Humanities Windfall: Half a Million Grant Awarded to UM

04 October 2021

MISSOULA – Cornerstone humanities programs at the University of Montana received a $499,000 grant from the National Endowment for the Humanities. The funding comes from the federal government’s American Rescue Plan, which rewards funding for national programming in the humanities that “are an essential component of economic and civic life in the United States.”

UM was awarded the maximum level of grant funding for one year to support programming, classes and scholarship in history, literature, anthropology and Native American Studies within UM’s College of Humanities and Sciences.  

“On behalf of UM, our students and expert faculty across the humanities disciplines, I am inspired by what this award from the nation’s top organization in the humanities says about UM’s strengths,” said UM President Seth Bodnar. “There has never been a more critical time to celebrate and affirm what the humanities offer us all: a better world through learning about ourselves, our culture and societies, a type of learning has always been part of the fabric of a UM education.”

The grant, “Making the Humanities Public: Racial Justice, Death in a Time of COVID, and Sustaining Native Scholarship,” will be led by Dr. Tobin Miller Shearer, UM professor of history and African-American Studies and UM’s Humanities Institute.

“We are beyond ecstatic to have received this amount for the humanities,” Shearer said. “We had a compelling grant application thanks to the contributions of a stellar group of humanities scholars at UM who are continuing to do relevant and timely research and teaching.”

Shearer said the funding will support a public lecture series on racial justice, death and Indigenous knowledge, as well as a postdoctoral fellowship, a summer course for high school students interested in the humanities and additional funding for graduate student research, program backing and student scholarships.

The funding also supports additional resources for UM’s new Certificate in Public History. Last year, history students gathered 20 oral testimonies from people, businesses and organizations that had been affected by the pandemic, gaining knowledge and experience in the practice of oral history and contributing to the public record about how Montanans experienced the pandemic lockdown.

Kyle Volk, associate professor and chair of the Department of History, said the grant will deepen UM’s public impact.

"This grant will bolster our ongoing effort to make history ꟷ and the humanities writ large ꟷ public: to bring research and programming on campus to the wider western Montana community and to involve that wider community in our scholarly work."

UM’s capacity to deliver a whole-person education as the country grapples with divisive rhetoric and pressing social challenges, are “exactly why a rich training in the humanities can equip students with sophistication and nuance that is lasting and meaningful, and makes a difference in terms of dialing up the insight, and not dialing up the heat,” Shearer said.

“It’s incredibly validating to be in a field that investigates core human values, processing death and grief and racial justice – these are each fundamental themes and ideas that reflect the historical moment in which we find ourselves,” he said.

Gillian Glaes, program director for UM’s Humanities Institute and visiting associate professor of history, said the award speaks not only to the expertise of UM faculty and scholarship but also shows UM students the relevance of scholarship in the humanities disciplines. She called the grant “a game changer” when it comes to support for faculty, students and programs that will allow for innovative work.

“The NEH grant is an incredible opportunity for us, and it’s such a pleasure to be involved in the collaborative process,” she said. “The Humanities Institute plans to serve as the nexus of all of these scholarly endeavors and to support and promote deliverables to the wider public, as the topics relate to the humanities more broadly.”

The UM Humanities Institute, formed in 2016, brings together different faculty members to work cohesively and to promote the humanities across campus and support research by students and faculty. In the midst of the pandemic, the institute worked to provide timely and relevant programming on such topics, offering a panel on racial justice and the humanities via Zoom in the fall of 2020.  

Glaes, a UM alumna and instructor, said she has observed an increased level of engagement in her students around issues such as racial justice, adding that the pandemic intersected with other key elements of contemporary life, including social justice, climate change and the political landscape.

“The humanities are all around us,” she said. “People take to op-eds, podcasts, books and essays on these topics because they help us make sense of the world we’re in.”

UM faculty awarded the grant include:

  • Tobin Miller Shearer, professor, Department of History, director, African-American Studies Program.
  • Gillian Glaes, program director, UM Humanities Institute, visiting associate professor of history.
  • Kelly Dixon, professor, Department of Anthropology.
  • Ashby Kinch, associate dean, UM Graduate School, professor of English.
  • Kyle G. Volk, chair, associate professor, Department of History.
  • Scott Arcenas, assistant professor, Department of History.
  • Kathryn Shanley, chair, professor, Native American Studies.
  • Donna McCrea, professor and head of Archives and Special Collections, Maureen and Mike Mansfield Library.

The National Endowment for the Humanities is an independent federal agency of the U.S. government established by the National Foundation on the Arts and the Humanities Act of 1965 and is dedicated to supporting research, education, preservation and public programs in the humanities.

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Contact: Tobin Miller-Shearer, UM Department of History professor, 406-662-8227, tobin.sheaer@umontana.edu; Gillian Glaes, program director, UM Humanities Institute, gillian.glaes@umontana.edu.

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