Sarah J. Jackson, Duncan Watts awarded 2020 Andrew Carnegie Fellowships

The program supports high-caliber scholarly research in the humanities and social sciences that addresses important and enduring issues confronting our society.

University of Pennsylvania professors Sarah J. Jackson and Duncan Watts have been named 2020 Andrew Carnegie Fellows by the Carnegie Corporation of New York. Each fellowship carries a grant of $200,000.

Now in its sixth year, the goal of the Andrew Carnegie Fellows Program is to support high-caliber scholarly research in the humanities and social sciences that addresses important and enduring issues confronting our society. The selected projects focus on a broad range of complex political, economic, technological, humanistic, and sociological matters.

The 2020 class of Andrew Carnegie Fellows includes 27 scholars, out of more than 300 nominated candidates. The candidates’ proposals were initially evaluated by an anonymous team of prominent scholars, educators, and intellectuals, and the final selections were made by a distinguished panel of 17 jurors, including President Amy Gutmann.

Jackson to study Black media-makers

A up-close of a person's face standing in front of a brick wall that's blurred out.
Sarah J. Jackson, Presidential Associate Professor in the Annenberg School for Communication.

There was a time when telling honest stories about American racism, like Ida B. Wells did in the late 1800s, could get a Black writer lynched. Since that time, much has changed about race in America and who gets to tell stories about it, but today’s African-American storytellers still face threats, distrust, and backlash.

Jackson, a Presidential Associate Professor in the Annenberg School for Communication, will trace the role of African-American media-makers in the 21st century. She will consider how today’s Black media-makers—including journalists, filmmakers, podcasters, and digital influencers—are casting light on stories that were once suppressed; sharing new stories that grapple with race and democracy; and influencing contemporary politics and policy on issues like housing segregation, educational inequality, criminal justice, and voting rights.

“The 2020 Pulitzer Prizes awarded to Nikole Hannah Jones, Colson Whitehead, and other Black storytellers speak to the centrality and significance of Black media-makers today,” Jackson says. “With the generous support of the Carnegie Foundation, I will highlight the significance of the stories they tell and consider new opportunities and barriers faced by Black media-makers today.”

An expert in how communication constructs identity and shapes social change in American culture, Jackson studies how media, journalism, and technology are used by and represent marginalized groups, with a focus on communication by and about Black and feminist activists. Her first book, “Black Celebrity, Racial Politics, and the Press(Routledge 2014), examines the relationship between Black celebrity activism, journalism, and American politics, while her co-authored second book, “Hashtag Activism: Networks of Race and Gender Justice (MIT Press 2020), focuses on the use of Twitter in contemporary social movements.

Jackson was a Fall 2018 fellow at the Harvard Kennedy School Shorenstein Center for Media, Politics, and Public Policy, a Faculty Associate at the Berkman Klein Center for Internet and Society, and a 2019 New America National Fellow. She is frequently called on as an expert by local and national media outlets including NPR, PBS, the Associated Press, and The New York Times.

Watts to study bias and misinformation in media

Duncan Watts
Duncan Watts, a Penn Integrates Knowledge professor with appointments in the School of Engineering and Applied Science, the Annenberg School for Communication, and the Wharton School.

Should we be concerned that millions of Americans exclusively watch Fox News? Or CNN? Or that a 29-year-old Swede who intermingles lighthearted commentary with racist and anti-Semitic jokes while playing video games has 100 million followers on YouTube?

Watts, a Penn Integrates Knowledge professor with appointments in the School of Engineering and Applied Science, the Annenberg School for Communication, and the Wharton School, seeks to deepen our understanding of the origins, nature, and prevalence of misinformation, and its effects on democracy. Using a unique collection of datasets—including text from online news publishers; closed-caption text from local television news programs; and nationally representative panels of mobile, web, and TV content consumption—Watts and his collaborators at Penn, Microsoft Research, MIT, and Stanford will study how media produce information, how people consume that information, and how it influences public opinion and understanding. 

“Since the 2016 election, a great deal of attention has focused on the role of explicitly false information circulating on social media,” Watts says. “Although worrying, I think that problem is really the tip of the iceberg. Misinformation is a much broader problem than outright falsehoods and it affects all of the media, not just social media. But wrapping our arms around the full scope of the problem will require unprecedented amounts of data and correspondingly novel methods to make sense of it.”

Watts is a pioneer in the use of digital data to study social networks and collective behavior. He is the author of three books: “Six Degrees: The Science of a Connected Age” (W.W. Norton 2003), “Small Worlds: The Dynamics of Networks between Order and Randomness” (Princeton University Press 1999), and “Everything is Obvious: Once You Know the Answer” (Crown Business 2011).

Watts was previously recognized by the 2009 German Physical Society Young Scientist Award for Socio and Econophysics, the 2013 Lagrange-CRT Foundation Prize for Complexity Science, and the 2014 Everett M. Rogers Award. In 2018, he was named an inaugural fellow of the Network Science Society.

Seven total scholars from the University of Pennsylvania have received Carnegie Fellowships. In addition to Jackson and Watts, the others include: