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$100K grant from National Endowment for the Humanities provides funds to explore war and its effects through art

By Elisabeth Wall

BOONE, N.C.—Three Appalachian State University professors have been awarded a $100,000 grant from the National Endowment for the Humanities (NEH) to bring together veterans and their families to discuss how the humanities affect the understanding of armed conflict.

View larger imageAn interdisciplinary project scheduled for the 2017-18 academic year, “Blurred Boundaries: The Experience of War and Its Aftermath” was funded as part of the NEH’s Dialogues on the Experience of War.View larger imageFrom left, Drs. Lynn Searfoss, Clark Maddux and Valerie Wieskamp were awarded $100,000 from the National Endowment for the Humanities for a series of student veteran-led discussions that will explore the ways in which texts, photographs and films illuminate the U.S. Civil War and Vietnam conflict.

Part of the NEH’s “Dialogues on the Experience of War” program, this grant project was developed by Dr. Valerie Wieskamp, Department of Communication; Dr. Lynn Searfoss, Department of English; and Dr. Clark Maddux, Watauga Residential College.

The interdisciplinary project, titled “Blurred Boundaries: The Experience of War and Its Aftermath,” will explore the ways in which texts, photographs and films illuminate two wars: the U.S. Civil War and Vietnam. Discussions surrounding the Civil War will focus on material related to western North Carolina, and connections will be drawn between the ambiguities of that war and Vietnam.

Four to six student veterans will be trained to lead a series of six conversations, which will extend over the course of a semester. Two groups, one during the fall semester and one during spring, will convene to examine how the humanities facilitate comprehension of the ambiguous nature of war.

While most of the participants in the discussion programs should be military veterans, those in active service and military families as well as interested members of the public also may participate.

Interested student veterans should submit a resume and letter of interest before June 15 to “The role of discussion leader will provide these students with further leadership experience for their resumes,” Searfoss said. Also, “it will provide them with income while they will teach us about their experience.”

The professors are well suited for leading this project. Wieskamp has experience in communicating trauma; her dissertation was titled “Sexual Assault and the Melodramatic Mythos of War” and she has done extensive research around the My Lai Massacre. Searfoss is both an English professor, with expertise in 19th-century rhetoric, and the parent of a combat veteran. Maddux is a veteran and interdisciplinary American studies scholar.

The team is coordinating the project with Eric Gormley, coordinator of student veteran services at Appalachian. Gormly served in the U.S. Marine Corps for six years, including two tours of duty in Iraq.

“It is so fitting these dedicated professors and this worthwhile project be recognized by the NEH,” Chancellor Sheri N. Everts said. “Appalachian has been a designated Military Friendly® School since 2010 and is committed to the educational success of service-members, veterans and their dependents. This grant is testament to our faculty’s determined efforts to benefit our student veterans through research and grants.”

Appalachian’s Vice Provost of Undergraduate Education Mike Mayfield said the grant is another measure of Appalachian’s commitment to veterans and their families, and will strengthen partnerships with the community.

The NEH offers the “Dialogues on the Experience of War” program as part of its current initiative Standing Together: The Humanities and the Experience of War. According to its website, the NEH program “supports the study and discussion of important humanities sources about war, in the belief that these sources can help U.S. military veterans and others to think more deeply about the issues raised by war and military service.”

The guidelines for the grant state: “The humanities sources can be drawn from history, philosophy, literature, and film—and they may and should be supplemented by testimonials from those who have served. The discussions are intended to promote serious exploration of important questions about the nature of duty, heroism, suffering, loyalty, and patriotism.”

Appalachian: A Military Friendly® School

There are more than 200 self-identified student veterans enrolled at Appalachian. Since 2010, Victory Media, the premier media entity for military personnel transitioning into civilian life, has awarded Appalachian the designation of Military Friendly® School. The designation places Appalachian in the top 15 percent of colleges, universities and trade schools in the country that are doing the most to embrace military students, and to dedicate resources to ensure their success in the classroom and after graduation.

Appalachian maintains a website for veterans and military service members considering enrolling at the university. The university also has veteran counselors or advisors on staff, a veteran-specific page on the university’s financial aid website, a chapter of the Student Veterans Association on campus and assists veterans with career development. The university also offers in-state tuition without residency requirements for military students who are in the N.C. National Guard or on active duty at a military base within North Carolina.

About Appalachian State University

Appalachian State University, in North Carolina’s Blue Ridge Mountains, prepares students to lead purposeful lives as global citizens who understand and engage their responsibilities in creating a sustainable future for all. The transformational Appalachian experience promotes a spirit of inclusion that brings people together in inspiring ways to acquire and create knowledge, to grow holistically, to act with passion and determination, and embrace diversity and difference. As one of 17 campuses in the University of North Carolina system, Appalachian enrolls about 18,000 students, has a low student-to-faculty ratio and offers more than 150 undergraduate and graduate majors.