UWinnipeg instructor earns fellowship to study paleoart in England

UWinnipeg English instructor Dr. Sarah Bezan. Photo Supplied.

UWinnipeg alumna and instructor Dr. Sarah Bezan is heading across the pond in January to begin a two-year fellowship at the University of Sheffield’s Animal Studies Research Centre in England thanks to a prestigious award.

Bezan was recently selected as a Newton International Fellow, which is given annually to 40 early stage post-doctoral researchers from around the world, and provides funding for two years of work at a variety of institutions in the United Kingdom.

“I was absolutely thrilled to learn that I had been selected as a Newton International Fellow,” said Bezan, who currently teaches in UWinnipeg’s Department of English. “My host supervisor at Sheffield, Bob McKay, has been incredibly supportive of my work, and I’m certain that the next few years of collaborative research will prove to be very fruitful.”

During the fellowship, Bezan will investigate how paleoart — artwork that attempts to recreate prehistoric life according to current scientific understanding — engages with humanity’s future on Earth during a time of environmental uncertainty. She became interested in the topic after unearthing the vertebrae of an 80 million year old reptile during a dig she took part in last year with the Canadian Fossil Discovery Centre.

“The experience encouraged me to think about how paleoartists over the past several centuries have come to visually represent prehistoric life,” she said. “How do we present visual narratives of evolutionary progress, given that prehistoric life has never been observed by humans?”

In trying to answer this question, Bezan has taken an interest in the work of Canadian scientific illustrator Julius Csotonyi; and has discovered that most 19th and 20th century paleoart focuses on humans as the end result of natural scientific processes. In contrast, she argues that, because of human-accelerated global climate change and the possible extinction of Homo sapiens, contemporary paleoartists are beginning to challenge these conventions.

Sheffields Animal Studies Research Centre (ShARC) is one of the world’s foremost critical networks for interdisciplinary animal studies research in the arts, humanities, social sciences that focuses on nonhuman animals and human-animal relationships.

The Newton Fellowship will provide Bezan with a significant amount of funding for attending conferences, conducting archival research, and organizing keynotes and special seminars at ShARC.

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