy of America.

The University of Houston-Victoria, located in the heart of the Coastal Bend region since 1973 in Victoria, Texas, offers courses leading to more than 80 academic programs in the schools of Arts & Sciences; Business Administration; and Education, Health Professions & Human Development. UHV provides face-to-face classes at its Victoria campus, as well as an instructional site in Katy, Texas, and online classes that students can take from anywhere. UHV supports the American Association of State Colleges and Universities Opportunities for All initiative to increase awareness about state colleges and universities and the important role they have in providing a high-quality and accessible education to an increasingly diverse student population, as well as contributing to regional and state economic development.