The UA Poetry Center and Southwest Center each has received new National Endowment of the Humanities grants. (Photo: Julie Lauterbach)
The UA Poetry Center and Southwest Center each has received new National Endowment of the Humanities grants. (Photo: Julie Lauterbach)

Cultural Preservation Is the Theme of Humanities Grants to UA

The National Endowment of the Humanities has awarded J.C. Mutchler of the Southwest Center and Wendy Burk of the Poetry Center grants for independent projects.
Jan. 15, 2016
J.C. Mutchler studies the environmental history, cultural history and material culture of the Southwest and U.S.-Mexico borderlands, with a specialization in ranching and cowboy culture. (Photo courtesy of J.C. Mutchler)
J.C. Mutchler studies the environmental history, cultural history and material culture of the Southwest and U.S.-Mexico borderlands, with a specialization in ranching and cowboy culture. (Photo courtesy of J.C. Mutchler)
Wendy Burk (Photo: Cybele Knowles)
Wendy Burk (Photo: Cybele Knowles)

Two National Endowment of the Humanities grants coming to the University of Arizona will quicken independent projects that share a thematic connection: the preservation of important social and cultural materials and spaces. 

J.C. Mutchler, an associate research historian at the UA Southwest Center, received a $500,000 challenge grant to establish La Búsqueda ("the search" in Spanish), a place to host scholars, visitors and members of the community engaged in Southwest-focused studies in the humanities.

The UA will need to raise $1.5 million in matching non-federal funds. Mutchler said the Southwest Center already has secured more than 40 percent of that match through $500,000 in property equity, and with $125,000 from the Southwestern Foundation for Education and Historical Preservation.

Also, Wendy Burk, a UA Poetry Center librarian, received more than $4,200 from the endowment as a follow-up to an initial grant awarded in 2013 at more than $5,800.

The new grant will enable Burk and her team to purchase professional preservation supplies and environmental monitoring equipment to ensure protection and preservation of the center's collection, including 47,500 volumes of poetry, 27,000 periodicals, 5,000 photographs and nearly 1,000 broadsides. The grant also will fund improved environmental controls, easier methods for cleaning delicate materials quickly and more efficient display materials.

"These grants provide a blueprint for our future, in terms of caring for the library collection," Burk said, adding that the initial grant enabled the center to complete a preservation assessment. That assessment has led to new strategies for collection care and handling.

With enhanced protections in place, the center — housed in the College of Humanities and maintaining one of the most comprehensive collections in the field of contemporary English-language poetry — will be able to expand public access to some of its more delicate holdings, Burk said.

"It has been invaluable having the grants," Burk said. "They have allowed us to take steps in preservation that we might not have been able to without NEH's support."

For Mutchler, who led the NEH application process, La Búsqueda has the capability to attract visiting faculty and collaborators from across the country.

"We have received strong interest in La Búsqueda from other universities," Mutchler said, adding that priority will be given to groups engaging the grand challenges themes, which will further leverage its impact.

The late Bazy Tankersley, a famed Arabian horse breeder, bequeathed her Tucson home to the Southwest Center, housed in the College of Social and Behavioral Sciences, for the express purpose of creating a meeting place for scholars to study the biggest challenges of our time, drawing upon the humanities to help illuminate new solutions.

The NEH grant and matching funds will be used to repair and renovate the Tankersley property and to launch an endowment to support the intellectual activities planned for the space. Programming will include visiting scholars, conferences, and public outreach such as lectures, readings and salons. The 9,100-square foot facility will have room to house as many as 20 visitors, host conferences for up to 40 participants and provide public outreach programming for 100 attendees.

The grand challenge themes that will frame La Búsqueda’s first three years of programming align with the NEH initiative "The Common Good": The first year will focus on cultural and political polarization in the Southwest, the second on investigating humanity's relationship to nature and the third on researchers' exploration of the societal effects of shifting demographics in the region.

"The understanding of a complex region divided by an international border is greatly enhanced by experiencing it firsthand," said Joseph Wilder, the director of the Southwest Center. "The UA's proximity to Mexico, combined with the University's faculty expertise and library and museum collections that are particularly strong in their Southwestern and borderlands holdings, creates a synergy of geography and intellectual resources."

La Búsqueda will disseminate scholarship through the publication of special issues of the Southwest Center's Journal of the Southwest, and monographs in the Southwest Center Series at the UA Press.

Also, a key feature of La Búsqueda's programming will be its inclusion of "community fellows," non-academics working within their communities to create solutions to humanistic problems using their unique and valuable knowledge.

"La Búsqueda will provide the physical and intellectual space for thoughtful critical inquiry and discourse," Mutchler said. "I believe it will catalyze Southwest-focused humanities research relevant to both academics and the public for decades to come."