UNF professor will soon travel to Washington, D.C. with Kislak Fellowship

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Dr. J. Michael Francis awarded with residency at Library of Congress

The Library of Congress’ Kluge Center awarded UNF history professor Dr. J. Michael Francis the Jay I. Kislak Fellowship, a prestigious award for researchers that will send Francis on a literal journey to Washington, D.C.’s Library of Congress and a historical journey through early colonial Spanish Florida.

The Kislak Fellowship provides Francis with access to the Kislak Collection’s vast array of maps, documents, rare books and art dealing with indigenous people in North America, with specific interest in Florida. The Kislak Fellowship achievement gets awarded annually to one qualified scholar.

The application process for the Kislak Fellowship involved an eight-page application form and three letters of recommendation, which the Library of Congress receives and then a network of anonymous readers reviews the documents. The Library of Congress based its decision on the opinions of the readers.

Francis heard the news while driving with his wife to North Carolina in August.

“When they first made the offer … I almost drove off the road,” he said. “It came as a bit of a shock, but I was thrilled.”

He begins an eight-month residency at the Library of Congress from Sept. 2010 until April 2011. UNF gave Francis a leave of absence for the 2010-2011 academic year.

Francis said he gained interest in Spanish Florida after he began teaching a paleography class in 2006. In his class, students learn how to read and study 16th century documents.

The class also gives students the opportunity to study in at the General Archive of the Indies in Seville, Spain. Francis has taken 15 students to Spain on long-term research trips. Three of his paleography students have gone on to graduate programs with full scholarships at Vanderbilt University, Northwestern University and the University of Notre Dame.

Francis said that he believes research and teaching are “inextricably intertwined.”

Eight months of uninterrupted research will allow Francis to finish at least one major project, as the Kislak collection will assist him in his research on the history of the church in Spanish Florida, continuing the work on his next book, “The Martyrs of Florida.” This book will focus on the early church and the Franciscan missions in Spanish Florida, he said.

“My goal is to explore the very early effort to Christianize Florida’s Indian population,” Francis said.

Before starting his residency, Francis plans to conduct research during summer 2010 at The Vatican Secret Archives in Rome where he hopes to uncover records of the first Franciscans sent to Florida, he said.

Once in Washington, D.C., he will begin work with the Smithsonian Institution, using their resources in Native American history to further his studies, he said.

Francis has taught at UNF since 1997. He received his Ph.D. from the University of Cambridge in 1998, specializing in colonial Latin American history. Francis is also a research associate with the American Museum of Natural History in New York.

He has authored two books, including “Politics, Murder and Martyrdom in Spanish Florida: Don Juan and the Guale Uprising of 1597,” which is set to be published next year. This book will discuss tensions between the Franciscan friars and the Guale tribes, changing our knowledge of “things that we just didn’t know [and] didn’t really understand about Spanish-Indian relations,” Francis said.