UD receives $500,000 NEH challenge grant
Jae Gutierrez (left), assistant professor of art conservation, and Debra Hess Norris (right), chairperson of the Department of Art Conservation, work with grad students Jessica Keister (second from left) and Lisa Duncan in the art conservation lab in Old College.,
3:35 p.m., March 19, 2008--UD's College of Arts and Sciences has been awarded a $500,000 challenge grant by the National Endowment for the Humanities (NEH) to support graduate education and scholarship in material culture and to promote public interest and engagement in the interpretation and preservation of America's cultural heritage. The University must match the challenge grant with $2 million through fundraising.

Debra Hess Norris, Henry Francis du Pont Chair of Fine Arts, chairperson of the Department of Art Conservation and associate dean of the College of Arts and Sciences, is the principal investigator.

In a letter to Norris announcing the grant, Bruce Cole, chairperson of NEH, wrote, “This is a high honor. As you know, NEH challenge grants are awarded only after a demanding peer review process. Your proposal was reviewed by leading scholars and administrators in the humanities. These panelists praised highly the University's program for the study of American material culture. They endorsed the long-range institutional planning as clearly supporting the intellectual development of graduate student research and as leading to the enhancement of public engagement with the humanities. We are delighted to be a funding partner for this exciting endeavor....”

“This is a significant grant from NEH,” Norris said. “Building on a 50-year history, the University of Delaware holds an international reputation as the leading location for the interdisciplinary study of American material culture. This $500,000 NEH Challenge grant--to be matched with $2 million over the next four years--will be used to establish endowment funding to enhance graduate education and scholarship in material culture studies. Our graduate students will use digital resources and public outreach skills to significantly strengthen programming in the arts and humanities and communication with public audiences.

“We look forward to using this grant to promote and showcase our graduate programs and to raising required matching funds. We are grateful to the Unidel Foundation for their initial support and to the College of Arts and Sciences for bridge funding that has allowed us to launch this initiative immediately,” Norris said.

In a letter supporting the grant, Tom Apple, dean of the College of Arts and Sciences, wrote that “many of our strongest faculty” work in this area and that thanks to partnerships with Winterthur Museum & Country Estate and the Hagley Museum, “graduate students working in the area of American material culture have a particularly rich environment.” Partnerships with these museums “also allow our students' discoveries to more profoundly impact our communities....Our students will have the opportunity to engage the public through lectures, exhibitions and dissemination of their work via electronic media.”

“In short,“ Apple added, “I am thrilled to support this effort.”

According to Deborah Andrews, director of the Center for Material Culture Studies and professor of English, “Delaware definitely has a reputation as the go-to institution for scholarship in material culture studies, a reputation enhanced by such activities as the Material Culture Symposium for Emerging Scholars, now in its 6th year and noted in the NEH grant. Scheduled for April 12, the symposium is organized by graduate students in partnership with Winterthur and has gained international standing among scholars and practitioners and a growing audience of participants from our regional community.”

Material culture studies focuses on the history and philosophy of objects made or modified by humans, including photographs, archival documents, decorative and fine arts, clothing, domestic possessions, toys, architecture and archeological remains. Over the years, UD graduate students have carried out diverse research projects, including research on the household of George and Martha Washington, Native American trade silver, Apollo space suits and the works of artists from Thomas Eakins to Andy Warhol.

UD is getting off to an immediate start implementing the grant with an innovative, two-week public seminar in the study of American material culture, “From Avatars to Radio Sound Bites: Using Accessible Language and New Digital Technologies to Inspire the Public” to be held from June 2-12.

Joyce Hill Stoner, professor of art conservation and director of UD's Preservation Studies Doctoral Program, and Matthew Kinservik, professor of English, are coordinating the seminar with 14 UD graduate students participating.

Sessions will include dynamic teaching and speaking (“How Not to Give a Lecture”), media training for radio and television, innovations in museum education and new instructional technologies.

UD faculty, Information Technology and library staff, senior staff from regional museums and a media-training consultant will conduct the sessions, and students will make presentations of their research.

Participating graduate students are Lorena Baines, art history; Anna Blinn Cole, urban affairs and public policy; Andrew Bozanic, history; Joshua Calhoun, English; Daniel Claro, history of American civilization; Marina Dobronovskaya, Preservation Studies Doctoral Program; Kristina Huff, English; Amber Kerr-Allison, art conservation; J. Lyndsey Rago, history; Kathleen R. Slaugh-Sanford, English; Janneken Smucker, history of American civilization; Colleen Terry, art history; Laura Walikainen, history of American civilization; and Bess Williamson, history of American civilization.

Article by Sue Moncure
Photo by Tyler Jacobson