By Colton Williams
Last fall, the University received an $800,000 grant from the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation to develop a comprehensive program in Southern Studies. The grant follows a 2012 grant that aided in the creation of the Southern Appalachian Studies minor in collaboration with Yale University. The new program will be multifaceted, including new courses, events, faculty, and lectures.
In a news release last fall about the grant, Vice-Chancellor John McCardell said that the University was “enormously grateful for the support of the Mellon Foundation,” and that he was “confident that among the intellectual assets at Sewanee in the future will be a distinctive approach to higher education that seeks the universal through a careful and intentional observation of the local and the regional, in our case, our own region.”
Dr. John Grammer, who directs the Southern Studies program, said that the University received the grant to in order to develop an interdisciplinary curriculum in Southern Studies. “It could be a major,” he said, “or it could end up being something else, but it’s a course of study for undergraduates that will focus on studying the U.S. South.”
Grammer said that the program at its current stage consists of developing ‘linked courses’ — courses in one department that are taught in relationship with another department — hiring two postdoctoral fellows, and hosting a conference for the Southern Intellectual History Circle.
The conference of the Southern Intellectual History Circle, a group of distinguished historians with a focus on the American South, will be held in Sewanee in February 2020. The conference will include events open to students and the public.
Dr. Tiffany Momon, in the history department, and Dr. Camille Westmont, of archaeology, are the two Mellon Fellows that will work as a part of the Southern Studies program for the next two years. This semester, Momon is teaching Introduction to Public History, and Westmont is teaching Special Topics in Archaeology: Historical Archaeology.
While these courses aren’t precisely the ‘linked courses’ that are planned for the future of the Southern Studies program, they are interrelated in how they approach the academic study of the South. In Grammer’s words, they are both “interested in getting at history through some medium other than the public documents that are the grist for the historian’s mill.”
While most programs in Southern Studies emphasize literature and history, Grammer noted that the linked courses and diverse offerings can emphasize other areas of study. One of the most important and integral ways to understand the culture of the South is by studying music, he noted. “Virtually all distinctive American music came out of the South,” Grammer said, “and music is one of the ways that those Southerners who didn’t write books left a record of themselves.”
Momon, too, is interested in how the Southern Studies program can help create a fuller picture about the history and culture of the South.
“One of the best ways to study history, especially when you’re thinking about culture and the culture of the South, is to actually get out there and see it, and do it, and touch it,” Momon said. “I’m not a fan of the idea that you can study Southern history and not really get out there and talk to the people who are creating that Southern history.”
Momon also noted that in her perspective, the program is intentionally grounded in the place being studied. “For me,” she said. “This is going to be an endeavor that is very place-based, very focused on what the South is… how those people lived, what their traditions are, and so on and so forth.”
In addition to her teaching responsibilities, Momon has worked with the Roberson Project on Slavery, Race, and Reconciliation, helping to situate the African-American community in Sewanee within the University as a whole.
Both Momon and Grammer emphasized that the Roberson Project is an important element in whatever the Southern Studies program becomes. “It’s great for this program to be coming along at a moment when that project is really hitting its stride,” Grammer said, while Momon added that studying the University’s history in the context of the African-American communities in Sewanee makes “room to examine that side of the University, and to make students interested in what went on here before they actually showed up.”
In the words of Scott Romine and Jennifer Rae Greeson, two leading Southern literary scholars, Southern Studies is “thinking geographically, thinking historically, thinking relationally, thinking about power, thinking about justice, thinking back.” Grammer considers Sewanee to have an important role in doing that work.
“It’s going to be something different, and it’s going to be something interesting,” Grammer said. “What, after all, are we the University of? It seems kind of crazy for Sewanee not to play a part in that.”