NEH Grant Supports Efforts to Integrate History into CEHC, SPH Undergraduate Courses

Comparative photos of social justice protests in past and present.

ALBANY, N.Y. (May 11, 2021) – New funding from the National Endowment for the Humanities (NEH) will be used to create a unique partnership between the Department of History in the College of Arts & Sciences, College of Emergency Preparedness, Homeland Security and Cybersecurity (CEHC) and School of Public Health (SPH).

NEH recently announced grant support for 225 humanities projects nationwide, including a $34,981 Humanities Connections Planning Grant awarded to UAlbany. The funding will be used for a one-year initiative through May 2022 aimed at further infusing a historical perspective into CEHC and SPH curriculums, while also expanding interdisciplinary learning opportunities for history students.

The initiative targets nearly 2,000 current majors in these programs, with the potential to reach non-majors through general education courses. More than a dozen UAlbany professors across the three disciplines have joined the planning committee.

“Historians engage with the world in ways that many people might find surprising,” said Sheila Curran Bernard, a project director, an associate professor in the Department of History and director of the Institute for History and Public Engagement. “Our majors explore the past with an eye on the present, whether they’re studying environmental history, global migration or public policy. An alignment with CEHC and SPH makes sense, as it helps to strengthen not only their curricula but also ours.”

“Sheila and I had been looking for opportunities to collaborate since our work together on the RISE 2019 Conference, where we were examining climate change issues from a historical perspective and trying to find ways of capturing community challenges and emerging good practices,” said Eric Stern, also a project director and CEHC professor. “My work focuses heavily on crisis leadership and communication. Being able to study and learn from past experiences is critical for enabling future success. We’re excited to bring this new partnership to our students.”

The initiative is “of the moment,” with students eager to understand the roots of present-day issues in order to effectively address them, said Kendra Smith-Howard, a project co-director and associate professor in the Department of History. “How did we get to a place of such distress between people of color and law enforcement? What are the drivers of climate change? How do we understand issues of environmental justice? These are fundamentally historical questions. In order to better understand these types of legacy issues, we must explore how we got here to begin with.”

Lessons from History 

NEH logo.

The NEH Humanities Connections program seeks to expand the role of the humanities in undergraduate education at two- and four-year institutions. Awards support innovative approaches that foster partnerships among humanities faculty and their counterparts in social sciences and professional programs.

Through the planning grant, UAlbany will look to increase the number of undergraduate history courses that count toward majors and minors in homeland security, informatics and public health, while also promoting and encouraging dual majors in history. Additionally, partners will develop collaborative coursework.

Smith-Howard has already partnered with SPH associate professor Beth Feingold and professor Erin Bell to design, develop and offer interdisciplinary courses that served as pilots for this initiative. In addition, she worked with Stern this semester to explore the use of oral history methods to capture lived experiences of natural disasters.

Also as part of the initiative, a new “Challenges for the 21st Century” general education course, HST 202, will be taught by Associate Professor Mitchitake Aso.

“Present-day events don’t happen in a vacuum,” said Aso, who teaches in the Departments of History and East Asian Studies. “This new course is designed to engage students across disciplines in an exploration of the past and its role in tackling the real-world challenges of the present.

“This fall, my focus will be on pandemics, building on questions raised by COVID-19. What can we learn from past pandemics, such as the Spanish flu of 1918 — and can we stop the next pandemic from happening?”