Phi Beta Kappa Member Gets MacArthur Fellow Honors

By Kathleen Lamanna

Tara Zhara is a professor of East European history at the University of Chicago. In early September, Zhara, along with twenty other professionals, received a call that they had been named a 2014 MacArthur Fellow. 

The MacArthur foundation is one of the nation’s largest independent foundations. According to their website, the foundation pledges that it “fosters the development of knowledge, nurtures individual creativity, strengthens institutions, helps improve public policy, and provides information to the public.” The foundation supports people and institutions that express creativity and are dedicated to building a “just, verdant, and peaceful world.” 

The MacArthur Fellows Program awards fellowships to dedicated individuals who show exemplary originality and creativity in their work. The program focuses on the fellow’s capacity for self-direction, celebrating and inspiring the creative potential through “no-strings-attached” fellowships. Three of the main requirements for the fellowship are creativity, promise for future advances, and potential for the fellowship to assists the recipient in future creative work. Along with this prestigious honor is a monetary stipend of $625,000 that is paid out over five years.

Zhara, like all of the MacArthur fellows, was nominated for the award by her peers: “It’s a pretty incredible honor,” said Zhara. As a historian of Eastern Europe, Zhara aims to make history more accessible to the general public. “I’m writing a book right now that is aimed to both historians and a general audience,” stated Zhara. “I might do some more writing for journals and publications [now that I’ve been awarded this fellowship].” Zhara expressed that her work deals with “relationships between Eastern and Western Europe” and that she studies “European history in a transnational perspective.”

Tara Zhara attended Swarthmore College in Pennsylvania for her Bachelor’s degree. Upon her graduation in 1998, Zhara was inducted into Phi Beta Kappa. Zhara went on to receive both her master’s degree and her doctorate from the University of Michigan in 2002 and 2005, respectively. Other honors include being appointed to the Harvard Society of Fellows in 2005 to 2007. 

“I’m hoping that it will enable me to have more freedom with my research,” said Zhara about her recent honor. Zhara, who used to be a ballet dancer and teacher, reportedly told the Pocono Record that she would “like to elevate the status of dance as an academic discipline” at the University of Chicago, where she has been employed since 2006. 

About becoming a MacArthur fellow, Zhara said: “You’re nominated and there’s a lot of secrecy on the nominations. So much so that I didn’t know I had been nominated until I actually got the phone call telling me I’d got the award. It’s incredibly exciting. It’s not something you would ever, or I didn’t at least, expect to happen to me.” The fellowship will allow Zhara to reach her ultimate goal of making history education more accessible to the everyday person; she stated that she hopes to “promote history to broader audiences and to experiment with writing for broader audiences.”

Kathleen Lamanna is a senior at Wells College majoring in English with a focus in creative writing and a minor in history. Wells College is home to the Xi of New York Chapter of Phi Beta Kappa.