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Preston named to Fulbright Distinguished Chair

  • Katherine K. PrestonThe David N. and Margaret C. Bottoms Professor of Music will spend the spring 2009 semester at the University of Leiden in the Netherlands as the Walt Whitman Distinguished Chair of American Culture.

    Katherine K. Preston
A music professor at the College of William and Mary has been named the Walt Whitman Distinguished Chair of American Culture by the Fulbright Center of the Netherlands.

Katherine K. Preston, the David N. and Margaret C. Bottoms Professor of Music, will spend the spring 2009 semester at the University of Leiden in the Netherlands. While there, she will teach a course for undergraduates on American popular music and a course for graduate students on music in American film.

Awards in the Fulbright Distinguished Chairs program are "viewed as among the most prestigious appointments in the Fulbright Scholar Program," according to the Fulbright Web site. The program offers only 40 positions worldwide, and requires candidates to be eminent scholars with significant publication and teaching records, according to the site.

Preston, who served as Chair of the Department of Music for six years, had wanted to go to Netherlands before through a faculty-exchange program the College has with the University of Leiden. However, because that university does not have a music department, it was not possible. When she decided to apply for a Fulbright, she chose The Netherlands in the hopes that her husband Daniel Preston, who serves as the Editor of The Papers of James Monroe, would also receive a Fulbright to another university in that country. Because this year is the 250th anniversary of Monroe's birth, however, he decided not to apply for an award. The couple had traveled to the Netherlands before on holiday when Preston did an exchange with a professor from the United Kingdom in 1998. Preston said that experience was very eye-opening for her, and she looks forward to what she will learn through this opportunity.

"I love to travel and I love to be in different places," said Preston. "What I learn from this kind of travel is a different perspective on my own research and different perspective on education."

Preston, who will be teaching in the university's American Studies department, has previously taught both of the classes that she is going to teach while in the Netherlands. She said that as an Americanist, she hopes to "share what we have with the world."

"Students in the Netherlands have no clue about the wealth of musical activity in this country during the 18th and 19th centuries, not to mention the 20th century," she said. "I hope to introduce to them this aspect of American social and cultural history."

And while her students are learning about American music, Preston hopes to learn more about the music of the Netherlands.
"I'm going to a country with a great concert tradition-especially in the performance of early music," she said. "I'm looking forward to that."

In addition to teaching, Preston will try to make some time to travel to England and conduct research, looking, for instance, for information on where American composer George Bristow's Symphony No. 2 ("The Jullien Symphony")  was played in the United Kingdom during the 1850s (she is in the process of preparing an edition of that work). She will also travel to several universities for speaking engagements and work on her book projects. But her top priority will always be her duties as the Fulbright Chair.

"The purpose of the Fulbright program is to send scholars abroad to serve as ambassadors for our country, and I think I can do that because I am an Americanist music historian," she said.

According to the Fulbright Foundation, this year 1,000 U.S. faculty and professionals received Fulbright Scholar awards to teach and research abroad. Along with Preston, three other William and Mary faculty members received grants through the Fulbright Program this year. Dorothea LaChon Abraham, an assistant professor in the Mason School of Business, is currently in Tokyo conducting research on eCare initiatives. Trotter Hardy, an associate dean and professor at the William and Mary School of Law, will travel to Portugal next semester to lecture on U.S. trademark law at Portuguese Catholic University. Glenn George, who left the William and Mary law faculty during the summer to join the law faculty at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, will lecture in China.