The arrival this fall of two Rockefeller Foundation postdoctoral researchers marks a landmark occasion for Kansas University's Joyce and Elizabeth Hall Center for the Humanities.
The center organized and pursued the effort that resulted in KU's new designation as a Rockefeller Residency Site, explained Janet Crow, acting director. The researchers, Leos Jelecek, a senior historical geographer with the Czechoslovak Academy of Science in Prague, and Paul Hirt, a recent graduate of the University of Arizona, will be the center's first participants in its "Program in Nature, Culture and Technology."
Funded with a $250,000 Rockefeller grant, the three-year program aims to promote historical and humanistic perspectives on environmental issues, Crow said, and will be directed by Donald Worster, Hall distinguished professor of American history at KU.
Jelecek will study the modern environmental history of Czechoslovakia, which has been called the most polluted nation in Eastern Europe; Hirt will study U.S. Forest Service policies since World War II.
"I THINK it's going to be real interesting," said Crow. She noted that in addition to pursuing their own research, the Rockefeller fellows would participate in various seminars and programs on environmental history and the humanities while on campus.
Crow was named the center's acting director for the coming year after former director Andrew Debicki, KU distinguished professor of Spanish and Portuguese, was named vice chancellor for research, graduate studies and public service last spring.
Crow said she would be working closely with John Clark, professor of history and environmental studies, and William Andrews, Hall distinguished professor of English, to maintain the faculty continuity Debicki had established.
The center's headquarters, in Watkins Home, just south of Watson Library on Sunflower Road, also has undergone a major renovation. It now offers lounge and seminar space for humanities faculty to meet and share their research pursuits, Crow said, as well as office space for the center staff, three of KU's five Hall professors Worster, Andrews, and Allan Pasco, Hall distinguished professor of French and Italian and the Rockefeller researchers.
KU'S TWO other Hall professors are John Kenyon, history, and Charles Eldredge, history of art.
Crow said scientists might have originated the multidisciplinary approach to academic pursuits, but at KU, the Hall Center had been expanding that concept for humanities scholars since 1976, the year it was organized by the Kansas Board of Regents as the Center for Humanistic Studies.
Although the state provides a financial base of operations, a 1983 $1 million challenge grant from the National Endowment for the Humanities (NEH) prompted a campaign that provided gifts to KU of $5.5 million for the humanities. Much of the private funding came from the Hall Family Foundations established by Joyce Hall, founder of Hallmark.
Crow said the center, renamed to reflect the source of its principal donor, sponsored a variety of long- and short-term seminars, panels, mini-courses, colloquia and symposia on campus to promote interdisciplinary communication among humanities faculty.
Some students attend such events, as well as the general public, she said, but special public lectures also are offered several times each year through the Center's Humanities Lecture Series.
CROW SAID ongoing faculty discussions also were sponsored on "the canons," key works or topics that often are used to define a discipline but that also may straightjacket it.
This fall, Phillip Paludan, KU professor of history, is directing "The Canon" seminar. Topics already scheduled for discussion include the medieval canon, theatrical canon, social construction of the canon, Hebrew canon as creative enterprise and creating and eroding canons in art history.
The center also offers assistance to humanities faculty who are seeking research grants, and itself awards some fellowships and travel funds through a committee made up of humanities faculty members from across campus.
There also is a Hall Fund for Improvement of Teaching to which faculty can apply for financial support, and a publications service to assist humanities faculty involved in the publishing of scholarly journals.
IN A RECENT program review, Crow said, such professors as Maria Carlson, associate professor of Slavic languages and literatures, were called upon to define the center's role in their professional lives.
Carlson, who also serves on NEH review panels, noted, "The Hall Center . . . has promoted dialogue among disciplines as well as among individuals; it has encouraged collegiality in the best sense of that term; it has actively helped faculty members to grow, learn and develop; it has supported and fostered significant research."
Crow said that in addition to working with humanities faculty, the Center also sponsors programs for corporate executives, professional groups and government officials designed to help them bring humanistic insights to bear on their work and lives.
The center staff also has worked with KU faculty on NEH programs that bring educators from across the country to campus for humanities seminars.
Recently, Crow said, the center has been exploring the possibility of a community workshop on family history. Every other year, the center sponsors the $2,000 Byron Caldwell Smith Award, presented for a book with a humanities bent that was written by a Kansas resident.
"There's all kinds of ways we can step out and interact with the community," Crow said.