Skip to main content

Public Humanities Engagement and Interdisciplinary Collaborations with Patricia Parker – Part 2

March 8, 2023 | Kristen Chavez

Institute for the Arts and Humanities Patricia Parker talks about the impact of public humanities engagement. She also shares her recent interdisciplinary collaborations with other UNC faculty and international partners.




Kristen Chavez: Welcome to the Institute, a podcast in the lives and works of fellows and friends of the Institute for the Arts and Humanities at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. To our returning listeners, welcome back to part two of our conversation with Institute Director Patricia Parker. In our last episode, we talked about how her research and engaged scholarship has influenced her leadership, and what our first year as director was like and what is to come. Today, we continue our conversation as we explore more of director Parker’s work and the impact of public humanities engagement at Carolina and beyond. Thank you, Pat, for sitting down for another conversation.

Patricia Parker: Well, thank you, Kristen, it’s my pleasure to be here in conversation with you again.

KC: The last time we talked, you shared about your own research and your time as IAH director. But before we talk about your other work on campus, I’d like to explore more about the Institute’s work. For the listeners who may not know the Institute is part of the International Consortium of Humanities Centers and Institutes, also known as CHCI. Can you tell us more about that and that relationship?

PP: Sure, I’d be happy to. You know, one of the things that the Institute has the responsibility for is to advocate for the humanities and the arts. The consortium that you mentioned, the Consortium of Humanities Centers, and Institute’s is just one of the entities that helps us to do that, and provides resources for us to amplify the work of the humanities, you know, another entity that that is, is helpful in that area is the National Endowment for the Humanities. And in a way you might think about, you know, at that national level, that’s the place where the humanities are seen as an important part of the, you know, the fabric of our life of, you know, our culture, our academic institutions. And one important thing that I’ve learned from a data point that I learned recently at one of the gatherings of the of the, the CHCI, is that for every $1, that the NEH spends the National Endowment for the Humanities spends, it’s equal to $55 spent for the National Science Foundation. It’s also, you can compare that to the $100 spent through the National Institutes of Health. So in that regard, you know, you can see that, you know, there’s work to be done to show the importance of the humanities. So again, this Consortium of Humanities Centers and Institutes really kind of really does get us to, gives us that opportunity to explore ways that we can amplify this important work. As director, I mean, this is my second year as director and so consequently, I’m just recently involved with the CHCI. But I hit the ground running last year, because we hosted a panel as part of the annual meeting of of the of the consortium. Duke University, we collaborated with Duke’s Franklin Humanities Center to cohost that gathering and the first panel was held right here on our campus. It was an opportunity to do some programming around topics that are really important on our campus right now thinking about South-South relations, and which is to say, we’re in the US South. And we’re very much connected to the some of the issues in the global south with regard to marginalized identities and the interfaces of activism and intellectual traditions. And so we were able to convene that and so we were grateful to have featured as our guests for that, for that panel, Dr. Thozama April, who joined us from South Africa. She’s a scholar at the University of Fort Hare in South Africa. She’s also a next generation scholar at the Center for Humanities Research at the University of Western Cape. So she was one of our panelists, doing great work thinking about activism that traverses South Africa, and as well as that as the US South. And then we also had our very own ChĂ©rie Ndaliko who is on faculty in the Department of Geography. And she focuses on Black geographies and including the Black Atlantic world and decolonial proxies, indigeneity and sustainable farming So these were this was a very well received panel, it was well attended. And folks really had a great conversation around this topic of intellectual traditions and everyday activism.

KC: And since organizing that panel, you’ve been able to really collaborate and interact more with other directors in the CHCI network, right? Can you talk more about that?

PP: Yes, I have. The CHCI has a steering committee for what they call the Humanities Administration Network. The purpose of that network is to really hone in on what the center and institute directors, what issues they face in running their centers, and engaging with faculty, students, the public, really all that the issues that an administrator might encounter in doing that, but they also are focused on providing a platform. When we gather for the consortium, we are tasked with providing a platform for critical reflection on the work of institutes and centers and the unique roles they play or have the potential to play, both when it within and outside the academy. And so I was asked to join this steering committee and help to plan a pre-conference and a panel during the next meeting of the CHCI. And that meeting is going to be in June, in Santiago, Chile. And so very excited to be a part of that, that work, folks should watch our website for more information about that, that panel, that will be happening in June.

