One of the advantages of attending a liberal arts college is the opportunity to take on interdisciplinary approaches on a variety of issues in different subjects. The Humanities Fellows Program provides this type of experience to sophomores at the University of Richmond. 

The Fellows program initially began in 2015; however, Dr. Abigail Cheever, Director of the Humanities Fellows Program and Associate Professor of English and Film Studies, said during the last few years, the program’s format has become more solidified and intentional with its goals for the students.

“[The program] is a real chance to develop the humanities students, to create an interdisciplinary community and to help them see the ways in which these fields of study can speak to the contemporary world,” said Cheever. “You’re not just reading Emily Dickinson when you’re an English major, or you’re not just alone in a library going through an archive when you’re a history major. There are ways in which these kinds of fields and approaches have direct real-world applications.”

The program consists of a seminar course in the spring semester of the students’ sophomore year, followed by a summer of research during which students develop their chosen project that they will each present at the A&S Student Symposium the following spring. 

Every two to three years, the director, consulting faculty, and the Humanities in Arts & Sciences Advisory Board choose a new theme for the Fellows program. This year’s theme is “Human Migration,” and is meant to explore how the movement of different groups of people around the world shapes culture and affects the migrating groups. 

The seminar is constructed around this theme and the class spends a designated amount of time looking at the subject through a different humanities lens, such as history, English, or art. While students are in the seminar, they are encouraged to begin thinking about their upcoming projects. With a class of ten students from eight different departments, Cheever said she looks forward to the projects her students will create as “they are a curious and diverse bunch and they are bringing a wide range of interests.”

For instance, sophomore Maky Espinoza plans to work on a project that explores the cross cultural interactions between Ancient Egypt and Rome around the first century at the time when Rome conquered Egypt. Espinoza is majoring in Art History and minoring in Archaeology and Anthropology and will explore the dramatic shifts in visual culture through academic articles and visual analysis.

Sophomore Johanna Lupica said she is conducting research as a part of a book project with Dr. Thad Williamson in the Jepson School of Leadership that will address issues of urban gentrification and socioeconomic disparity within the city of Richmond. As a Richmond native, Lupica has a strong connection to the city and what it has to offer and hopes to continue to explore possible solutions to these prevalent issues.

Some students came into the program knowing exactly what they hoped to study as they were intrigued by the theme of migration.

Sophomore Josh Higdon said he applied for the Humanities Fellows Program because he wanted to explore the topic of human migration further and plans on conducting an oral history project investigating LGBTQ+ migrations in the Greater Richmond area.

“I wanted to use my project as a way to lift up their voices and be able to share their stories,” Higdon said. “I want to bring the stories of LGBTQ+ people in Richmond into the conversation of human migration, no matter how this may look.”

Through this program, students are able to draw on their skills to create a project that combines their newfound knowledge of the subject, their individual interests, and their preferred field of study whether it is art, dance, literature, or another humanities discipline. 

Students will continue to carry their projects with them through their junior year when they present at the A&S Student Symposium. Some students, like junior Emmie Poth-Nebel, can even have the opportunity to present their research at other conferences.

Poth-Nebel’s project discusses the ancient Mediterranean Evil Eye bead trade and she will present her research at the National Undergraduate Humanities Research Symposium at Johns Hopkins University.

Not only is the program important for students to develop independent research skills, Cheever said this program is also crucial in fostering relationships within the humanities at UR.

“I think that for a long time, the disciplines were seen as very discreet and very clearly bound,” Cheever said. “The disciplines as siloed areas of inquiry is an artificial idea so the universities that are willing to experiment with interdisciplinarity, are willing to engage in methodologies and apply materials from another field, seems to me, are on the cutting edge of what other people are thinking about. And they provide those students with a much clearer and subtle, more complex way of thinking about the world.”

The Humanities Fellows Program will begin accepting applications again in the fall semester of the 2020-2021 academic year. To learn more about the program, visit here.