When Nick Radel arrived at the National Humanities Center this past summer, he had 700 pages of notes, an unfinished essay and a looming deadline. By the end of his four weeks, the Furman University English professor had completed a draft and was able to hit “send” to his publisher.
“I would still be writing if not for that gift of time,” says Radel, who focused on the major trends in scholarship around Shakespeare’s “Richard II.” “Instead, I completed my draft and got a rave review back from my editor.”
A Furman professor since 1986, Radel joined 35 other humanities scholars from across the country for a June residency at the Center, allowing them a rare chance to launch, or advance, their work. Based in North Carolina’s Research Triangle Park, the Center began offering the new program in 2018 to complement its more established nine-month Fellowship.
The summer residencies are open to faculty at 40 sponsoring institutions. Grants from The Duke Endowment to Davidson College, Johnson C. Smith University and Furman are funding the opportunity for scholars from each of those campuses. The support is part of the Endowment’s focus on helping the schools recruit, develop and retain strong faculty, all of which contribute to the institutions’ long-term success.
“It’s an extraordinary opportunity for Furman faculty,” says Furman President Elizabeth Davis. “It’s a recognition of their hard work and expertise, and an opportunity to immerse themselves in humanities scholarship alongside colleagues from around the country.” Funding from the Endowment, she says, “makes it possible for our faculty to attend and grow as scholars in their fields, which, in turn, creates a more robust learning experience for our students.”
Along with Radel, Furman professor Michele Speitz worked on her monograph, “Technologies of the Sublime: Romantic Materialisms and the Mechanical Supernatural.” She was able to proof an article for publication, revise a book proposal based on a National Humanities Center presentation, and have a “breakthrough” on her book introduction.
“It’s hard to imagine a better place for propelling your scholarly activity,” Speitz says. “I’ve never been so free to pursue my ideas, nor have I ever made as much progress on my work, even during summer months or while at other residential fellowships.”
The National Humanities Center was formed in 1978 as the world’s only major independent institute dedicated exclusively to advanced study in all areas of the humanities. Its main building is named in honor of Archie K. Davis, a banking leader who also led The Duke Endowment’s Board.
The Center offers an education program that supports the work of millions of school teachers across the county with online materials and webinars, and it hosts public engagement and advocacy efforts to promote the significance of the humanities.
But its primary focus is a highly competitive fellowship program that runs from September through May for advanced study in the humanities. Last year, 640 scholars applied for 37 spaces. (In the 1990s, The Duke Endowment made several gifts to the Center that established endowed Fellowships for faculty from the four schools that the Endowment supports. Those schools are Davidson, Furman, Johnson C. Smith and Duke University.)
“We thought the Summer Residency might be a way to make our resources more broadly available – to introduce ourselves to scholars who may not otherwise have had a chance to come here,” says Tania Munz, vice president for scholarly programs.
With its forest setting and light-filled commons, the Center has been described as “intellectual nirvana.” The summer scholars worked in private offices, had access to the Center’s library services and received local housing. Breakfasts and lunches gave them time to talk across disciplines and discuss their projects.
“At a time when the humanities are embattled in some university settings, we are proud to offer a space where they are valued, dignified and protected,” Munz says.
West African Rulers and John Locke
For the 2019 cohort, faculty members came from 18 colleges and universities in 10 states. When the Center asked what they hoped to accomplish, 81 percent said “writing/editing.”
From Davidson, participants included Jennifer Garcia Peacock, who was starting her first book, which explores environmental justice themes in Latinx visual culture, and Dan Layman, who was able to finish his book on John Locke’s property theory and its connection to economic justice today.
Davidson President Carol Quillen says the program gave Peacock and Layman “a powerful opportunity” to focus exclusively on a major research project, which can be difficult during a busy academic semester. In turn, she says, faculty research “enriches the educational experience that we can offer to our students.”
Johnson C. Smith sent Keri Petersen, who focused on the North Carolina Railroad and industrial slavery, and Aman Nadhiri, who examined the ways in which three Pre-Colonial West African rulers are portrayed in two types of literature.
When he arrived, Nadhiri says, his research was in an abstract “shapeless” stage. By the time he left, he had a solid idea for a book.
“There’s no telling how long it may have taken to cover that same amount of ground,” says Nadhiri, now back teaching English and Arabic at Johnson C. Smith. “With library resources at my disposal and feedback from the other scholars, the experience was beyond amazing.”
Summary Survey Results
34 of the 36 Summer Residents in 2019 completed a survey after the program ended:
• 97 percent said they were “highly satisfied” and 3 percent said they were “satisfied”
• 88 percent said they were “highly satisfied” with the study/facilities; 12 percent said they were “satisfied”
• 100 percent said they would recommend the program to colleagues
Susan L. McConnell
Director, Higher Education