PP: Yes, thank you for asking about that. That is the other hat that I wear, in addition to being director of the Institute for the Arts and Humanities, I am doing this work. In fact, it predates my my appointment as director of the Institute. The University Commission on History, Race, and A Way Forward was convened in February of 2020, we had our first meeting and for the chancellor charged the commission to research the university’s history with race and make recommendations to the to the chancellor with regard to how the university reckons with that history. That is the work that we started, as I mentioned February of 2020. And of course, we know what happened in March of 2020 with the pandemic and much of the world shutting down in response to that. But we did move forward on on several projects that are now have, you know, we’re very much moving forward with these projects, we have done a great deal of archival research on some of the building names and other names on the landscape, and made recommendations for removing those names. Two buildings in particular have have been renamed. And folks can read about that. There’s the University website that describes the work of the commission. But I wanted to highlight one other thing that we’re working on is and which is I mean, very much a part of my research focus, which is communication and social justice, leadership, and community engagement. And so through this work, I’ve been fortunate to work with many members of the descendants of the enslaved who were the unsung founders of this university, the people who helped who labored to build the university and often, you know, those histories are erased. There are several burial ground, cemeteries, on the campus and near the campus of of, of the enslaved. And so those descendants are very much a part of our efforts to tell those stories because it is a part of the university’s history. And so, I’ve been involved with working with descendant communities and we’re very excited about the work that we’re doing together to tell those histories. So that’s, that’s something that I’m doing and it is very exciting. I’ll say one more thing about the commission is we are fortunate to be able to host the spring convening of the Universities Studying Slavery Conference. This is another consortium, a collective of universities all over the world, really, it started at the University of Virginia. But this consortium of Universities Studying Slavery gathers every spring and fall. And so in March, we will be hosting that conference right here on the campus of UNC-Chapel Hill, March 15, through the 18th. And so those invitations are our there’s a link to to the to register for the conference, if folks want to join us there, on the IAH website, as well as on the University’s website as well.

PP: And it’s exciting for, you know, we’re proud for you to go off and you know, spread the word of the IAH and the great work that we’re doing here, not just within our network, but in a completely different country and continent. So thank you for doing the great work. As I mentioned earlier, your work and your impact on campus goes beyond the Institute and the communication department. You’re also the co-chair of the commission for History, Race and A Way Forward with history Professor Jim Leloudis, can you share more about that work and what that means to you?

KC: Yep, we’ll include a link for all of that. It’s all very important work, of course, like not just on our own campus and with our own communities, but of course, it’s a larger, national and international question. I do want to ask one more question about your work on the commission. Has it, in what ways has the Commission, the work that you’ve done there help inform your work here at the IAH?

PP: I really see the Institute as a place for starting conversation, building community, and thinking about the role of the arts and humanities and impacting the urgent questions of our day. And so I think the commission’s work is very much related to what I see as the work of the arts and humanities and amplifying the work of our faculty colleagues in that work. That’s very, you know, I think that’s an integral part of my role as director is to make those connections for the work of our faculty colleagues who are doing this work. And that’s, that’s very gratifying.

KC: You’ve also had the opportunity to interface with other faculty and administrators in a more informal way. In fall 2022, you join the Tar Heel bus tour, which took over 70 faculty and administrators on a listening and learning tour of North Carolina. Can you share about your experience?

PP: Yes, you know, the Tar Heel Bus Tour is an initiative that first began I think, in the early 2000s, by then, Chancellor Hooker. And I know this because I joined, I came on campus in 98, in the Tar Heel Bus Tour was starting and, and that idea was that, you know, faculty and staff should get out into the, into the state to learn about where our students, you know, the majority of our students are, you know, originate and have their homes and come to the university from those places. And so, but I never had a chance to take the bus tour. So I saw I was just really delighted when our current chancellor, Chancellor Guskiewicz, you know, reignited that, that initiative and had the chance to go on that bus tour back in October. And I was, you know, there’s a bus that goes to the east and a bus that goes to the west in the state, and I was on the bus that went to the east. And it was just a wonderful experience. It was three days, packed with stops. I mean, we started in the morning, early in the morning on a Wednesday, during fall break. And by that evening, you know, we started here in Chapel Hill about that evening, we were at Nags Head. So and so we had, I think, four three or four stops along the way, we’re stopping about every hour.

KC: Long day.

PP: And the stops, were carefully, you know, curated experiences in which, you know, we really got an opportunity to meet some of the people in communities who are partnering with faculty at the university and some of the partnerships in that. So it’s really a great opportunity to demonstrate the UNC-Chapel Hill’s impact in the state of North Carolina and its commitment to public service. It’s also an opportunity to promote the scholarship and service that respond to the concerns of the state and contribute to the common good. I mean, that’s a very much, you know, those are priorities for the Institute as well, too, you know, we know that we are public facing we have a very keen interest in the public humanities. Engaging with teachers, for example, and with, as I mentioned earlier with communities, descendant communities who are interested in telling their own histories, I mean, these are things that the Institute can help to, you know, build those collaborations because we have that expertise on campus to provide those resources. So the Tar Heel Bus Tour was, I think, a really good example of making those connections and helping us to learn about the state and visit areas where you know, where our students call home.

KC: That’s great. Is there anything that might be coming down the pipeline? Or did that kind of spark any, anything for you personally or other work that might be coming out of it?

