Six key humanities programs at the University of Oklahoma will benefit from a $500,000 award from the National Endowment for the Humanities, the largest ever total grant from the NEH for OU. The funding originated through the American Rescue Plan, intended to help humanities organizations across the country that have been negatively impacted by the coronavirus pandemic.
Kimberly J. Marshall, director of the OU Arts and Humanities Forum and an associate professor of anthropology, spearheaded the “New Stories of the West, for the West” grant team. She said the humanities funding provided through the American Rescue Plan is evidence of the value of the arts and humanities and a recognition of the ways in which the COVID-19 pandemic has impacted humanistic work.
“Among all the other things that the American Rescue Plan did, it recognized that the humanities sector is an essential component of economic and civic life in the United States, and that this sector had been negatively impacted by the pandemic,” Marshall said.
Noting that the ARP: Humanities Organization grant program specified that they would only accept one application from each humanities entity, Marshall said their first challenge at OU was to coordinate all the varying needs of different humanities entities and projects across campus into one compelling narrative.
Janet Ward, senior associate vice president for research and partnerships, knew that the Arts and Humanities Forum was ideally positioned for such coordination and asked Marshall to lead the grant team. Marshall organized the application coordination, writing and submission as the lead principal investigator.
“Since the forum is a Provost-Direct center and serves units across the entire campus, Dr. Marshall was ideally positioned to lead this application's initiative,” Ward said. “We are immensely proud of her team's success."
The humanities entities at OU funded by the grant are the OU Press, the OU Native Nations Center, the OU Arts and Humanities Forum, World Literature Today, the Oklahoma Weather Community Oral History Project and the Oklahoma Native American Youth Language Fair.
According to Marshall, each of the six public-facing projects receiving the NEH funding “reinforce the core mission of the OU Press to document and study the story of the West, but also carry the energy of the Native Nations Center to expand the authorship and dissemination of this story beyond those who have traditionally controlled and accessed it.”
She added, “A land of vast space, new possibilities, self-reliance and extremes both natural and social, the West occupies a unique place in the story of America. Understanding the diverse voices that have shaped this region, most especially those from Native North America, and engaging a broader swath of participants in a dialogue about the expanding meanings of this region will help to establish a story of America better reflective of both this nation’s complex past and its idealism for the future.”
Specifically, the grant provides needed general funding for the OU Press, one of the world’s pre-eminent publishers of the story of the American West, which was negatively impacted by the pandemic at all stages of book production from author recruitment to reviewing and editing, marketing and book sales. The funding will also allow the press to expand the authorship and dissemination of the story of the West by supporting some of the most impactful public-facing humanities entities at OU. Most prominent among these is the OU Native Nations Center, which will use this funding to work with the OU Press to establish a community-based “Native Nations Center Imprint” of the OU Press.
Dale Bennie, director of the OU Press, said of the award, “The University of Oklahoma Press is pleased and honored to receive NEH ARP funding to sustain our nearly century-long commitment to scholarly publishing in the humanities with much-needed operations support and with funding for the launch of a new publishing imprint in collaboration with the Native Nations Center at the University of Oklahoma.”
The OU Arts and Humanities Forum will use the grant funding to establish OUAH.FM – a podcast to promote, celebrate and communicate the excellence of humanities faculty and programming at OU to broader audiences across the state. World Literature Today, an international literature and culture magazine published at OU will use the funding to update its digital interface to ensure that its substantial collection of literary publications continue to be accessible for the magazine’s nearly 1 million readers each year.
The Oklahoma Weather Community Oral History Project will use the funding to launch a digital portal that makes the histories of the weather community in Oklahoma, from storm chasers to world-renowned meteorologists, accessible to researchers, K-12 educators and the public. The Oklahoma Native American Youth Language Fair will use the funding to support additional staffing needs in hosting the annual event, which impacts thousands of Oklahomans each year, from the pre-K to 12th graders who participate, to their families, schools and tribal nations, to members of the OU community and the general public.
Marshall observed that grants of this magnitude, while relatively common in the hard sciences, are rare in the humanities. “The most prestigious awards in the humanities – the NEH Fellowship, the ACLS Fellowship – are in the range of $60,000. Larger grants are open to humanists only when we think collaboratively and work through organizational structures like the ORS,” she said.
“Winning an award of this scale proves that the humanities work we do here at OU is of the same caliber as our peers and aspirational peers nationally. And it also demonstrates that the OU Arts and Humanities Forum is well-positioned to assist our excellent OU humanities faculty in realizing big-picture visions for humanities scholarship in Oklahoma.”
In addition to Marshall, the “New Stories of the West, for the West” grant team members are Dale Bennie, director of the OU Press; Brian Burkhart, interim director of the OU Native Nations Center and associate professor of philosophy; Robert Con Davis-Undiano, director of World Literature Today and the Neustadt Professor of English; Hunter Heyck, director of the Oklahoma Weather Community Oral History Project and a professor of the history of science; and Raina Heaton, curator of the Native American Languages collection at the Sam Noble Oklahoma Museum of Natural History and an associate professor in Native American Studies Department, Dodge Family College of Arts and Sciences.