A new fellowship funded by the Taylor Charitable Trust is supporting graduate students with interests in how humanities scholarship can be tied to a public outreach focus.
The Maynard Adams Fellowships for the Public Humanities have been established by the Program in the Humanities and Human Values in UNC’s College of Arts and Sciences. The fellowships honor the late UNC-Chapel Hill philosophy professor and their namesake, who founded the Program in the Humanities in 1979. Adams emphasized the public value of the humanities throughout his distinguished academic career.
“The College’s new vision statement is ‘Reimagining the arts and sciences for the public good,’ and the Adams Fellows program is a way of creatively thinking about graduate education and disciplinary work in the humanities, arts and social sciences for the public good,” said Lloyd Kramer, professor of history and faculty director of the Program in the Humanities.
Ten Ph.D. students from the departments of philosophy, anthropology, art, English and comparative literature, American studies and religious studies were selected by an interdisciplinary faculty committee from a pool of 37 applicants for the first fellows class.
Fellows receive a stipend for participating in workshop/dinner conversations on the connections between the humanities and key issues in contemporary public life. They will participate in an “Adams Symposium,” which the Program in the Humanities is organizing each spring to encourage public discussion of issues that were important to Adams.
Meredith McCoy is a graduate student in American studies and a Maynard Adams Fellow. She previously worked for Teach for America and KIPP public charter schools. She also served as a policy assistant for the White House Initiative on American Indian and Alaska Native Education. Her father is a citizen of the Turtle Mountain Band of Chippewa Indians, and she is interested in examining federal education policy within the context of tribal education departments.
“The work I’m doing here as a graduate student has given me a more ample context to understand the work I was doing as a teacher,” McCoy said. “It has been great to see how each fellow is thinking differently about responsibilities to the public. We all feel our work should not be in silos, but we think about things in different ways. We are able to have these provocative conversations together in a super-engaging learning environment.”
Macy Salzberger, a graduate student in philosophy, is interested in how considerations of race, class and gender ought to affect the content of civic education. She said the Maynard Adams Fellowship has provided her with skills and practice in becoming a public philosopher and given her a space to talk with other scholars.
“It breaks us out of our own disciplinary boxes,” she said. “I can speak to fellow philosophers in a certain language, but I need to be able to code-switch and engage with people from other disciplines.”
Salzberger has enjoyed hosting “Philosophy @ the Movies” nights (a recent event offered a screening and discussion of Beyoncé’s visual album Lemonade.) She also volunteers at Durham Academy by reading books to children and teasing out philosophical issues in the texts.
“For instance, one book was about Emily, whose artwork was being judged in a competition for her classroom, so we talked to the students about the considerations of aesthetics,” she said. “Who is qualified to judge the artwork? What makes the artwork good? It’s a really great opportunity to go out into the community and provide critical reasoning skills to a younger audience.”
Paolo Bocci is a cultural and environmental anthropologist whose research seeks to give a voice to farmers in the Galapagos Islands who lack official residency permits. “I show how their presence is the result of conservation policies focused on exclusionary ideas of nature and reflect on the ways in which farmers respond to uncertain legal, economic and ecological conditions.”
He said the Maynard Adams Fellowship has strengthened his belief that reflecting on the contributions of the humanities and social sciences is critical for their survival.
“Only collectively can we change the broader perception on the relevance of our disciplines to society,” he said. “The understanding of current events and the possibility to meaningfully participate in the work toward a different future necessarily demands the humanities’ strong presence.”
The fellows will participate in the Maynard Adams Symposium: “The Power of Emotions in Personal and Public Life” April 21-22. The public event will feature a free opening lecture by University of Chicago philosopher Martha Nussbaum, “Transforming Anger into Justice: Gandhi, King and Mandela.” Nussbaum is a prominent advocate for the essential role of the humanities in democratic societies. The symposium is a signature event of the Carolina’s Human Heart: Living the Arts and Humanities initiative.
By Kim Spurr