Four professors receive NEH awards

Four Wheaton professors have been awarded more than $200,000 in grants from the National Endowment for the Humanities (NEH). Professors Michael Drout (and his research team members), Yuen-Gen Liang, John Partridge and Kathryn Tomasek will receive funding to support research, the creation of a new course, a digital encoding initiative, and an ongoing computerized text analysis project.
Professor Michael Drout
Professor Michael Drout, chair and professor of English

Drout is a member of Wheaton’s Lexomics research group, in which he, Professor of Statistics Michael Kahn and Professor of Computer Science Mark LeBlanc are using computer programs to conduct statistical analyses of text. His $135,895 NEH grant, which is part of a $178,000 project, will support “Lexomic Tools and Methods for Textual Analysis: Providing Deep Access to Digitized Texts,” of which he is the director. The project focuses on developing computational tools and documentation for applying advanced statistical methods to textual and literary problems.

“This project grew directly out of Wheaton’s innovative ‘Connections’ curriculum,” noted Drout, professor of English. “When we were collaborating to create a pair of connected courses, Professor LeBlanc and I discovered that what we were teaching was directly relevant to our research interests.”

Professor Gen Liang
Yuen-Gen Liang, assistant professor of history

Assistant Professor of History Yuen-Gen Liang will receive $21,000 for his project titled “The Shared Origins and Parallel Histories of the West and Islam.” He aims to re-envision and infuse his European history course with research exploring how Western civilization and the Islamic Middle East share common roots. “Two histories usually set in opposition to each other will be brought together in innovative ways,” Liang noted in his NEH proposal.

Professor John Partridge
John Partridge, chair and associate professor of philosophy

John Partridge, chair and associate professor of philosophy, will receive $25,000 for a new First Year Seminar course that he plans to develop called “What Is the Good Life?” Students will examine the question by exploring historical and contemporary reflections on how to live well, starting with Plato’s Apology of Socrates.

“For a long time I have wanted to teach a course that examined Socrates’s life and death in its historical context, but also critically evaluated the relevance of his example today,” said Partridge. “Socratic philosophy is difficult to tease out; he’s usually the one asking questions, not giving answers. And his way of life is powerfully evocative, but what exactly does it evoke?

“In this course we won’t do the historical work in much detail. Instead, we will move to consider the development of what I call three traditions that Socrates inspired. Socrates can be seen as urging us to seek our own true happiness and well-being, or to be guided by duty and principle, or to live lives of meaning. I hope the course challenges students to see how compelling aspects of these traditions can be, and also inspires them to articulate their own conception of the good life.”

Professor Kathryn Tomasek
Kathryn Tomasek, associate professor of history and co-director of the Wheaton College Digital History Projec

Kathryn Tomasek, associate professor of history and co-director of the Wheaton College Digital History Project, has been awarded a $25,000 grant. The digital history project seeks to provide ways for researchers to use digital media to access historical records, which would expand accessibility. Faculty, students and members of the library and informational services staff have been collaborating since 2005 to digitize primary sources related to the founding of Wheaton.

The NEH-funded project, “Encoding Financial Records for Historical Research,” is a continuation of that work. The grant will support the college in hosting a two-day invitational meeting of historians, archivists and technical experts. They will discuss developing a module for financial records for the Text Encoding Initiative to allow for additional analysis of records found in manuscript collections. The Text Encoding Initiative is a consortium of scholars from around the world that collectively develops and maintains a standard for the representation of texts in digital form.

Archives hold many historical financial records, but researchers need a better way to get at and analyze the materials, Tomasek pointed out in her NEH proposal. “Our project is a next step in producing digital archives for the study of history.”

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