NEH grant will help build new Center for Engaged Humanities

The upcoming revitalization plans for the Clark Building will include a home for the College of Liberal Arts’ new Center for Engaged Humanities, thanks to funding from the National Endowment for the Humanities. 

As part of the $500,000 NEH Infrastructure and Capacity Building Challenge Grant, the college must raise approximately $1.5 million in matching funds for the project within the next five years. 

“This is really an opportunity to see the realization of a lot of resources coming together to build something up that will be long lasting and sustainable,” said project director Michael Carolan, former associate dean for research and sociology professor. “And now, thanks to this grant, we’ll have a physical space as well, which is sometimes the hardest piece of all in projects like this.” 

Kit Hughes co-project director, lead humanities fellow and associate professor of communication studies agreed, adding that creating long-term partnerships that benefit the University, its students and the community relies on having an assured space on campus. 

“For a long time, we’ve talked about having a home that enables the public to connect with the humanities work that our colleagues are doing in the College of Liberal Arts, as well as provide a space to train graduate students in engaged work that connects their research to the public-interest needs of our local communities,” Hughes said. 

One example of the potential benefits to current projects could be providing space for an advisory board for the Indigenous Science, Arts, Technology and Resilience (ISTAR) program a summer camp for Native American youth based on research by Assistant Professor Lindsey Schneider in the Department of Ethnic Studies.

Not just humanities

While the center will be focused on the humanities, it also has the potential to amplify research and scholarly enterprise throughout CSU, Carolan said. 

“Whereas other colleges may be heavily engaged in scientific or medical knowledge production, we ask questions about how that knowledge is being put to work,” he said, giving the example of vaccine hesitancy where there are competing views on governance and democracy at work. 

“That tells a story about how receptive or not we are to things like vaccines or mask mandates,” Carolan said. “And that’s the type of work where the humanities can really excel in helping us think about wisdom and not just data.” 

A perfect home in the ‘new’ Clark Building

The timing of the project fits perfectly with the upcoming revitalization plans for the Clark Building. In April 2022, the state approved $38 million for the expansion and transformation of Clark. It is the first installment of an anticipated three-phase partnership with the state (with annual approvals from the legislature). The project’s total cost is estimated at $130 million and will add space, as well as address aging infrastructure and create locations that foster interdisciplinary collaborations and community. 

“The NEH challenge grant is a critical opportunity for us to create a home for the humanities and a hub for intellectual inquiry and civic engagement that will benefit our campus community and beyond within a renovated Clark Building,” said CLA Dean Benjamin Withers. 

The concept behind the center was developed over several years by CLA faculty and inaugural humanities fellows, including Tori Arthur, Ryan Claycomb, Maricela DeMirjyn, Katie Knobloch, Sarah Payne and Kenneth Shockley. 

“And as they conceive it, the center will welcome those from across campus who wish to deepen our understanding of democratic values, engage with complex social issues, and promote critical thinking and civil discourse,” Withers said. “We are thankful for the support of the vice president for research and the Office of the President in support of our faculty’s vision.”