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Racial Violence Historian Awarded ‘Genius Grant’ by MacArthur Foundation

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Monica Muńoz Martinez
Monica Muñoz Martinez, Public Historian, 2021 MacArthur Fellow, Austin, TX. Photo by John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation.

AUSTIN, Texas — Monica Muñoz Martinez, a historian at The University of Texas at Austin, has been awarded a MacArthur fellowship, often referred to as the “genius grant.” The award recognizes her work to recover untold histories of racial violence along the U.S.-Mexico border.

Martinez is one of 25 individuals selected for the five-year fellowship — a no-strings-attached, $625,000 “investment in a person’s originality, insight and potential.” Recipients are nominated based on proven talent and extraordinary originality and dedication to their creative pursuits.

Martinez’s research and public history projects bring long-obscured cases of racial violence along the Texas-Mexico border to the forefront so communities can reckon with their past and work toward racial healing. Her work combines traditional archival research with oral histories and memorabilia from victims’ descendants to piece together a fuller picture of the past and transform modern narratives.

“People have a right to learn truthful accounts of history in schools, museums, the news and popular culture, even when those histories are troubling,” said Martinez, an associate professor in the Department of History. “This is especially important when lessons of the past can help inspire a more inclusive and equitable future.”

To amplify her research, Martinez wrote an award-winning book, “The Injustice Never Leaves You: Anti-Mexican Violence in Texas,” in which she recounts a period of state-sanctioned racial terror against Mexicans in the early 20th century. She co-founded the public history nonprofit Refusing to Forget to increase public awareness of these events through museum exhibits and curricular materials and by placing historical markers in areas where such killings took place.

Her current project builds on her previous work by establishing the first national record of racist violence to recount lesser-known lynchings, homicides, policing shootings, bombings, physical assault and community banishment.

“Dr. Martinez’s work as a scholar and public historian is a shining example of rigorous, engaged scholarship in the humanities,” said Ann Huff Stevens, dean of the College of Liberal Arts. “Her careful research into the history of racial and ethnic violence comes at a time when society continues to wrestle with the past and work toward a better future. Her brilliance, engagement with the community, and the accessibility of her work are all tributes to Dr. Martinez and to the role of public research institutions.”

Martinez is one of nine UT Austin faculty members to have been awarded MacArthur Foundation fellowships: Livia Schiavinator Eberlin (Chemistry, 2018), Annie Baker (Theatrical Arts, 2017), Branden Jacobs-Jenkins (Theatre Arts, 2016),  Jacqueline Jones (History, 1999), David Hillis (Integrative Biology, 1999), Nancy Moran (Integrative Biology, 1997), Nora C. England (Linguistics, 1993), Philip Uri Treisman (Mathematics, 1992), Thomas G. Palaima (Classics, 1985), David Stuart (Linguistics & Archeology, 1984), and Karen K. Uhlenbeck (Mathematics, 1983).