Home Local News M-E grad Derek Peterson named MacArthur Genius Award winner

M-E grad Derek Peterson named MacArthur Genius Award winner

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The Maine-Endwell Little League world championship team is the Press & Sun-Bulletin Athletes of the Year. Andrew Thayer / Staff Video

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One of Broome County’s own has been named a Genius Award winner by the John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation.

Derek Peterson, a 1989 graduate of Maine-Endwell High School, was listed as one of 24 MacArthur Fellows in 2017.

Now a professor in the Departments of History and Afro-American and African Studies at the University of Michigan, Peterson, 46, will receive a five-year $625,000 grant for his efforts in “reshaping our understanding of African colonialism and nationalism in studies that foreground East African intellectual production.”

Peterson is the author of “Creative Writing: Translation, Bookkeeping, and the Work of Imagination in Colonial Kenya” and “Ethnic Patriotism and the East African Revival.”

He is co-editor of several books including “African Print Cultures: Newspapers and Their Publics in the Twentieth Century,” “The Politics of Heritage in Africa: Economies, Histories, and Infrastructures,” and “Recasting the Past: History Writing and Political Work in Modern Africa.”

“For me as a scholar it’s important to be able to recognize and study and appreciate the wide range of material in African languages in order to fully develop a picture of the arguments and debates people have in their own languages,” Peterson said in a video produced for the program.

Since 1981, 989 MacArthur Fellows have been named, according to the organization’s website. Those nominated, then selected, demonstrate “exceptional creativity in their work and the prospect for still more in the future,” according to the foundation website.

“Peterson’s wide-ranging scholarship and archive preservation efforts are challenging long-standing narratives about colonialism and nationalism in Africa and opening new avenues for further research,” reads the announcement.

Peterson’s parents, Linda and Rodney Peterson, who still reside in the Town of Maine, said Wednesday their son’s career in historic study almost didn’t happen.

He began his college education at the University of Rochester studying chemical engineering, but returned home after his first semester determined to switch his concentration to history.

Then, between his sophomore and junior years of college, he took a trip to Kenya, “which just nailed it,” Linda Peterson said.

Since 1991, it’s been his passion, and he’s made many trips back, she said.

“It’s pretty cool,” she said about the award. “We’re just proud as punch as we can be of the boy. He’s 46 but he’s still our kid.”

Follow Katie Sullivan on Twitter @ByKatieSullivan.

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