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Kasimis Selects NEH Fellowship

Published: March 17, 2014

Political Science’s Demetra Kasimis was offered two different fellowship awards by the National Endowment for the Humanities (NEH) to complete her first book titled Classical Greek Theory and the Politics of Immigration. The book argues that immigration politics are a critical context for understanding ancient Greek debates over the meaning of citizenship.

Kasimis’ choices were between an NEH Fellowship, which supports individuals pursuing advanced research of value to humanities scholars or general audiences, and the Award for Faculty, part of the NEH Humanities Initiatives at Hispanic-Serving Institutions, which CSULB was named in 2007. Each award supports 12 months of full-time research with a $50,000 stipend. Kasimis, a member of the Political Science Department since 2012, said she was thrilled to have both offers, finally selecting the NEH Fellowship.

“It’s wonderful that the project is receiving this kind of support and recognition,” she said, noting the fellowship begins in August and ends in July 2015. “I am relieved to have the time to focus on it and to do the topic justice. It is tremendously exciting.” Classical Greek Theory is under contract to Cambridge University Press and her goal is to complete the manuscript during 2015.

Kasimis explained that Classical Greek Theory and the Politics of Immigration was first animated by a puzzle.

“While historians have long acknowledged the fact that immigrants, called ‘metics,’ formed a large and influential part of Athenian democracy, readers have yet to treat immigration as a matter of real political or philosophical reflection by classical critics who otherwise examined every other aspect of life in the first democracy,” she said.

The origins of Kasimis’ book reach back to her childhood as a daughter of a Greek immigrant who arrived in New York City in the 1970s. She recalled listening to a Greek tune of her father’s titled “O Metoikos” or “The Metic,” an unusual word to describe immigrants in Greek.

“The version of the song I grew up with was geared toward Greeks living abroad like my father. It described the wandering, the estrangement, the need to begin at the beginning when you are already someone,” she said. “It was not my knowledge of ancient Greek but my knowledge of modern Greek and the specificity of the Greek-American experience that brought me to the metic. When I saw that so many characters in Plato’s dialogues were called metics, I felt a special connection. And the circuitous way I had come to the idea made me want to understand the term’s meanings and its reception over time.”

Kasimis holds a B.A. in Philosophy and Hellenic Studies and an M.A. in Philosophy from Columbia University as well as a Ph.D. in Political Science from Northwestern University. She came to CSULB after working as a Mellon Postdoctoral Associate and lecturer at the Whitney Humanities Center at Yale.

Kasimis was especially pleased to receive the double grant offer because the level of competition is so high. In the last five competitions, the NEH Fellowships program received an average of 1,261 applications per year but recognizing an average of only 88 awards per year, for a funding ratio of 7 percent. The Humanities Initiatives at Hispanic-Serving Institutions program received an average of 108 applications per year but offered only five awards per year, also for a funding ratio of 7 percent.

Kasimis Selects NEH Fellowship
Demetra Kasimis

“The Fellowships are competed for by senior and junior scholars,” she said. “The senior scholars traditionally receive the majority of the awards. It can be tough for junior scholars to show enough of a track record or enough signs of promise. That’s why I am so surprised to have received the offers.”

Kasimis hopes the book will inspire connections to contemporary politics as well.

“Immigration debates today tend to emphasize urgency and newness,” she said. “My work reminds us that the invention of the immigrant as a distinct, verifiable legal status was simultaneous with democracy’s invention. I think it’s critical for us to look at the origins of this perennial relationship, and classical texts are a way to do that.”

Kasimis expressed her thanks to political science chair Teresa Wright and department colleagues for their support.

“They have been nothing but positive about the time I will be spending on the project,” she said. “Their support makes me feel like I am doing something the department is also excited about.”

Kasimis encouraged other faculty members to reach out for research support. “It may seem like an incredible long shot and, on some days, like a waste of time,” she said. “But the truth is that applying for these awards helps you get to know your project much better. I found a new voice to describe things I have been thinking about for a long time. It was a chance to reconnect to the ideas that drew me to my work in the first place.”

–Richard Manly