By David Robbins
In 2021, Virginia Humanities re-evaluated our Residential Fellowship Program out of a desire to better meet the needs of historians, educators and community scholars. We established three new programs in 2022 to support our vision: the HBCU Scholars Fellowship, the K-12 Educators Fellowship, and the Public Humanities Fellowship. After they concluded their work in the summer of 2023, we checked in with these new fellowship programs’ inaugural cohorts to find out more about their experiences and valuable takeaways.
The HBCU Scholars Fellowship was conceived by Yahusef Medina, director of Community Initiatives, to serve scholars affiliated with Virginia’s historically Black colleges and universities. Medina specifically wanted to address the barriers that have historically existed for HBCU scholars interested in fellowship opportunities, including a lack of funding or a requirement to work in-person.
“I think the HBCU Scholars Fellowship signifies growth and highlights our willingness to be on the cutting edge of how humanities are developing nationally,” Medina said. “It gives us a real foot in that space because we are helping to produce content and add to the public humanities, the academic humanities, and culture generally speaking.”
Janira Teague, Assistant Professor of History at Morehouse College and member of the inaugural cohort of Virginia HBCU Scholars Fellows (she previously held a professorship at Norfolk State University), used her fellowship to author a book on America’s Great Migration in the global context, and its impact on electoral politics in the early twentieth century.
“The networking was invaluable,” Teague shared. “Virginia Humanities staff assisted me with my book proposal, scholarly articles, and grant applications. Furthermore, the fellowship granted a sabbatical from teaching, which provided time to focus on my research. It’s a wonderful program and an invaluable experience.”
Emma Ito, Virginia Humanities’ director of education, intentionally created the K-12 Educators Fellowship to be more inclusive in its overall approach. The fellowship defines “educator” as a broad category including teachers, librarians, counselors, after-school, and extracurricular staff, and accepts applicants from across the Commonwealth. Throughout the school year, each fellow develops and produces a learning experience to be shared on Virginia Humanities’ education portal, an online hub available to teachers everywhere. The fellows also meet periodically to develop their skills through professional development workshops and networking opportunities.
Catherine Breese, an instructional technology resource teacher for Montgomery County Public Schools, was a member of the fellowship’s inaugural cohort. Breese has been a teacher in Virginia and West Virginia for almost thirty years. As a fellow, she created a video and lesson plan about Corbin v. Pulaski County School Board (1949), a court case decided before Brown v. Board of Education (1954) that invalidated the precedent of “separate but equal.”
“The experience I had with my cohort of fellows was one of the best experiences of my career,” Breese said. “I learned so much from the cohort meetings and the amazing professionals we met, such as Emma [Ito] at Virginia Humanities. Doing the research was both challenging and empowering. It is extremely important work to tell stories that can change how people understand their own history and community.”
The Public Humanities Fellowship was designed to include scholars affiliated with a college or university and those outside of the academic realm, such as artists, authors, and community historians, who are frequently excluded from traditional fellowship opportunities. The fellowship invests in scholars to allow them to provide Virginia’s diverse communities with valuable research, narratives, and cultural manifestations that hold significance while establishing connections for audiences to broader regional, national, and global perspectives.
Abraham (“Abe”) Gibson and his father William (“Benny”) Gibson were part of the first cohort of Public Humanities Fellows. Their project shines a light on a neglected part of Franklin County’s history. Known as the “moonshine capital of the world,” Franklin County had a reputation for lawlessness. But the father-son research team discovered that, during the same period, the county made an enormous investment in public education.
“When the Public Humanities Fellowship program was announced, I knew it would be a great opportunity for us,” Abe shared. “And it has been an awesome experience because we’re uncovering things we never knew about our own hometown.”
Apply for a Fellowship
Our fellowship programs help writers, community scholars, educators, and university faculty members uncover stories about Virginia’s history and culture. We are currently accepting applications for our Virginia HBCU Scholars Fellowship (due January 21, 2024) and our K-12 Educators Fellowship (due March 1, 2024).