Prestigious Dissertation Fellowship Validates Doctoral Candidate’s Borderlands History Research
Last Updated on May 04, 2022 at 12:00 AM
Originally published May 04, 2022
By Daniel Perez
UTEP Marketing and Communications
As a youngster growing up in El Paso, Ligia Arguilez saw how her mother would harvest the plentiful creosote bush for medicinal purposes. Her research into the historical significance of that plant earned her a prestigious honor usually awarded to peers from Ivy League institutions.
Arguilez, a borderlands history doctoral candidate, recently earned the Mellon/ACLS (American Council of Learned Societies) Dissertation Competition Fellowship, one of the country’s most competitive fellowships. She is one of three recipients from Texas higher education institutions. Many of the 50 recipients comes from the likes of Yale, Harvard and Princeton, as well as UCLA and Stanford.
Arguilez’s research, “Making the Desert Place: An Environmental History of a Desert Shrub from the U.S.-Mexico Borderlands,” examines the historical, environmental and cultural trajectory of the common desert creosote bush, which was used to fight off fevers, colds, stomach pains and much more.
The first-generation college student who lives in Anthony, N.M., said her study would acknowledge the long history between people and plants in the Paso del Norte desert, and reveal the distinct and often contradictory ways in which the North American arid deserts have been shaped, perceived and experienced. She said she hoped her findings would enhance the public’s relationship with the desert.
Arguilez, who is a research assistant in UTEP’s Institute of Oral History, said this fellowship is significant in several ways. The $43,000 award will give her the financial means to write her dissertation without needing outside employment. Additionally, her selection by leading U.S. academic representatives in the humanities and interpretive social sciences validated her research.
“As these awards are typically given to students at Ivy League universities, I am hopeful that it will help bring more attention to the quality of work that exists here at UTEP’s College of Liberal Arts and in the humanities in general,” said Arguilez, who expects to earn her Ph.D. in spring 2023.
The native of Tijuana, Mexico, is a nontraditional student who started college later in life as a single mother. She previously received her bachelor’s and master’s degrees in history from UTEP in 2015 and 2020, respectively.
UTEP faculty and staff were excited about this major achievement, and about the ingenuity of the multidisciplinary investigation of plants, ecology, culture, history, memory and gender.
“This is a monumental achievement,” said Jeffrey Shepherd, Ph.D., chair and professor of history. “(This research) is a truly remarkable project. Ligia and this investigation embody the mission of UTEP as a Hispanic-serving, R1 (high-activity research) university dedicated to access and excellence on the border.”
Luciana Herman, Graduate School coordinator of graduate fellowships and awards, congratulated Arguilez for the fellowship and the inventiveness of her research topic.
“I’m confident that her work with the cultural markers of the creosote bush will be amazing,” Herman said.
This announcement follows other national recognitions by other UTEP doctoral students and recent graduates in the humanities.
Nora Rivera, a recent rhetoric and composition doctoral graduate, earned an outstanding dissertation award from the American Association of Hispanics in Higher Education.
National organizations also acknowledged Fior D. Garcia-Lara, Diana J. Lopez and Jessica Martinez, Ph.D. students in borderlands history.
Garcia-Lara received a fellowship with the Mellon-funded Humanities Without Walls Pre-Doctoral Career Diversity Workshop. The two-week event starts June 17, 2022, at the University of Michigan.
Lopez and Martinez will participate in the two-week Crossing Latinidades Summer Institute in Latino Humanities Studies Methodologies and Theories, which begins June 27, 2022, at the University of Illinois Chicago. The institute is an open forum for doctoral candidates to discuss how their research can move across various disciplines and theoretical frameworks within the humanities as they prepare for their dissertations.
“Our doctoral students are doing wonderful work and receiving national recognition for their scholarship,” Shepherd said.