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The American Council of Learned Societies (ACLS) has named Michael Hawkins, a Ph.D. candidate in the Department of Geography, as a Mellon/ACLS Dissertation Completion Fellow. His dissertation, titled From Colonial Cargo to Global Containers: An Episodic Historical Geography of Manila’s Waterfront, 1898-2020, investigates historical transformations of the Port of Manila and the changing social and political relations of work there.

Ph.D. candidate Michael Hawkins
Ph.D. candidate Michael Hawkins

Hawkins, who received his bachelor’s degree from the University of Arizona, credited his time as an undergraduate student with sparking an interest in the discipline of geography and in the Philippines.

“Human geography allows me to tell peoples’ stories,” Hawkins said. “I get to look at people, how they interact with the world, and the spaces and places that make up that world.”

During his six years as a graduate student at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, Hawkins has traveled to the Philippines every year to listen to citizens who have stories to tell.

“As a geographer, I start with the people who make it all happen,” Hawkins said. Prior to the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic in early 2020, he spent dozens of hours over nearly five months speaking with people who work at the Port of Manila—a trade and shipping gateway to the Philippines.

“This isn’t a mundane activity,” Hawkins said. “Geography allows us to realize that everything is political, from driving a truck to unloading cargo.” Hawkins said that the individual human story can illuminate how we are connected to political and economic arenas.

The Graduate School’s Summer Research Fellowships, which provides support to doctoral students so they can focus on their dissertation research, funded Hawkins’s archival work in 2019.

As a Jürg Steiner Summer Research Fellowship recipient, the fund allowed Hawkins to travel to view historical documents related to the Philippines at the U.S. National Archives at College Park, Maryland; the University of Michigan; and the United States Department of Labor, among other locations, to conduct research.

Hawkins said the Summer Research Fellowship provided him with the opportunity to be recognized as a scholar in his field.

“It’s this sort of foundational support from The Graduate School that allowed me to be competitive for this grant,” Hawkins said. “To be a UNC-Chapel Hill student and get something like this prestigious fellowship—it’s a reminder of the awesome work that we can do at Carolina and really will make a huge difference in allowing me to write.”

Twenty-six doctoral students from UNC-Chapel Hill have been named Mellon/ACLS Dissertation Completion Fellows since its inception in 2007. The Department of Geography is part of the College of Arts & Sciences.

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