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History Students Pinto-Handler, Tomczak Win Prestigious Fellowships

STONY BROOK, NY -- Stony Brook University’s History Department received a wealth of good news this year: PhD candidates Sergio Pinto-Handler and Richard Tomczak both won prestigious external fellowships in support of their dissertation research. 

Pinto-Handler will spend the 2017-18 academic year at Boston College as the African & African Diaspora Studies (AADS) Program Dissertation Fellow. Tomczak, meanwhile, will be at the University of Ottawa where he has a visiting researcher appointment as part of a Fulbright Research Fellowship and an International Council of Canadian Studies Graduate Scholarship. Tomczak also received a David Library Fellowship at the David Library of the American Revolution in Washington’s Crossing, Pennsylvania. 

S Pinto-Handler Pinto-Handler’s research focuses on the transnational history of abolition. In particular, he looks at nineteenth-century Brazil, which was the last country in the Americas to abolish slavery. “I’m continually surprised by slavery’s vitality in the late nineteenth century. This was a form of labor that had no real reason to disappear, in the sense that there was no structural weakness in slavery as an institution. And while we like to think that after the US Civil War there was ‘global consensus’ that slavery was a backward and immoral form of labor, I’m finding that that’s actually not the case,” he said. 

“I’m continually struck by how the consequences of abolition across the Atlantic world really captivated the attention of Brazil’s conservative elite, and how effectively and strategically they used that history to ward off the abolitionist challenge over the course of the 1880s. And as a consequence, I’m always surprised and excited by the creativity and dedication of abolitionists and slaves who ultimately destroyed the last and oldest slave system in the hemisphere.” 

The fellowship, he said, will allow him to connect his work to some of the larger debates in the field while pushing him to look at the themes in his dissertation project – including slave resistance, political citizenship, and social mobility – through a new lens. 

"Sergio's research is important because he tackles the thorny question of  why slavery persisted so long in Brazil, even after the currents of public opinion … elsewhere shifted decisively against it,” said Jennifer Anderson, director of graduate studies in history. “As we contemplate the roots of globalization today, his work illuminates the dynamics and limits of moral arguments, especially surrounding complex topics such as abolition, that sometimes – but not always – transcend the borders of nation-states."

Ricky TomczakTomczak’s research examines how the British adopted a French form of mandatory labor, known as corvée, when they took over Quebec following the Seven Years War. “Their experiences managing French Canadian peasants and workers in support of the military informed imperial labor policy throughout British North America, especially during the American Revolution,” he said. 

When he first started investigating this project, Tomczak (pictured, left) expected to find that the British had only briefly used corvée labor – but that is not the case. “Canadian corvée laborers were always operating in the background of the opening years of the [American Revolution], and historians have missed their crucial involvement in the conflict,” he said. 

"Ricky's work sheds new light on labor history in early America, especially during the Seven Years War and the American Revolution,” Anderson said. “He shows how regular working people in French Canada, who seemed far removed from the vagaries of imperial politics, were nonetheless dramatically impacted by the tumultuous takeover of the region by the British. His work is highly original, little known, and significant to our understanding of this period."  

Tomczak’s tenure at the University of Ottawa will give him access to French manuscript collections; back in the US, the David Library is the only institution in the country with a complete microfilm collection of the Colonial Office Papers of Quebec. 

Both Pinto-Handler and Tomczak credit their experiences applying for external fellowships with helping them narrow their research focus and sharpen their questions. 

“I cannot overstate how critical the application process has been to the articulation of my dissertation,” Tomczak said. “For fellowship and grant applications, you typically get two pages to describe your project. That may not sound particularly difficult, but when you have a whole dissertation’s worth of ideas in your head that space fills up so quickly. You learn what the most important parts of your project are.” 

For more details on their research, see Pinto-Handler’s Q&A and Tomczak’s Q&A

Interested in learning more about external fellowship opportunities? The IREP Office can help. For more information, visit

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