MCLA to Hold 2011 NEH Summer Institute, 'The Role of Place in African-American Biography'


NORTH ADAMS, MASS. - Frances Jones-Sneed., Ph.D., a history professor at Massachusetts College of Liberal Arts (MCLA), will lead "The Role of Place in African-American Biography," from June 13 to July 9. Selected in a competitive process, 25 college and university faculty from across the country will attend the four-week summer institute at MCLA to explore local African-American history with nationally recognized scholars.

The project is funded by the third major grant awarded to Jones-Sneed from the National Endowment for the Humanities (NEH). She received the grant last year to continue her exploration of regional African-American history.

Jones-Sneed said this summer's institute marks a milestone in her career.

"I have always wanted to do something like this. This is the highlight of the NEH grants," she said. "I'm really excited to be a part of this. I'm a learner like the 25 participating faculty are. This is something that I've been interested in for over a dozen years. Bringing together all of the national scholars in the field that I'm interested in will make for an intensive, but very fruitful and enjoyable four weeks." 

Jones-Sneed is part of the Upper Housatonic African American Heritage Trail Project (UHAAHT), which deals with African American people, their lives and their cultures, from the headwaters of the Housatonic River in Pittsfield, Mass., through the northern portion of Connecticut.   

In addition to historians, the institute attendees will include literary scholars, political scientists and sociologists.

Among the Berkshire County African-American figures they will study are Samuel Harris, civil war soldier; W.E.B. Du Bois, civil rights activist; Elizabeth "Mum Bett" Freeman, who legally obtained her freedom from slavery; and Agrippa Hull, a patriot of the American Revolutionary War.

After attending the institute, participants will return to their own communities to find their own local figures they can link to national themes and incorporate into their classroom curriculums.

Sponsored by MCLA, the 2011 NEH Summer Institute is a collaborative effort with Williams College and the Upper Housatonic Valley African American Heritage Trail. In addition to Jones-Sneed, project directors will be Robert Paynter of UMASS-Amherst and Richard Courage of Westchester Community College.

Guest faculty will include Charles Dew and Leslie Brown of Williams College, Joanne Pope Melish of the University of Kentucky, James T. Campbell of Stanford University, David Levinson of the African American Heritage Trail, Gary Nash of UCLA, Gretchen Holbrook-Gerzina of Dartmouth College, Jerrianne Boggis of the University of New Hampshire, Dennis Dickerson of Vanderbilt University, Pulitzer Prize winner David Levering Lewis of New York University, Deborah Willis of New York University, Amritjit Singh of Ohio University, and Emilie Piper of the Berkshire Athenaeum. 

A number of the institute's scholars are nationally recognized.  

Nash is the director of the National Center for History in Schools. He also co-chaired the National History Standards Project from 1992 to '96. Willis was a MacArthur fellow in 2000, a Guggenheim fellow in 2005, and is a recipient of the NAACP Image Award. Campbell is the award-winning author of "Middle Passages: African American Journeys to Africa, 1787-2005." And, Levinson and Piper co-wrote "One Minute a Free Woman: Elizabeth Freeman and the Struggle for Freedom."  

In addition, Lewis is the first author to win two Pulitzer Prizes for biography for back-to-back volumes. They are "W.E.B. Du Bois: Biography of a Race, 1868-1919," the winner of the 1994 Pulitzer Prize for Biography and winner of the Bancroft and Parkman prizes, and "W.E.B. Du Bois: The Fight for Equality and the American Century, 1919-1963," winner of the 2001 Pulitzer Prize for Biography. 

Institutional partners with MCLA for "The Role of Place in African-American Biography" are the Williams College Africana Studies Program, Upper Housatonic Valley African American Heritage Trail and UMass-Amherst Libraries.  

Academic supporters include David Katzman of the University of Kansas, Donald Worster of the University of Kansas, Peter Crow of Ferrum College, MaryNell Morgan of SUNY-Empire State College, Alex Willingham of Williams College, Patricia Sullivan of the University of South Carolina, Jay Schafer of UMass-Amherst, and Shanti Singham of Williams College.  

Community partners include Rachel Fletcher and Bernard Drew of AAHT and Elaine Gunn of Friends of Du Bois.

Jones-Sneed has taught and researched local history for over 25 years. She is the co-director of the Upper Housatonic Valley African American Heritage Trail, and a board member of MassHumanities and the Samuel Harrison Society.

She has directed two other NEH grants. In 2006, "The Shaping Role of Place in African American Biography" was an 18-month curriculum development project involving more than a dozen area Berkshire teachers, who learned how to include African Americans in their lesson plans. "Of Migrations and Renaissances: Harlem/NY and South Side/Chicago, 1915-75," in 2008, focused on educating community college and high school teachers on the Harlem Renaissance. Both were NEH "We the People" projects.

The $194,347 NEH grant will pay for travel and housing expenses for the visiting faculty of "The Role of Place in African-American Biography." Attendees will receive a stipend of $3,300 each to help defray travel and housing expenses.

For more information, go to neh.