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This Grant Sent Jeremy Mikecz to Map the Spanish Conquest of Peru

By Alex Russell - Jeremy Mikecz, a Ph.D. candidate in history at UC Davis, won a National Science Foundation (NSF) grant this year for his project applying mapping technology to debunk myths about the Spanish conquest of Peru. Here he talks about applying for the grant, his project and why it would have been worth it even if he was not funded.

How did you hear about the grant?

Every month, UC Davis Graduate Studies puts out a list of grants. One of the grants posted was from the NSF geography and spatial science branch, and I’m using GIS in my project. I thought it would fit in.

What specifically does it fund?

The grant is a doctoral dissertation research improvement grant, and funds research expenses for graduate students who have advanced to candidacy and are working on their dissertation. You propose your own budget depending on your needs. It doesn’t provide family with any living expenses or stipends, just research expenses. 

I'm going to use it to travel to Spain to the archives. I have a collaboration at the Stanford Spatial History Project laboratory, and this grant will fund working two months with them, and some travel to conferences as well. I’m also going to buy a new computer because I requested that to help with the software I need to use. It covers just about any kind of research expense you can fit in a $15,000 budget, but one quarter to one half goes to the university, so it’s really more like $8,000-12,000.

What are you working on?

I’m writing my dissertation on the conquest and colonization of Peru during the sixteenth century but using GIS to analyze this period from a geographic perspective. I want to attack the myth of an easy and complete conquest using GIS and spatial analysis to show that the Spaniards were actually very vulnerable. They had indigenous allies supporting them who were recently conquered by the Incas and wanted to use the Spaniards to get rid of them. Mapping out these events can show a new narrative. My project is unique because it uses these methods as a means to recover the activity of indigenous people, which is often lost to history.

Why was this particular grant important?

For Ph.D. students in my field, while there are a lot of grants for travel abroad and for dissertation completion, there is not a lot of funding available for other research expenses.  

What was the primary motivator that got you to apply?

I don’t think it’s common for students in my field to apply for NSF grants. There is a UC Davis alumnus from my program who teaches at the University of Oregon now, Mark Carey. He did his dissertation on melting glaciers in Peru and the impacts of climate change on human societies. A year ago he got a big NSF grant, so he was an example of someone trained in history here who applied to the NSF. The other factor is all I can do with the funding.

What was the hardest part about applying?

The application was very complicated. The NSF website is a web of bureaucratic instructions. You just have to read through a lot of layers to understand what needs to be done. There are other things that I hadn’t had to do before, like write a data management plan which says how I’m going to preserve this data for the future. Scientists might be used to these types of applications but people in my field are not.

Why should other students apply for these types for grants?

I understand the fear that you could spend a lot of time writing a grant like this and not get it. I spent five weeks on it, and I had to set aside two weeks when I didn’t do anything but work on the grant.

Before I wrote this grant, I knew what I was writing my dissertation about, but I wasn’t really sure how I was going to do it. I wanted to use spatial analysis and GIS but wasn’t sure how to apply it to historical texts. Historians usually use quantitative data for this, but I wanted to use qualitative text. I wanted to show that a humanist can apply scientific techniques but still use techniques from the humanities.

All the reading I did to prepare to write this grant helped me develop and clarify my methodology for my dissertation. Plus, whenever you write one grant you can always reuse the parts for another one. Even though the NSF grant itself is more geared towards a scientific audience, I can still use parts for essays I’m writing now. Even if you don’t get the grant, this time is not lost.

The Institute for Social Sciences provides grant-writing support for graduate students (resources permitting) and DSS faculty. Learn more about grants on our website.