Emory Report
July 18, 2005
Volume 57, Number 35


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July 18, 2005
Humanities center lands five-year, NEH challenge grant

BY Michael Terrazas

It’s been barely three years since the Center for Humanistic Inquiry (CHI) officially opened its doors, pledging to move the humanities forward from the “back seat” of modern culture. Evidently it’s doing something right: A new, $2.5 million challenge grant from the National Endowment for the Humanities (NEH) could mean an upgrade to first class for more humanistic research on the Emory campus.

The grant ($500,000 over five years, to be matched four-to-one by the University) is one of 10 such awards made to cultural institutions around the country, meant to assist with long-range efforts in refocusing scholarship on the humanities. Such a grant to a 3-year-old organization is impressive enough, but CHI Director Martine Watson Brownley noted that the grant application was written a year ago, when the center was a toddling 2-year old.

“In this short period of time, CHI has attained a national profile,” said Brownley, Goodrich C. White Professor of English. “Other universities establishing humanities centers have chosen us as one of their three or four models to visit. Our post-doctoral applicants come from around the world and from prestigious U.S. universities, and each year every one of our Graduate Dissertation Completion Fellows has earned his or her Ph.D.”

Brownley said the NEH grant will accomplish two main objectives: It will provide additional support for CHI’s postdocs, including a new fellowship in poetics; and it will allow the center to reach a wider audience with its work through its existing CHI Interdisciplinary Research Seminar series, a new series of seminars to which the public will be invited, and a general public-programming fund.

“From the beginning, CHI was in Emory College, across the campus and into the community,” Brownley said. “We’ve had community members who joined in some of our activities, but we never made a concentrated bid for outreach. And the NEH is going to give us the opportunity to do this.”

But instead of one-time lectures, Brownley hopes to involve members of the public directly in programming like CHI’s interdisciplinary seminars. For example, a series designed around the year’s Flora Glenn Candler concerts, or a string of Theater Emory productions or Carlos Museum exhibits, could find an audience hungry for intellectual discussion.

To promote the new offerings, Brownley hopes to capitalize on the talents of her own staff, including Associate Director Keith Anthony and Program Coordinator Amy Erbil. Erbil, for example, has a degree in library science from Emory, and she could work with Atlanta Public Libraries to help promote CHI offerings. Brownley also hopes to work with University arts departments to piggyback on their successful marketing efforts.

“Look at those people in Borders whenever you go in there,” Brownley said of the potential market. “There’s always someone reading, and they’re not always in the romance section.”

Indeed, the printed word may have helped CHI land the challenge grant. The inclusion of a fellowship earmarked specially for poetics may owe a debt to the Danowski Poetry Library, acquired last fall by the recently renamed Manuscripts, Archives and Rare Books Library in Special Collections. Ron Schuchard,
a fellow Goodrich C. White Professor of English and a key player in the Danowski acquisition, wrote a letter in support of CHI’s grant application to the NEH.

“As scholars from around the world are now coming to work in the Emory archives, it is fitting that the [CHI] play a role in contributing to this ongoing scholarship with a new ... fellowship in poetics,” Schuch-ard wrote. “It would attract the best applicants in poetics in the country, and it would greatly enhance humanities research both intramurally and extramurally.”

Postdoctoral fellowships, especially those in humanities, are in need of more support, Brownley said. Too often such fellows are treated as “contract labor,” she said, burdened with heavy teaching duties; with the help of the NEH grant, Emory could develop one of the top postdoctoral humanities programs in country.
“Postdoctoral fellowships in the humanities are a neglected area in U.S. education,” Brownley said. “Too often, humanists try to imitate scientists in unfortunate ways, but postdoctoral training is something we should have picked up from our science colleagues long ago.”