Grant Boosts UMass Amherst Public History Program in Nationwide Partnership Focusing on Crime, Punishment and Mass Incarceration

AMHERST, Mass. – The Humanities Action Lab (HAL), part of a 20-campus coalition formed by the University of Massachusetts Amherst and its public history program, is receiving a $150,000 grant from the Whiting Foundation to fund HAL’s “Global Dialogues on Incarceration” project.

The project calls on students and community partners to create a corresponding exhibition, online platform for public dialogue and series of public programs to apply humanities perspectives to questions of crime and punishment.

The exhibition will open next April in New York at The New School, which is coordinating the project. Over the next three years it will travel to each of the project’s participating universities. The exhibit will come to the Amherst area in spring 2017.

Students at UMass will focus their efforts on gender and incarceration, and particularly reproductive justice, according to Marla Miller, director of the public history program at UMass Amherst.

“We’re so pleased to be part of this groundbreaking initiative,” said Miller. “Collaborating with scholars and students nationwide as well as local community partners deeply engaged in activism and legislative reform helps our own students see immediately why their work matters, and the difference it can make to public understanding, and public policy.”

Miller said that HAL has its roots in the Guantánamo public memory project, a similar initiative that united more than 300 students from UMass Amherst and 12 other universities in researching, documenting, and interpreting the history and role of the U.S. naval base at Guantánamo Bay.

She added the UMass Amherst team will work with Smith College’s Steinem Initiative, as well as several local community organizations working on these issues. In addition, the UMass Amherst history department will focus the 2016-17 Feinberg Family Lecture series on the subject of mass incarceration.

HAL director Liz Sevcenko said that the UMass Amherst public history program is particularly well suited to taking on such far-reaching areas of inquiry. She added that the Whiting Foundation grant will allow participants to engage a broad and diverse public audience.

“The quality and commitment of the UMass public history program is extraordinary. It’s a real pleasure to work with this vibrant intellectual community,” said Sevcenko. “UMass students are so engaged and proactive; we’re thrilled to learn that they’ve already begun developing internships, doing archival research and planning oral histories.”

Whiting Foundation executive director David Reid said that it is a particularly important time for students of history to be applying their skills to the many issues surrounding crime and punishment in America.

“This project stands to make important contributions to public understanding while training a new crop of students and faculty in the techniques of translating scholarship for audiences beyond the academy,” said Reid.

Universities partnering with UMass Amherst and The New School in the Humanities Action Lab are Arizona State University, Brown University, DePaul University, Duke University, Indiana University, Purdue University, Northeastern University, Parsons Paris, Rutgers, Skidmore College, University of California, Riverside, University of Connecticut, University of Miami, University of Minnesota, University of New Orleans, University of North Carolina at Greensboro, University of Texas and Vanderbilt University.

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