The John Simon Guggenheim Memorial Foundation lists its 2006 U.S. and Canadian fellows in today’s New York Times. (They’re also available here.) The Foundation offers fellowships to individuals in the creative arts, humanities, social science, and natural sciences. In the Times, each winner is listed by area of interest, name and home town. I was most interested in the geography.
In the fields where an academic affiliation is almost a necessity – everything other than creative arts, that is – fellows are scattered very narrowly around the country. (A few live in Canda and other countries.) For example, 56 individuals won fellowships in the humanities. Twenty-four of the 56 come from just four states: New York, California, Massachusetts, and Illinois. Only five come from southern states – three from North Carolina’s Research Triangle. Eleven of the 20 social science winners come from those four northern states, thirteen if you add in Michigan. Two come from the south, including one from the Triange. And in natural sciences, 16 of the 26 come those four states, 18 if you include Michigan. Not a single natural science winner is a southerner.
The creative arts fellows may not have as much connection to these top universities, but to a slightly lesser degree they too are clustered in a few northern states. Of the 85 winners, 35 come from New York, 13 from California, and five from Massachusetts. Six come from southern states. In a notable artifact of our generation’s geo-cultural shift, Brooklyn is home to nine of the creative arts winners.
This data can be interpreted many ways. First, it’s possible that this year is simply atypical. Or perhaps the most talented people really are clustered in a small number of areas. This isn’t improbable, given that the very best universities are located in many of these home towns. If we assume Harvard is doing its job, it ought to be hiring away superstars from Mizzou and the like. And particularly in the creative arts category, I would expect artists to locate in communities where they can find many others to share their commitment to art. (Thus, it is easy for imagine an artist from Birmingham choosing to move to a city with a more robust arts community.) Alternatively, maybe news of the fellowship has not spread across the country. Perhaps Guggenheim fellowships are just better known in New York than Lubbock or Fayetteville, and the applicant pool reflects this skew. Finally, it could be that the selection committee has a bias towards people from particular towns and schools.
All I know is that 15 years ago, I decided to move to Brooklyn. Although I left a few years later, I’m feeling quite smug at my cultural prescience.