LWL Fellowship Program in the Time of Covid

December 14, 2020
picnic table on a patio

Since its founding in the early 1990s, the Lewis Walpole Library Fellowship program has developed a reputation as one of the most desirable, short-term research residencies available to scholars specializing in the British eighteenth century. Both the 1999/2000 renovation of the Timothy Root House into a commodious, self-catering residence for up to nine visiting scholars at a time, and the 2007 remodeling of the main Library complex to provide a spacious and comfortable reading room, encouraged the expansion of the program. As a result, annually, on average, 18 to 25 researchers at the dissertation or post-degree level are awarded residencies at the Library ranging from two weeks to two months. Fellows’ reports, now supplemented by user surveys administered to each departing Fellow, speak glowingly about the particular – even unique – qualities of the LWL Fellowship.  

It is, therefore, with great regret that we have been compelled to suspend the Fellowship program for the entirety of the current (2020/21) academic year, while the Yale campus, including the Yale Library system, remains closed to all but authorized, Yale-affiliated faculty, students, and staff, or closed to all researchers as the university’s pandemic response requires. Indeed, at the present time thirty LWL Fellows are waiting patiently to take up their promised residencies at Farmington, including eight members of the 2019/20 fellowship cohort, who were due to visit between last March and June, as well as the entire 2020/21 cohort of twenty-two, whose awards were announced just prior to pandemic’s onslaught last March and who, in a normal year, would be visiting the library sometime between last July and the end of this coming June.

To each of these deferred Fellows library staff are extending what remote general research assistance they can provide, as well as prioritized digitization of collection content to support the Fellow’s intended fellowship research agenda, and/or to better prepare the Fellow to take up their eventual Farmington residency. Further outreach efforts, aimed to develop a sense of the scholarly community in absentia, as it were, include a series of virtual “Friday coffee” informal talks by and for LWL Fellows in the spring semester.

In addition, given the challenges Fellows may face in rescheduling their fellowship visit around both professional and personal obligations and commitments, each of the pending Fellows has been assured that their fellowship offer will remain open until such time as they are able to visit the Library, as long as the scope of the research they undertake while in residence is largely consistent with the project for which their fellowship was initially awarded. 

Normally, at this time the Library would be recruiting the next year’s cohort of Fellows, with a deadline for applications in early January 2021.  However, in light of the thirty Fellows already pending, and ongoing uncertainty as to when the Yale Library will reopen its doors to non-Yale research visitors, the Library has decided against recruiting a Fellowship cohort for FY 2021/22, to enable the Fellows already pending to take up their residencies as soon as the Library can receive them.

In the meantime, for the most recent updates on the status of the LWL Fellowship program, please keep an eye on our website. While we can make no promises at this time, we are hopeful that next fall recruitment for a 2022/23 cohort will be possible, and we encourage enquiries in the meantime.

by Nicole Bouché