Hall Center for the Humanities supports, spreads scholarship

The Hall Center for Humanities at KU.

For Christina Hodel, a second-year doctoral student, finding an academic job for the summer was important. During spring and fall she teaches, but during the summer, she’s on her own.

This year, Hodel spent her summer interning at the Kansas City Public Library. A film and media studies major, Hodel worked on tasks directly aligned with her major: creating a video trailer, making posters and crafting instructional videos for the library.

“It was nice to actually get some production practice in, while getting some new items for my resume,” said Hodel. “It’s very difficult to find work in the summer, and this is paid and related to my field.”

Hodel’s internship was sponsored by the Hall Center for Humanities.

Kansas University’s Hall Center of Humanities is an interdisciplinary research center designed to boost faculty research productivity, but it also works to enhance student education by sponsoring internships, fellowships and lectures.

The Hall Center was established in 1983 from a gift from the Hall Family Foundation of Kansas City. It mainly serves as a research center for faculty and is focused on helping professors develop research, get published and earn external grant awards.

“We do not have classes here,” said Victor Bailey, Hall Center director. “Anything that is done … is meant to supplement and create other opportunities. … The aim is to invest in faculty to promote research activity and research output.”

But the ancillary focus of the Hall Center is to bring the benefits of faculty scholarship to a wider audience. For instance, each year the Hall Center features half a dozen renowned scholars, some of them KU faculty members, who speak to student audiences and community members.

In addition, Hall Center scholars — students selected based on exemplary achievement and academic performance — are able to sit down, dine and interact with certain speakers.

“This opportunity was very meaningful for me and my peers,” said Julia Barnard, who was a KU scholar her sophomore year. “It made it possible to experience a dialogue with important scholars and to have the conversation genuinely focused on the needs and interests of KU’s undergraduate students.”

The program allowed Barnard to share dinners with Diane Ravitch, Mary Oliver and Jamaica Kincaid.

Well-known names are not unusual in the series. Salman Rushdie, Richard Dawkins and Michael Chabon have all spoken through the Hall Center Lecture Series. This fall, best-selling author Sarah Vowell and National Book Award-winning poet Nikky Finney will be featured in the lecture series.

“We are here to bring in speakers they (students) might not hear otherwise,” said Bailey. “We are here to expose them to themes they might not ever engage with in the normal classroom. But other times, there are people coming in who they are already studying.”

Another way the Hall Center reaches out to undergraduate and graduate students is by offering summer research awards, one-year fellowships and internships. The application process for these opportunities can be competitive.

One student who benefited from a Hall Center summer internship was Denise DiPiazzo, who is working on a master of fine arts degree in sculpture. After submitting an essay and two letters of recommendation, DiPiazzo learned she would be the recipient for the 10-week summer internship through the Mid-American Arts Alliance.

“I didn’t know much about the humanities,” said DiPiazzo. “It was an eye-opener for me. I already had a set of basic skills, I just didn’t know that (humanities) was the name for them.”

The Hall Center is able to offer paid internships at various agencies because of its major donor, the Hall Family Foundation, which has maintained its support for more than 20 years. It’s this endowment that allows the Hall Center to be one of the leading humanities centers in the nation, said Bailey.

Next year, the Hall Center will host the annual meeting for the Consortium of Humanities Centers and Institutes. The meeting of humanities centers tends to take place at universities like Harvard, Stanford and Brown, further illustrating the Hall Center’s stature.

Those at the Hall Center are always trying to extend its role to KU students and the wider community, said Bailey.

“People don’t always see (the humanities) as crucial,” said Bailey. “You have to take the humanities out and say this is why it’s important; this is why it’s valuable; this is why you need humanities research: because it’s about the human condition.”