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Winterthur/UD Program in Art Conservation student Jennifer Myers
(far right) shows National Endowment for the Humanities Chairman Jon
Parrish Peede photos of work that has been done in the paintings
conservation lab. Peede visited UD on Dec. 6, 2018.
Themes of public outreach, inclusiveness and civic engagement were clearly on the mind of the National Endowment for the Humanities (NEH) chairman during a recent visit to University of Delaware programs and projects that emphasize those same qualities.
Jon Parrish Peede, a writer and literary editor who was sworn in as
chairman in May after a year with the agency, spent Dec. 6 meeting with
UD humanities faculty, students and staff.
The NEH, an independent
federal agency established in 1965, is one of the largest funders of
humanities programs in the United States.
“It was an exciting visit,” said Lauren Petersen, interim associate
dean for the humanities in the College of Arts and Sciences.
of the programs and initiatives have in common is that they’re very
research-intensive but they also all reach out to the public and engage a
During the visit, Peede said he was also thinking ahead to 2026, when the United States will mark its 250th birthday.
In a recent press interview, he mentioned plans to enact a new series
of grant guidelines focusing on that anniversary, and during his time
at UD he spoke about the value of celebrating America’s history and
heritage in a way that’s accessible to the public.
Move this whole section up, swapping places with the section above it.
In the objects conservation lab, Winterthur/UD Program in Art
Conservation (WUDPAC) student Natalya Swanson shows Jon Parrish Peede a
pair of shoes from the 1968 Dior collection, sent to Winterthur by the
Philadelphia Museum of Art for cleaning.
“I love that you’re training people to preserve important treasures,”
Peede said while touring the conservation labs at Winterthur Museum
that are used by students in the prestigious Winterthur/University of
Delaware Program in Art Conservation.
“It’s especially important to see that you preserve [not just famous
works of art but also] more obscure pieces that let us tell the stories
of remarkable people.”
Peede, who met with the Delaware Humanities organization the previous
day, began his tour of the University’s humanities programs with a full
morning at Winterthur. He was accompanied by two NEH staff members,
including senior program officer Tatiana Ausema, who earned bachelor’s
and master’s degrees in art conservation and is currently writing her
doctoral dissertation, all at UD.
In the paintings conservation lab, graduate student Julianna Ly
showed Peede a diorama depicting an expedition to the North Pole by
explorers Matthew Henson, who was African American, and Robert Peary.
Conservators first worked on the diorama, part of an African-American
history collection at Tuskegee University, as part of a summer program at UD for students from historically black colleges and universities (HBCUs).
The program, Ly explained, was designed to expose talented students
to the field of art conservation, which is seeking to address a serious
lack of diversity.
Student Karissa Muratore and NEH Chairman Jon Parrish Peede examine a book in the Winterthur library conservation lab.
From there, the group visited the Winterthur library, where a relatively new, collaborative program is educating the next generation of conservators to work with library and archives collections.
Student Karissa Muratore described the process of working with a
particular book, which, she said, required conservation work in several
specialized areas. The book itself is an object, she said, but it
required techniques in paper, painting and photography conservation.
Peede, who previously worked with a university press, spoke briefly with the students and faculty about a shared love of books.
“It was great training,” he said of that job. “I’d been reading books forever, but I had no idea of them as objects.”
Peede also spoke with students, faculty and staff in the preventive
conservation program and in other conservation and scientific labs. He
briefly visited a class of first-year graduate students and discussed
the importance of disaster preparedness and response.
Throughout the visit, Peede asked questions about techniques and
students’ career paths, and pointed out the importance of communicating
with the public about the value of humanities.
“We have a commitment to public outreach in all our programs,”
said Debra Hess Norris, the Unidel Henry Francis du Pont chair in Fine
Arts and chair of the Department of Art Conservation. “We teach our
students to think about best practices around the world and about
innovative ways to communicate.”
Later in the day, Peede met in Morris Library on the University’s
Newark campus with representatives from several humanities programs and
projects. Many have received NEH support.
NEH Chairman Jon Parrish Peede speaks with UD Prof. Gabrielle
Foreman about the Colored Conventions Project, which she founded and
P. Gabrielle Foreman, who is the Ned B. Allen Professor of English
and professor of history and Africana studies at UD, and a team of
students and staff presented an overview of the Colored Conventions Project,
an interdisciplinary and collaborative public humanities project that
brings decades of early African American organizing for legal,
educational and labor justice to digital life.
Founded and headquartered at UD, it now encompasses a national network and was highlighted by the NEH last year as one of 50 “essential” projects the agency has supported in its 52-year history.
When the project began in 2012, Foreman said, the records of the
national, state and local “colored conventions” of the 19th century were
little known and not accessible. Today, the project has transcribed
hundreds of convention records for a digital archive that is used by
“multiple publics,” Foreman said, from academic scholars to individuals
doing personal genealogical research.
“It’s a new way to think about black organizing,” she told Peede. “This is history that was hidden in plain sight.”
As with all his meetings, Peede connected with students working with the project and asked questions about their participation.
He went on to meet with groups who highlighted such programs as the Interdisciplinary Humanities Research Center (IHRC) in the College of Arts and Sciences and the NEH Next Generation Ph.D. and UD’s African American Public Humanities Initiative (AAPHI).
Laura Helton, assistant professor of English, spoke to Peede about
this semester’s undergraduate seminar, “Into the Archives,” in which
students used the UD Libraries, Museums and Press’ Langston Hughes
Ephemera Collection to explore the poet’s life and to learn how to work
with collections. The project was funded by an IHRC teaching grant.
Jon Parrish Peede shows a group of UD art conservation students and faculty an image on his phone of an
annotated historical manuscript.
“It was clear from Chairman Peede’s remarks that he shares UD’s
commitment to public-facing humanities scholarship,” Helton said after
Julie McGee, associate professor of Africana studies and IHRC
director, said the meeting was an opportunity for Peede to meet several
students who are AAPHI scholars and to have professional discussions
“He seemed exceptionally engaged by the conversation and provided
on-the-spot mentoring, contact and research suggestions to the
scholars,” McGee said.
Peede was also given an overview of the Center for Material Culture Studies (CMCS) and the Delaware Public Humanities Institute.
With support from NEH, the institute offers graduate students the
opportunity to take part in a two-week summer program focused on
learning how to communicate their research to the general public.
“We were very happy to give him a sense of the innovative outreach
here at UD that the NEH made possible,” Sandy Isenstadt, professor of
art history and a CMCS director, said of that meeting.
Peede also met with Morris Library leadership and toured Special Collections and the Student Multimedia Design Center.
"The Library, Museums and Press was … delighted to demonstrate the
partnerships across the campus in programs such as the Colored
Conventions Project, the African American Public Humanities Initiative
and the Interdisciplinary Humanities Research Center,” said Trevor A.
Dawes, vice provost for libraries and museums and May Morris University
Librarian. “The funding from the NEH, for which we are very grateful,
helps to sustain these collaborations."
Petersen said the daylong visit was important in highlighting UD’s priorities and plans in humanities education.
“All of the programs and initiatives that Chairman Peede saw are
models of collaboration, and they engage graduate students in a very
meaningful way,” she said. “It was an opportunity to really showcase the
humanities and what is possible in terms of research and graduate
training as we move forward.”
Article by Ann Manser; photos by Evan Krape and Kathy F. Atkinson