Part 2: Title VI National Resource Centers and the Publicly Engaged Humanities

In my last blog post, I shared some insights from conversations I had been having with directors and program coordinators at Title VI National Resource Centers (NRCs). I had been speaking to them as part of our broader effort to gather publicly engaged humanities projects for the Humanities for All database. In the post, I detailed four key themes that emerged across the projects I encountered:

  • The use of language instruction to support community organizations in meeting the needs of their communities, 
  • Partnerships with local and international cultural organizations to create long-term opportunities for cultural exchange for students and community members,
  • Partnerships with community-based organizations to do mutually beneficial research around region-specific topics, and
  • Digital humanities projects that prioritize broadening access to cultural artifacts and knowledge.

These broad categories demonstrate how NRC directors, staff, and affiliated faculty are using their educational outreach mandate to contribute to their communities. As my last blog post highlighted projects that represented the first two categories, here I will offer a couple examples of projects that fall under categories three and four. In the coming months I hope to continue to surface more examples for the Humanities for All database that work across these themes. 

Region-specific engaged research

NRCs often partner with local and international community organizations to do engaged research around topics specific to their world region. While many university-based research projects are unidirectional—that is emanating from faculty members or students outward to a general public—engaged research projects involve collaboration between higher education faculty and students and community members to create mutually beneficial knowledge. These research opportunities enrich student learning and leverage the methodologies of humanities research to address pressing social issues. In my conversations, I learned about many engaged research projects emanating from NRCs that build partnerships that serve community needs well beyond the bounds of the campus—both local and international. 

Housed in the Center for Mexican Studies at Columbia University and funded by the Institute of Latin American Studies, the Buscadores Research Unit is dedicated to supporting missing persons organizations operating in Mexico and Central America. The members of these organizations, known as buscadores or buscadoras, are searching for their disappeared loved ones. The Research Unit, composed of students and community members and led by professor of anthropology Claudio Lomnitz, is dedicated to library, archival, and database research at the behest of organized groups of buscadoras or buscadores from various parts of Mexico. Together, the Research Unit and the buscadores are involved in an exchange of theoretical and technical knowledge, with the student researchers providing data collection and analysis from historical, social science, and media resources that improve the livelihoods of the buscadoras.

Through the University of Kansas’ African Studies Center, students and faculty participated in a field school in Tanzania’s largest city, Dar es Salaam. The field school was part of the Kansas African Studies Center’s research program, ColLAB: Bridging East Africa’s Health Divides, which brings together KU students and faculty from different fields and backgrounds to study questions of global health and development. The two week trip to Dar es Salaam included field research assignments, visits to local non-governmental organizations (NGOs), and trips to historically significant sites around the region. In 2019, the program partnered with two NGOs to do engaged research: Child in the Sun, a faith-based orphanage funded by the Catholic archdiocese; and PEDDEREF, or People with Drugs Dependence Relief Foundation, a sober house for men and women who suffer from addiction. While aiding these organizations, students also gained meaningful background for their own masters and doctoral research.

Digital humanities and artifact preservation 

Most common across NRC outreach projects I have encountered is the creation of virtual platforms that allow K-12 students and public audiences the ability to interact with cultural artifacts under the center’s care in accessible and creative ways. Part preservation and part teaching tool, these websites and digital archives can encourage various forms of active community engagement. The Boston University African Studies Center’s African Artifact Map offers a catalogue of over 80 artifacts located at the Boston University African Studies Center. Artifacts are from several regions of Africa, including West Africa, Eastern/Central Africa, and Southern Africa. Students are able to navigate through the interactive resource by clicking on any artifact on the map and find images, as well as a list of resources about the artifacts’ origins, background, and history. Teachers in the Boston area can check out these physical resources for use in their classrooms.

At the University of Texas at Austin, the Teresa Lozano Long Institute of Latin American Studies joined forces with the Nettie Lee Benson Latin American Collection, The University of Michigan Language Resource Center, and the New Orleans Jazz Museum to make their colonial collections more accessible to the public. The two institutions led a joint transcribe-a-thon that convened community members in person at the Louisiana Historical Center and remotely through the Benson Latin American Collection’s Facebook page. Together, participants transcribed handwritten Spanish and French documents from 1559 to 1817 with help from the FromThePage platform, with the goal of making these records more useful to teachers, students, researchers, and family historians.

Are you involved in publicly engaged humanities work at a National Resource Center or international institute? We want to learn about it! Learn how to contribute to our Humanities for All database here.

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