PhD alumni awarded fellowships to support language and culture studies research

Two recent PhD alumni have received fellowships from the Graduate School to further the research topics they focused on in their dissertations.

The Albert Markham Memorial Fellowship supports recent UW–Madison PhD recipients in linguistics, foreign language, or cultural studies who are conducting postdoctoral international research. Markham fellows receive up to $50,000 to support their research or study at a foreign institution or institutions.

This coming year, the Markham fellowship will support recent UW–Madison PhD graduates Sara Farsiu and Kathryn Mara.

Sara Farsiu

Sara Farsiu
Sara Farsiu

Markham fellow Sara Farsiu earned a PhD in Second Language Acquisition in 2020, writing her dissertation on the experiences of Middle Eastern refugees and migrants in Europe. Supported by the fellowship, she will study the impact of U.S. sanctions on Afghan refugees in Iran.

“There has long been a dispute about Afghan refugees’ access to the formal and non-formal education system of Iran,” Farsiu said, adding that Iran hosted both passport-holding and undocumented Afghans for four decades.

The United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) claimed in a 2000 report that Iran prioritizes the return of Afghan refugees over their education due to the cost of keeping them in the country, Farsiu said. However, Iran claims that education is among the most important services it provides for refugees.

Farsiu will conduct fieldwork in Iran, applying her expertise studying language, culture, and society to collect first-hand stories of Afghan refugees there.

“I aim to open a window into the realities of the lives of marginalized ethnic minorities outside of the United States and Europe,” Farsiu said. “My hope is that this project will draw the attention of educational researchers and practitioners on the ongoing political conflicts in the Middle East to applying our knowledge to the solution of real-world issues.”

For Farsiu, the fellowship allows her to continue researching refugee and humanitarian issues and to contribute to UW–Madison’s tradition of scholarship and excellence. She plans to pursue a career in higher education where she can be an advocate for refugees and further research the way that unequal access to linguistic resources harms their education and employment opportunities.

Kathryn Mara

Kathryn Mara
Kathryn Mara

Markham fellow Kathryn Mara earned her PhD in African Cultural Studies in 2020. She will use the fellowship to conduct research building on her dissertation about how Rwandans in Toronto talk about and commemorate the 1994 Rwandan genocide.

Mara will work with the Rwandan-Canadian communities in Hamilton, Montréal, Ottawa, and Québec to interview Rwandans and observe events commemorating the Rwandan genocide.

“In my dissertation, I found that official discourses about the 1994 genocide are not powerful in and of themselves,” Mara said. “Instead, those engaging with these discourses make them powerful through the ways in which they employ them and encourage others to do the same.”

Her research will culminate in a book manuscript and serve as a starting point for Mara to continue research on the relationship between discourse and power, including how narratives about mass violence are created and adopted.

“The research I do as an Albert Markham Fellow will demonstrate that the language we use matters. Finding the appropriate words to represent our realities is a carefully mediated, motivated, and imperfect process, often reflecting the understandings speakers hope their listeners will take away,” Mara said. “While my research is centered on the discourse of Rwandans, it also pays close attention to the local and global power structures produced by and reproduced through their language, and thus contributes to new ways of understanding how discourse and power operate in the world.”

About the Markham Fellowship

Historical documents from the UW System archives show that the Markham Fellowship was established in 1912 “in view of Albert Markham’s life-work as a teacher preparing students for college and interested especially in the languages.”

Markham was born in 1831 in Massachusetts. His grandmother, Lucy Alden, was descended from John Alden, a crew member on the Mayflower voyage.

Markham attended Brown University. He began working in education in 1859 as a principal of the First Ward Public School in Milwaukee. He was briefly appointed to the Seventh Ward Public School before accepting a position as Superintendent of Public Schools in Niles, Michigan. He held this position during the first four years of the Civil War, establishing a reputation for himself as one of the most successful educators in Michigan.

He returned to Milwaukee in 1864 and established the Milwaukee Academy to prepare students – at the time, young men – for college. Around the same time, Markham also served on the Board of Visitors for the University of Wisconsin. He ran the Milwaukee Academy until his death from pneumonia in 1887.

The Albert Markham Memorial Fellowship was established in his name to carry on his passion for education and supporting students in their academic pursuits.

In its first years, the fund awarded scholarships of $500-$1,000 per year to students. This year, student support from the fund is restarting after a hiatus. The original gift of $24,000 that established the Markham fellowship is worth over $640,000 today – a significant value that will impact the research and careers of today’s scholarship recipients.


-By Meghan Chua, with research assistance by Diane Wendt, Senior Financial Specialist, UW System Administration Office of Trust Funds