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Humanities Center off to great start within WVU Libraries

The West Virginia University Humanities Center is thriving in its new home within WVU Libraries, and a packed schedule of upcoming programs and events carries the promise of a great spring semester for the campus community and beyond.

“I am pleased to welcome the Humanities Center into the Libraries,” Dean of Libraries Karen Diaz said. “We are discovering a number of great synergies in working together to support multiple areas of campus. We are both committed to roles we can play in strengthening the University’s R1 status and commitment to the land-grant mission.”

Humanities Center Director Renèe Nicholson agrees the new arrangement benefits the campus and beyond.

“Both the Center and the Libraries serve the entire campus community, supporting faculty, staff, and students across all of WVU’s colleges and campuses,” Nicholson said. “As well, initiatives in the Library, such as programming connected with the West Virginia and Regional History Center and Art in the Libraries, among others, integrate well with the goals and activities of the Center.”

Deep Jackson performs

Deep Jackson, a Welch, W.Va. native, performs at “From WV to NY: Hip Hop Geography,” a panel discussion around hip-hop, Black culture and place, presented by the Humanities Center on Oct. 20, 2022, in the Mountainlair’s Ballroom

Traditionally, humanities disciplines include areas such as Philosophy, History, Literature, Law, Languages, Religious Studies, Native American Studies, Women and Gender Studies, and often spill over into other disciplines. Yet, all disciplines have some connection to the humanities, since every discipline has a history, culture, and specialized language, which contextualizes each discipline and how it goes about its work.

The Center supports the University’s land-grant mission first through events and programs that enhance student success and improve the lives of West Virginians. One example is the Humanities at Work initiative that assists undergraduates and graduate students in the humanities with career planning and support.

In addition, the Center provides grants for programs that use the humanities to enhance the academic journeys of students and improve the lives of West Virginians.

Currently, the Center has a Call for Proposals for fellowships and grants. This financial support often provides early funding for work in or connected with the humanities, with the goal of producing more scholarship that is published and/or receives next level funding, such as funds through National Endowment for the Humanities and other sources. Many of the outcomes of the Center’s advocacy help strengthen WVU’s R1 status.

 A lso, in partnership with the Eberly College and the Office of Research, the Center has been a part of a faculty writing group focused on gaining fellowships to support the writing and publication of scholarly books. Many of the participants in the group are in humanities disciplines.

In the Fall of 2022, while integrating into its new home, the Center established four signature initiatives:

  1. Appalachian Writers, Artists, and Scholars of Color Series: this series, established in the Fall of 2020, continues to help showcase, center, and support diverse voices from the region. It also serves the land grant mission of WVU.
  2. Connective Tissue: Health Humanities at WVU: one of the fastest-growing areas of the humanities, activities, events and programs under this initiative focus on the human conditions of health and illness by drawing on methodologies in the humanities and fine arts to fortify clinical science and patient-provider relationships. Because of the potential of the health humanities to improve care to West Virginians, this initiative also serves WVU’s land grant mission.
  3. Humanities at Work: a collaboration with WVU’s Career Services, this initiative supports student success by offering workshops, panels, and other events and activities to help undergraduates and graduate students in the humanities disciplines with career preparation.
  4. Humanities Accelerated: providing both financial and other kinds of support, this initiative focuses on fortifying humanities research at WVU, which not only strengthens scholarship and programs, but can have impact on WVU’s R1 status.

By focusing the Center on these four initiatives, the goal is to achieve a level of excellence in each. While there are many other areas of the humanities, the Center’s support of humanities scholarship will certainly help fund work in public humanities, environmental humanities, digital humanities, and so on.

Although the first semester under Libraries was a transition period, the Center made some significant accomplishments:

  • The Center collaborated with the WVHRC to honor Marc Harshman on his tenth anniversary as West Virginia’s Poet Laureate. A luncheon brought together fellow writers, university and state dignitaries, collaborators, and friends. Later that evening Marc read from his poetry with longtime friend and distinguished WV poet, Maggie Anderson.
  • From WV to NY: Hip Hop Geographies was this year’s Appalachian Writers/Artists of Color series event. Whiting award-wining and Southern West Virginian native Steven Dunn and his childhood friend, rap artist Deep Jackson joined Amy Alvarez, assistant professor of English, and DJ Strizy created a unique performance celebrating the best of Black Appalachian culture.
  • The Center sponsored several other events, which featured alumnae, diverse voices from both inside and outside the region, and the first semester of Humanities at Work panels and workshops.

Spring 2023 continues the transition into Libraries and shifting to the four signature priorities. Humanities at Work will sponsor workshops, including a resume-writing session. As well, a working group to help graduate students with both traditional and alternate-academic pathways is being formed.

“Both the Center and the Libraries serve the entire campus community, supporting faculty, staff, and students across all of WVU’s colleges and campuses.” Renee Nicholson

The Center is currently accepting proposals for its annual fellowship, collaborative grant, pedagogy innovation grant, and research support grant. The deadline is February 27.

A new opportunity is the James M. Shumway & Lizbeth A. Pyle Health Humanities Fund, which supports opportunities for advancement in education within the fields of narrative medicine and the health humanities. Proposals will be due in early May.

The Center will continue to host and co-host events throughout the semester:

  • An Evening with Author Valerie Nieman (March 7)
    • The WVU Humanities Center and the West Virginia Regional History Center are pleased to present author Valerie Nieman, whose papers are housed at WVHRC. Nieman will read from her creative work, with reception and booksigning to follow.

  • “The Girls’ Guide to Hunting and Fishing” Reading Group (March 23)
    • T o celebrate Women's History Month, the Humanities Center, in collaboration with Eberly College's Leadership Studies Program, will present a special reading group around Melissa Bank’s 1999 book “The Girl’s Guide to Hunting and Fishing,” a New York Times best seller that was often overlooked for its literary merit. The discussion will take an interdisciplinary approach to discussing the life and legacy of Melissa Bank, her book and the structural inequities in the publishing industry that often hampered women writers. The group is open to students, staff and faculty.
  • An Evening with Author Mike Ingram (March 27)
    • Mike Ingram is the author of “Notes from the Road” and a co-founder and editor at Barrelhouse. He will be reading from his book, with a reception and book signing to follow.
  • Reflections on West Virginia Poet Norman Jordan feat. Brucella Jordan (April 4)
    • B ruce lla Jordan will talk about her late husband, Norman Jordan, one of West Virginia’s foremost Black poets. The Ansted, W.Va. native earned a Bachelor’s of Fine Arts from WVU and a Master’s of Fine Arts from the Ohio State University. Jordan was a leading voice in the Black Arts Movement and active in the Cleveland Poetry Movement. In Cleveland, he collaborated with the Karamu House, the oldest Black theater in the United States. Jordan published several books of poetry and his poems have appeared in over 40 anthologies. He was inducted into the exclusive Affrilachian Poets group in 2008. Jordan was a co-founder of the African American Arts and Heritage Academy and the African American Heritage Family Tree Museum in Ansted. He also taught literature at both WVU and Glenville State University.