This academic year, one of the Department of History’s faculty members is getting the opportunity to advance her research at one of the country’s most prestigious institutions. Associate Professor of History, Tiffany Florvil, has been selected as one of 53 people worldwide to be a part of the 2023-2024 cohort at the Harvard Radcliffe Institute Fellowship Program.

As part of the Fellowship, Florvil will spend the coming year advancing her award-winning research on one of Germany’s most prominent Black poets, May Ayim.

Tiffany Florvil
Associate Professor of History, Tiffany Florvil. Photo credit: Annette Hornischer, American Academy in Berlin.

The Fellowship program, as part of the Harvard Radcliffe Institute for Advanced Study, provides an opportunity for scholars, scientists, artists, and writers to pursue advanced work in a range of disciplines and fields, including the creative arts, with support from a scholarly community. While the Institute is committed to the study of women, gender, and society, applicants are welcome to pursue projects on any topic.

During her time at Radcliffe, Florvil will focus on developing an article titled, “May Ayim’s ‘Wake Work’” as well as writing several chapters of her new biography on Ayim, titled, "Borderless and Brazen: The Life and Legacy of May Ayim, 1960-1996." This biography will be the first full-length study of the poet and activist.

Florvil’s research will delve into Ayim's radical connections with other prominent intellectuals across the world, leading up to her untimely death in 1996.

Florvil discusses the importance of sharing Ayim’s story. “Even though May Ayim had a short life, dying at the age of 36, her narrative is critical to how we understand 20th-century German and Black diasporic histories," said Florvil. "She was a poet, an activist, and an intellectual who advocated for critical discussions of German colonial memory and human rights while also emphasizing the persistence of racism in a country still reckoning with the Holocaust’s aftermath.”

As a Radcliffe Fellow, Florvil will not only be able to review the research she gathered in Berlin, Germany, as a Berlin Prize recipient, but will also have access to an interdisciplinary community of scholars to advance her work.

“I welcome the opportunity to work with research assistants proficient in German who will assist me as I process and attempt to acquire additional sources. I am also excited to be in dialogue with many others in my cohort, such as Saidiya Hartman, Tiya Miles, Jules Gill-Peterson, Fushcia-Ann Hoover, and Laila Lalami as well as faculty across Harvard University,” Florvil said. 

Ayim co-founded the Initiative of Black People in Germany, which is referred to as the Initiative Schwarze Menschen in Deutschland (ISD) in Germany. The ISD is seen as a precursor to Berlin's Black Lives Matter, catalyzing a Black German civil rights movement.

“Ayim also advanced antiracist, feminist, and Black diasporic causes far beyond Germany," Florvil said. "Her transnational activism sought to improve the conditions of people across the Black diaspora, People of Color, and migrants. I believe the world needs to know more about her significance.” 

Ayim’s relevance to contemporary society continues today because of her writings, which illuminate the enduring impact of racism on marginalized communities in contemporary Germany. In a time marked by ethnonationalism, fascism, and grappling with colonial legacies, her work remains pertinent. Today, her writings have shed light on the rise of right-wing groups like Alternative for Germany (AfD).

Florvil is a historian specializing in modern and late modern European history, with a focus on social movements, gender, sexuality, emotions, and the African diaspora. She became a member of the UNM Department of History in 2013, contributing to Transnational Women's and Gender history in Europe. Her research spans various themes including race, ethnicity, identity formation, cultural movements, Black internationalism, intellectualism, diasporas, and emotional/affective communities.

Florvil holds a position on the Executive Board at the German Studies Association. Furthermore, she actively engages as a digital humanist, undertaking roles such as co-founder, network editor, and advisory board member for H-Black-Europe, as well as co-founder and network editor for H-Emotions.

The doors that this experience will open for both Florvil and her research on Ayim are profound. 

“I look forward to participating in stimulating conversations and research at the Radcliffe Institute because of Harvard’s reputation for cutting-edge research in African Diaspora Studies and Women’s and Gender History with professionals including Evelyn Brooks Higginbotham, Henry Louis Gates, Annette Gordon-Reed, Michèle Lamont, and Robert Reid-Phar, scholars whose work I have long admired,” Florvil said.

“Moreover, I can access the world-class holdings at the Schlesinger Library, the German Collections at Widener, and the Modern German Collection at the Houghton Library, which will allow me to contextualize Ayim’s life in ways that others previously have ignored,” Florvil continued.