Southern Studies Center Receives $500,000 NEH Challenge Grant

Jesse Mercer statue

MACON – The National Endowment for the Humanities (NEH) has awarded Mercer University’s College of Liberal Arts a $500,000 challenge grant to support establishment of a Center for Southern Studies.

NEH challenge grants are capacity-building grants, intended to help institutions and organizations secure long-term support for their humanities programs and resources. Through these awards, recipients have been able to increase their humanities capacity and secure the permanent support of an endowment.

“NEH challenge grants are highly competitive and awarded to only the best humanities programs in the nation. This grant recognizes the great work of our Southern studies faculty in building an outstanding program,” said Dr. Lake Lambert, dean of the College of Liberal Arts. “Few universities of our size can boast of a center like this that studies and teaches about our distinctive region.”

Over the past decade, the College’s Southern Studies Program has offered an interdisciplinary undergraduate major leading to a bachelor’s degree. A small group of faculty from the departments of history, literature and Southern studies teach courses on the Old South, the Civil War, the New South, African-American history, southern literature and African-American literature, along with topical courses such as Southern Jesus, Black Film History, Southern Foodways and William Faulkner. Majors complete a senior thesis that culminates their investigation into the region and demonstrates their mastery of research methods.

The program hosts the annual Lamar Memorial Lecture Series, the nation’s most prestigious lecture series on Southern history and culture, which began in 1957. It presents the Sidney Lanier Prize for Southern Literature, as well as a film series and lectures by high-profile scholars, including recent Pulitzer Prize winners Douglas Blackmon and Hank Klibanoff. Additionally, one of the program’s faculty members, Dr. Doug Thompson, associate professor of Southern studies, is editor of the Journal of Southern Religion, the first scholarly journal devoted to the study of religion in the American South.

“Through creativity and the assistance of a supportive University administration and generous grants, the program has become one of Mercer’s signature programs and one of the most highly regarded Southern studies institutes in the country,” said Dr. Sarah Gardner, professor of history and director of Southern studies.

“This NEH challenge grant allows the program to become a center, thus creating a formal arrangement among the faculty members, green-lighting the University to raise funds to support the center, and, in turn, enabling the center to develop an endowment to sustain its activities. In short, the transition to a center will provide Southern studies greater permanence and will broaden its reach to scholars and students of the humanities.”

The $500,000 grant will be matched by $1.5 million that will be raised by the University as part of its recently launched Aspire capital campaign, ultimately establishing a $2 million endowment for the center.

The NEH is an independent federal agency created in 1965, and one of the largest funders of humanities programs in the United States. Because democracy demands wisdom, NEH serves and strengthens the republic by promoting excellence in the humanities and conveying the lessons of history to all Americans. Grants typically go to cultural institutions, such as museums, archives, libraries, colleges, universities, public television and radio stations, and to individual scholars.

Kyle is senior director of media relations at Mercer. In addition to being the primary media contact for most academic and administrative units of the university, he serves as editor of the Mercerian alumni magazine and News@Mercer e-newsletters, and he coordinates hometown and university news releases.