By Stella Katsipoutis-Varkanis

The generous gift that was bestowed on Lafayette Dec. 3, 2019, by Cyril S. Lang ’49 just keeps on giving. Last month, the Cyril S. Lang ’49 Center for the Humanities Endowment Fund—the objective of which was to help establish the center and promote humanities teaching and scholarship at Lafayette—made it possible for three grants to be awarded to five professors in the humanities after the first round of proposals. 

The funds will help support faculty members’ projects related to courses they will be teaching in the 2020-2021 academic year, and will help promote collaboration between professors and development of cross-disciplinary experiences for students.

“Inaugurating this grant program through Lafayette’s Humanities Center Initiative is a great way of demonstrating the enormous potential the center has for benefitting the students and faculty in their innovative humanistic endeavors,” says Alessandro Giovannelli, associate professor and head of the Department of Philosophy. Giovanelli and Helen H.P. Manson Professor of Bible and head of the Department of Religious studies Eric Ziolkowski are team leaders for the Humanities Center Initiative and visionaries for the faculty grant program. 

The call for proposals went out to faculty in April under the following three categories, which were created by Giovannelli and Ziolkowski: 

  • Collaborative Teaching Grants promote teaching collaborations between faculty. They may be used to design a shared course module between classes, or other collaborative opportunities for students taking different courses dealing with the humanities, in ways that connect those courses.
  • Integrating Humanities Grants bring faculty and students from different departments or programs together. They may be used to organize events that are open to everyone and give faculty and students opportunities to see issues being addressed from a multiplicity of different humanities-related perspectives.
  • Public Humanities & Outreach Grants bring faculty and their students together around initiatives and projects dealing with the public humanities or humanities-driven outreach efforts in the community.

“We thought the best way to realize the spirit behind the endowment fund would be to tap into the energy and creativity of the faculty, and the incredibly wide variety of humanistic interests that pervade the college—not only in the humanities division, but in all three other divisions as well,” Giovannelli says. “Hence, we designed these three grant categories to include, and respond to, as wide as possible of a variety of interests and pedagogical and scholarly goals.”

The selection committee comprised all of the department heads of the Division of the Humanities. “The whole committee was delighted with the high quality of the submitted proposals,” says Giovannelli. The following faculty members/collaborative teams are the first round of awardees to earn Humanities Center grants: 


PROFESSORS: Katherine Groo, assistant professor of film and media studies; Dennis Johannβen, assistant professor of German
GRANT CATEGORY: Collaborative Teaching
PROJECT TITLE: “Video Game Research Lab” 

Katherine Groo, assistant professor of film and media studies

Katherine Groo

Dennis Johannβen

Dennis Johannβen

“The Video Game Research Lab will be equipped with a variety of different gaming consoles, VR setups, and video games. In the short term, the lab will allow us to teach video games across a variety of courses that already exist in Film and Media Studies and German studies. We also hope that this experience will be instructive for the future, when we might want to develop a course that focuses exclusively on the study of video games. In the longer term, we hope that the Video Game Research Lab will become a collaborative and cross-disciplinary space that is open to faculty and students across campus. The lab will encourage students to think carefully about the images and activities of their everyday lives, bring questions and scholarly attention to seemingly ordinary things, and explore new linguistic and cultural contexts.” —Groo

“We have noticed that many students are familiar with and curious about video games. It will be interesting to make use of this curiosity in language learning and literary studies, inviting students to explore gaming environments in other languages. The power of immersive learning in language and cultural studies can hardly be overestimated, and virtual reality and gaming technologies could become key elements of this kind of learning in the future.” —Johannβen 


PROFESSOR: Christopher J. Lee, associate professor of history and Africana studies
GRANT CATEGORY: Public Humanities & Outreach
PROJECT TITLE:Africa in the Public Sphere: Politics, Culture, Humanism”

Christopher Lee

Christopher Lee

“I will be using the grant to invite three speakers to the Lafayette campus: Professor Sean Jacobs of New School, Professor Bhakti Shringarpure of University of Connecticut, and Professor Jacob Dlamini of Princeton University. Each of these speakers will talk about their work and how they have attempted to bridge the worlds of academia and the greater public through publishing initiatives and their own writing. One of the biggest challenges of teaching African studies in the U.S. is giving students a firsthand sense of the issues at play on the continent. A parallel challenge is demonstrating to students how an education in the humanities can open a spectrum of career opportunities. For me, it is exciting to bring three accomplished writers, teachers, and scholars to campus to introduce students and colleagues to the innovative work being done in African studies through digital media and digital platforms. My hope is that this grant will make a difference on both fronts for students at Lafayette. Excellent writing coupled with a rich imagination can take you anywhere. I think these speakers will demonstrate this possibility.”Lee 


PROFESSORS: Olga Anna Duhl, Oliver E. Williams Professor of Languages; Mary Toulouse, director of Foreign Languages & Literatures Resource Center
GRANT CATEGORY: Public Humanities & Outreach
PROJECT TITLE:CyperPALS: A Lafayette Francophone Cultural Partnership”

Olga Anna Duhl, Oliver E. Williams Professor of Languages

Olga Anna Duhl

Mary Toulouse

Mary Toulouse

“CyberPALS is an initiative between Lafayette faculty and students, and a group of underprivileged students from the Francophone countries of Africa and Haiti who immigrated to attend Bronx International High School, Prospect Heights High School, International High School at Union Square, and Manhattan International High School. These students are enrolled in the French Heritage Language Program (FHLP) administered by the French-American Cultural Exchange (FACE) Foundation of the French consulate. The FHLP was developed to offer such students the opportunity to enhance their skills in their heritage language and build on their multicultural and multilingual background to integrate successfully into U.S. society. In addition to developing language skills, CyberPALS will address some of today’s more pressing societal issues, by creating a community of scholars and educators involving Lafayette faculty and students.” —Duhl

“The program will involve collaboration between Lafayette faculty and students. Five French majors, minors, and/or heritage speakers will be selected in early fall 2020 to serve as mentors to FHLP students. Students will engage in virtual exchanges using social media, text messaging, one-hour Zoom group meetings, and one-on-one tutorials with assigned FHLP partners. This is a very enriching experience for both groups. It will enable our team to prepare FHLP students to pursue successful academic careers in the U.S., including at Lafayette, and our students will build reciprocal cultural interactions, understanding, and empathy—bringing an important contribution to Lafayette’s efforts to promote diversity and inclusiveness on campus.” —Toulouse

Additional Grants Available

  • Giovannelli encourages all faculty and students interested in the humanities to be on the lookout for the Humanities Center Initiative’s future program announcements and sponsored activities. Faculty are invited to submit proposals for the second round of grants for collaborative teaching, integrating humanities, and public humanities and outreach. The deadline for submissions is Sept. 14. A fourth “mini grants” category will be added to this round and will aim to support virtual class visits by academics from around the world. These will be offered on a rolling basis and are subject to availability of funds.
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