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Berkeleyan

Geography professor awarded Guggenheim fellowship

| 23 April 2003

 

Michael Watts

Michael Watts
Jane Scherr photo

Michael Watts, a geography professor who is researching the relationship between oil, politics, and violence in West Africa, has been named a 2003 Guggenheim fellow.

The John Simon Guggenheim Memorial Foundation announced the fellowship winners on April 10. The 104 artists, scientists,and scholars were selected from more than 3,200 applicants, based on distinguished achievement and exceptional promise for future accomplishments.

Watts, director of the Institute of International Studies, said he is delighted with the award, which will allow him to complete his research on oil and politics ó a project he has been working on since he became director of the institute nine years ago. He plans to use the fellowship to complete a book on oil and contemporary Nigeria and to return to Nigeria for more analysis.

ďAt this moment in history, in which oil and war appear daily on the front pages of every newspaper around the world, it is critically important to fully understand the long and bloody history of oil and its fundamental relation to imperialism and the making of the modern world,Ē Watts said.

Watts received the Guggenheim fellowship to continue his work on the topic of petroleum and economies of violence in Nigeria. His project is part of a larger attempt on his part to understand the conflicts engendered by the exploitation of strategic resources like oil, diamonds, uranium and increasingly genetic materials. His current project provides a political and environmental history of the Niger Delta, the geographical heart of Nigeriaís oil production. The delta remains the poorest and most marginal in that country, according to Watts, despite $300 billion in oil revenues it has generated for the Nigerian government since petroleum was discovered there in 1958.

Resource control and self-determination have become rallying cries in such communities, Watts said, but tensions and conflict among and between these ethnic communities and between minorities and the government and the oil companies have rendered the Niger Delta almost ungovernable.

Watts received his bachelorís degree in geography and economics from Londonís University College in 1972 and his Ph.D. in 1978 from the University of Michigan. He came to Berkeley in 1979 and joined the faculty of the geography department. Director since 1994 of the Institute of International Studies, a program that promotes cross-disciplinary global and transnational research and training, Watts has also served as chair of the campusís Berkeley-Stanford African Studies Center.