PP: Yes, absolutely. I, in fact, three of my colleagues and I were inspired by this, this bus tour, to create a project in which we are developing a curriculum that will be transformative in teaching about race and history. Especially going on the east bus, we, you know, we saw these disparities that are really… you could see the juxtaposition of wealth, and poverty. And it was really striking, and to see sort of some of the economic disparities and the way it’s racialized to a particular degree. And so, but, you know, these partnerships that I’ve mentioned earlier, are really engaging in, you know, directly with those disparities in their community-led projects, in which, you know, these disparities come to light and the resources of the university can be brought to bear to, you know, to research and find ways forward with that. So, we think my colleagues and I, think that there’s a way of teaching about those histories, and how those disparities have come into play. And also, when people are engaging communities, you know, there are tools and theories and resources for doing that work, that can make those relationships more productive. And so that’s, that’s the project we’re working on. We’re presenting a proposal pretty shortly that we hope that’s going to get funded. And so to be continued, I’d love to talk more about that once if we get that funded and get that underway. I’d love to share more about that.

KC: Absolutely, I’d love to hear more. And I look forward to seeing where this might go. Thank you for sharing all about that.

PP: One thing that I did not mention, and you know, they’re not here to talk about but I do want to mention my three colleagues that I’m in conversation with. And it really shows how that the Tar Heel Bus Tour can inspire interdisciplinarity and, just really proud of that. So, Simona Goldin, who is a research professor in the school of Public Policy, is one of the colleagues who’s on this project. We also have Kim Ramsey-White, who is a professor in the Gillings School of Public Health. And then the third colleague that’s joining us, is April Parker, no relation as far as we know, who is a professor in the School of Social Work. So I bring my expertise coming from the Department of Communication, here in the College of Arts and Sciences. So we really do have a multidisciplinary team that we met on the bus tour, while I knew Simona before, but because Simona actually is on the on the Commission on History and Race, as well. And I brought her on to the commission because of her expertise in– she studies education and race in public policy. So anyway, so we are excited about doing this work together.

KC: That’s great. I love that you’re talking about all of these important interdisciplinary work and the partnerships and the way that that plays with communities and with academia, which I think is important. And I think that’s where the IAH kind of thrives in helping facilitate a lot of that. So thank you for all of that work.

PP: Thank you.

KC: We’ll start to wrap up. And thank you again for this great conversation. And so before we get to our last question. I will say that even though you’ve been on the podcast before, this last question wasn’t yet a tradition for every single guest. So now you get to answer it for the first time. What is a book that has changed your life?

PP: You know, that’s a really good question. You know, it’s a big question. Like I’m not sure if everybody would say that a book changed their life. I mean, for some people, it might be a film. And for me, in particular, I can’t say that this was a book per se, but I remember that when I was in the fourth or fifth grade, I read about Mary McLeod Bethune. Mary McLeod Bethune was, she was seen as one of the most important Black educators and civil and women’s rights leaders in the 20th century. She was friends with Eleanor Roosevelt. She started a college for women, the Bethune Cookman College in Florida. I will tell you that the reason that that stuck with me, that’s in my memory. I grew up in a small town in Arkansas, rural Arkansas. And first and second grade, I attended a segregated school, the schools were segregated by race. And then in third grade integration happened and went to the, what was referred to then, as the white school. And so race had was always sort of something that was, was framing my experience at that time. And I had wonderful role models, even in my family. At that time, that I already had an older sister who was in college. But somehow reading about this Black woman educator in that context, became very, it was very important to me. And so I don’t know all the details of this but there was an occasion where we were to come to school dressed as our, like a leader. And I had a picture of Mary McLeod Bethune and I dressed up as Mary McLeod Bethune.

KC: That’s wonderful.

PP: And I just still remember getting on the bus, in my long dress, I’d, I’d researched the, you know, the period — she was born in 1875, just to give you an sense of her generation. And I was just very proud of that. And so I think that, I can’t say that that reading about her changed my life, but it absolutely was affirming to me, you know, beyond I mean, my family was already very affirming to me in terms of having confidence in myself. But seeing that history and seeing this Black woman in her time, making a difference, just really had that affirmation for me, too, that I can make a difference in the world.

KC: That’s wonderful. Thank you so much for sharing that. I think that I do love that, looking at it as in a frame of affirmation and that inspiration, you know, it’s a different kind of inspiration. I think that is still just as important and valid. So thank you.

PP: Well, thank you. Thank you for asking the question.

KC: That’ll wrap up this episode of The Institute podcast. Thank you for listening. You can subscribe to Apple Podcasts, Spotify, SoundCloud, and wherever you listen to your favorite podcasts, visit our website, To find past episodes and transcripts. You can also learn more about our upcoming events, programs, grants and leadership opportunity for UNC-Chapel Hill faculty are read stories that feature our arts and humanities fellows. Thanks for joining us.

Categories: IAH Podcast

Comments are closed.