Humanities & Culture

A Genius in Our Midst

UW professor Monica Kim wins a MacArthur Fellowship for her innovative research on warfare.

Monica Kim wearing black against a background of green foliage

Kim examines the experiences of ordinary people caught in the machinery of war. John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation

UW history professor Monica Kim was awarded a 2022 MacArthur Fellowship, also known as a “genius grant.” Fellows are selected for their exceptional creativity and future promise.

Kim examines the dynamics between U.S. empire, race, and decolonization by tracking the changes in warfare over the course of the 20th century. She analyzes the “wars of intervention” undertaken by the United States during the Cold War — in particular, the Korean War. By examining the experiences of ordinary people caught in the machinery of war, she complicates official, top-down versions of the conflict and proposes fresh ways to consider longstanding conflicts simmering around the globe.

Kim’s own Korean parents immigrated to the U.S. due to the Korean War. “The war was really present in my family during my childhood,” she says. “Yet at school, growing up, it was completely absent from textbooks or discussions. I wanted to do a bottom-up history of the Korean War — not from the vantage points of heads of state and military leaders, but from those of ordinary people like soldiers or farmers, like my family members were.”

In addition to Kim, three other winners of 2022 MacArthur genius grants have UW–Madison ties: historical demographer Steven Ruggles ’78; Robin Wall Kimmerer MS’78, PhD’83, director of the Center for Native Peoples and the Environment at the State University of New York; and Melanie Matchett Wood, a former UW mathematics professor.

Published in the Spring 2023 issue


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