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Austin Peay creates Institute of Public Humanities to help bring humanities to life for community 

Austin Peay creates Institute of Public Humanities to help bring humanities to life for community 
Written by publisher team

CLARKSVILLE, TN – The newly created Institute for Public Humanities at Austin Peay State University recently took its first steps toward fostering a relationship between the university’s humanities studies and Middle Tennessee’s living history.

The institute – housed in the College of Arts & Letters – will strive to bring people together for lectures, conversations, media, classes and events meant to explore and deepen an understanding of the human landscape of Middle Tennessee.

Establishing the connection between the university and community is “an integral part of how public humanities can succeed,” said the institute’s inaugural coordinator, APSU communication Professor Kathy Lee Heuston. “I think that there needs to be a relationship there. You’re trying to create awareness and share your knowledge, your professional knowledge with the public.”

The National Endowment for the Humanities defines the public humanities as projects that bring the ideas of the humanities to life for general audiences through public programming. Public humanities engage the public in disciplines such as history, literature, ethics and art by exploring their relevance to the current conditions of human life.

The institute has three goals to help bring these ideas to life:

  • Expand the university into the community through the study of local histories and cultures and share that knowledge through public lectures, discussions, media and community courses.
  • Expand the community of Middle Tennessee into the university by inviting guests and speakers to participate in and lead discussions and lectures.
  • Expand training and programming for university students and faculty across disciplines to create and cultivate the public humanities.

Exploring ‘Who is Clarksville’

The institute’s board had its first meeting in January but already is making plans to launch a podcast named “Who is Clarksville.”

The podcast will include interviews with community members that will serve as an oral history of Clarksville.

Barry Jones, dean of the College of Arts & Letters, agreed to provide $5,000 for the initial costs of the institute related to programming. And the institute is using a $2,500 grant to launch the podcast.

Heuston also hopes that the institute can get additional grants for equipment and guest speakers to facilitate other projects.

First-year goals

Other first-year goals include establishing interest meetings with community stakeholders – such as with the Clarksville-Montgomery County Public Library and the Customs House Museum & Cultural Center – building a webpage, creating an events calendar and launching the institute’s advisory council.

Each department of the College of Arts & Letters is represented on the Institute for the Public Humanities Advisory Council. Members are:

  • Dr. Tamara Smithers, professor of art history, Department of Art + Design.
  • Karen Bullis, associate professor of communication, Department of Communication.
  • Dr. Patricia Halbeck, professor of piano performance, Department of Music.
  • Dr. Dzavid Dzanic, associate professor of history, Department of History & Philosophy.
  • David Ellison, assistant professor of media studies, Department of Communication.
  • Dr. Andrea Spofford, ex-officio, associate dean of the College of Arts & Letters.
  • Darren Michael, professor of acting and directing, Department of Theater and Dance.
  • Dr. Florian Gargaillo, assistant professor of English literature, Department of Languages ​​and Literature.

The council can be reached by email at

“It’s great for the university, and there’s so much potential,” Heuston said. “I’m really excited about the potential and eager to start.”

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