Indiana State University Newsroom

Skinner receives ACLS award

April 14, 2011

Barbara Skinner's plans for 2012 will take her to Belarus, Ukraine and Lithuania for research. A prestigious grant will help her to get there.

Skinner, Indiana State University assistant professor of history, has been awarded a fellowship from the American Council of Learned Societies (ACLS) for her research on the impact of major religious changes in the western borderlands of the Russian Empire in the early 19th century.

ACLS receives funding from 70 organizations, including the National Endowment for the Humanities, the Ford Foundation and the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation. Its mission is to advance the humanities in all fields of learning. Skinner is one of 64 that received a fellowship for which more than 1,100 scholars applied.

"I never expected to get one of the big grants," she said of the $35,000 fellowship she will use in 2012 for her next book while on sabbatical. "I'm excited to get it. I will use the funding to the best of my ability to conduct high quality research. You really feel a sense of responsibility that they've chosen your project and that you then have to deliver a good result."

Skinner's research will focus on the period from 1800 to 1855, concentrating on religious conversions carried out from 1828 to 1839. In the late eighteenth century, the area of former Poland that is now Belarus, Ukraine and Lithuania was seized by Russia.

"In the early nineteenth century, the region was still more Catholic than Russian Orthodox," she said. "When a million and a half people converted to Orthodoxy, for many, it was a forced conversion. But the major movers and shakers of the conversion were not the Russians but the Belarusians. In this case, some of the subjected people felt a need to integrate culturally into the Russian Empire."

Skinner has already conducted research on this history from documents in the Russian historical archives in St. Petersburg, Russia. Skinner will complete her research in Russia this summer, and the ACLS fellowship will fund hertravel to the three other countries to sift through local government and diocesan documents to examine what occurred on a parish level during the mass conversion efforts.

"In this early imperial history, culture centered so much on the church," she said. "Their cultural life was their religious life."

This research also fits in with Skinner's research on identity and how identity is created.

"In the early 19th century you have a rise of nationalism," she said. "That's a major part of what this study is about. Religious identity is a precursor to national identity."

Skinner said her research often enters into the classroom as she helps students understand the importance of culture and history and how it manifests itself in current times, such as in her modern Russian history class. She also uses examples of how to conduct historical research in her graduate research and methods course.

"I would be a fraud if I didn't continue to do professional research myself," she said.

She strives to bring her passion for Eastern Europe and Russia to her students.

"It's a constant effort to help the students understand what it means to be a historian and to bring your knowledge and passion for the subject into the classroom," she said. "You're always learning about the human condition, including the universality of day-to-day problems and how to resolve problems and challenges in settings across borders and time periods."

Photo :
Barbara Skinner

Contact: Barbara Skinner, assistant professor of history, at 812-237-2722 or

Writer: Jennifer Sicking, associate director of media relations, at 812-237-7972 or