Alumni Spotlight: John Carl Baker Receives Fellowship

A big congratulations goes to John C. Baker who has received a fellowship from the Mellon/ACLS Public Fellows Program. Esma H. Celebioglu conducted a short interview with John about his new postdoc position. Read below to see his responses.


You are one of the 2016 Mellon/ACLS Public Fellows. Could you tell us a bit about the Public Fellows program?

The Public Fellows program is designed to demonstrate the value of a humanities PhD by placing recent graduates in non-profit and governmental positions beyond the academy. Essentially, the program matches highly qualified candidates with non-academic institutions that are desirous of a PhD’s expertise. The idea here is that the academy provides humanities PhDs with broadly valuable skills but not a lot of work experience beyond teaching and research. Public Fellows receive an opportunity to work for two years at a non-academic organization where they can apply their advanced knowledge and research skills while also developing professionally. Although the entire 2016 cohort shares the designation “Mellon-ACLS Public Fellow,” each fellow works for a different organization and holds a specific job title. Glancing over this year’s list, participating organizations include the Smithsonian Institution, the Southern Poverty Law Center, the Center for Investigative Reporting, and the L.A. County Museum of Art. The diversity of participating institutions is matched by the diversity of PhDs held by the fellows: sociology, archaeology, music, anthropology, and justice studies are all represented this year, along with many others. Our own field fits right in - in fact, two of the 2016 Public Fellows hold PhDs in cultural studies.


What is your specific position and what sort of things will you be working on?

As for me, I will be working for the Ploughshares Fund as a Political Engagement Strategist. Basically, Ploughshares gives grants in support of peacemaking and nuclear security initiatives. They have been heavily involved in the Iran deal and generally work to support the reduction—and ultimately the eradication—of nuclear weapons. My position there will be multifaceted, but among other things I’ll be researching the possibility for new disarmament initiatives at the state, national, and even global level. I’m particularly looking forward to pursuing cultural approaches to disarmament and examining whether emergent cultural objects can be employed to put nuclear weapons back in the public eye. Since I wrote my dissertation on the nuclear freeze movement, which made use of mass cultural texts for political purposes, this sort of thing is right up my alley and I’m excited to get started.


Is there anything you would like to share with current CS students?

I highly encourage our graduates to apply to the Public Fellows program, especially if they’re not particularly keen on pursuing a career in the academy. Speaking for myself, the fellowship is an excellent opportunity to gain some much-needed experience outside of the university system. That said, I would never have received this fellowship without the rigorous training built into the cultural studies program at GMU. The skills we learn here can rightly be called “academic,” but we should remember that they have almost unlimited application. I look forward to applying the knowledge I’ve gained at GMU in my new position at the Ploughshares Fund.