Art and art history associate professor Lyneise Williams and sophomore Uredo Agada are a recent faculty-student pairing who benefited from the William C. Friday Arts and Humanities Research Award. Both members of the partnership gained much from the experience as they were able to learn from each other and focus on research.
The Friday Award supports undergraduate students in conducting graduate-level research in the arts and humanities while collaborating with an IAH Faculty Fellow.
Williams participated in the Faculty Fellowship Program in 2018 where she focused on her project, “I Got You: Cloth, Family and Care.” In her work, Williams has explored and created both art and literature. Agada, a Morehead-Cain Scholar from Indiana, is majoring in history with a minor in creative writing.
We asked Williams and Agada to share their experience working with each other through the Friday Award and how it strengthened their research and personal skill sets.
How did you meet and decide to work together on the project, and apply for the Friday Award?
UA: Originally, I had an interest in applying for the Friday Award but did not have a faculty member in mind. I reached out to Dr. Philip Hollingsworth, [who was then] the Director of the Associate Professor Program at IAH. He helped me email professors to see if they would be interested in working with me. Fortunately, Dr. Williams was. After a compelling Zoom meeting in which Dr. Williams explained her research, we both agreed that we wanted to work with each other and decided to apply for the Friday Award.
LW: I’d heard about the award, but I wasn’t deeply familiar with it. I was extremely excited about the opportunity to have a one-on-one partnership on a research project — especially since Uredo had already expressed her interest.
I’ve worked in similar partnerships with graduate students in the past and I experienced how fruitful it can be for both parties. I had not, however, worked with an undergraduate in this capacity. I thought the Friday Award might allow me to rethink and rework my pedagogical strategies for teaching research skills to new researchers, which could be very useful for my undergraduate courses, in addition to the benefits of valuable exchanges that happen in the process of partnerships, and support for my research project.
What was it like to work together? How did this partnership help advance the project?
UA: It was a joy working with Dr. Williams. We had a good rapport and felt comfortable sharing ideas, thoughts and contractions.
LW: I found it to be an extremely rewarding experience! I was curious about Uredo’s ideas regarding research because I want to understand how first-year students are conceptualizing this process, what kind of experiences they had in high school and what research skills they have as they enter a university. I wanted to find ways of enhancing and expanding their skills.
I hoped to keep the story and animating questions at the forefront so the part of the process that involves scouring archival sources, reading material that may yield no fruit for the project or the sometimes less-exciting parts of research are sustained and compelled by a researcher’s deep curiosity about a topic. We talked about family stories, new questions that arose and the details of the figures which I had in my home, in most of our meetings.
I walked her through my processes, explaining how they differed and/or changed depending on the demands of the project. We also read and discussed essays and articles by current historians about their research processes. I was very interested in Uredo’s responses to what we read and what she wanted to experiment with during our partnership. Uredo expressed an interest in becoming a historian. I’m an art historian who is aware of many historians looking to work with objects and images like those as the focus of art historical inquiries. Art historians have a deep relationship with the methods of history since we use them in our text-based archival research. I was able to think through and experiment with teaching students of history how to conduct object-based research and what it means to center an object/image within a project alongside the methods of history.
We shared a lot of excitement in our partnership! Uredo found her stride adjusting keywords and culling newspapers from the Midwest, northeast and west coast in search of material about traditional healing (called “Root working” or “hoodoo” in the sources she identified). In the process, she found more sources for the project. At one point, I remember her commenting that once she tweaked her approach, she revisited newspapers she’d previously searched and seemed to find much more relevant material that she hadn’t recognized initially. Her excitement (and mine in experiencing hers) was palpable. As she began to recognize themes in the material, her (our) excitement only increased.
Uredo’s curiosity and excitement carried her much further than the Friday Award timeframe. She continued to work on the project in July 2022. Her culminating digital visualization is illuminating and innovative. The design effectively brings together her important and diverse findings that allows users access to depth of information (text, images, advertisements, etc.), lateral connections by way of an exceptionally clear navigation system.
Dr. Williams, can you share about why you chose to focus your research on this project? How is it meaningful to you?
LW: I wanted to decide on the project after meeting with Uredo. I’m currently working on two projects that are very distinct, but I wanted to get a sense of her interests in case they connected with one more than the other. In our conversation, I remember Uredo clearly connecting to my project focused on two cloth figures that look like dolls made in 1920s Edgefield, South Carolina, by a traditional healer, Ellen Weaver, to protect family members forced to leave their home after their young daughter was seen witnessing a lynching. According to the family story, the two figures, dressed as a male and a female, were crafted after Weaver’s three-year-old granddaughter died accidentally in a fire in her home. As her son and his family loaded their belongings to depart in the night, Ellen thrust a shoebox with the figures inside into her granddaughter Lille Mae’s hands while telling her that they would “protect them and keep them connected to the family.” Lille Mae took them with her to New York City after she married in the early 1930s. She gave them to her granddaughter, who took them to Cleveland, Ohio, in the 1980s. The two figures are physical evidence of active art, spiritual and folk traditions that also serve as a portal into understanding Black life in the US.
Uredo, how are you going to take your experience with the Friday Award and apply it to your studies? Has it changed anything in your life, or impacted your future college career at all?
UA: The research and organizational skills that I learned while working with Dr. Williams can and will be applied to many aspects of my studies. For example, when I write essays, especially those that are research based, I feel comfortable forming a research question, breaking it down and refining my search as I go. The experience has made me more interested in research, especially research conducted in humanities fields, and it has also introduced the possibility of a career in academia to me.
Dr. Williams, what have you been able to learn from Uredo through this project, and Uredo, you from Dr. Williams?
LW: Partnering with Uredo increased my sensitivity to how new researchers process and implement a long-term research plan. Through observation, I noticed when and what she responded to along the way and the way she applied some of the strategies she acquired. I learned when to push her and when to stand back so she could step into ownership of her new skills and shape them into what worked best for her.
Through her research, she introduced me to multiple ways traditional healing practitioners adapted to geographical spaces (rural to urban, east to north and west) and reframed themselves and their work for various audiences in the popular press. Uredo illuminated traditional healers’ networks and movements that demonstrate important connections between the press and the spread of spiritual practices. In addition, she showed me several new technologies for digital visualization of research.
UA: As far as practical skills are concerned, I learned what a research plan looks like and how to break down a research question into manageable areas of focus. I also learned how to brainstorm keywords and how to refine my searches based on information I learned during my initial keyword searches. Another skill I gained was documenting and digitally mapping documents that I complied with during my research. Furthermore, Dr. Williams taught me the importance of handling all research subjects and topics with care. Whether a source is digital, tangible, human or nonhuman, it is important to understand the responsibility one takes on when engaging in research.
What advice would you give to a student or professor pair who are interested in this award?
LW: For professors, I suggest planning a schedule with space for working simultaneously on your tasks. In that way, you’re present immediately when a question or thought arises for either of you. This is particularly effective early in the process. Understand that the duties for this award exist alongside students’ academic schedules so flexibility of schedules is essential. At the beginning of the process, find out each other’s preferences for communication (weekly/bi-weekly contact, etc.).
UA: Students should not be afraid to share their ideas. Although it may seem intimidating, I can reassure you that the professor you are working with is interested in hearing what you think, even if it may differ from what the professor thinks. My advice for the professor would be to encourage a collaborative atmosphere as opposed to a purely instructional one.
The William C. Friday Arts and Humanities Research Award is a partnership of the Institute for the Arts and Humanities and Honors Carolina. Applications are now being accepted through Nov. 11.
By Laney Crawley ’26, Institute for the Arts & Humanities