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Past Public Humanities Scholars

Public Humanities Scholars, a collaborative program of the Pennsylvania Humanities Council and the Institute, matched Penn State faculty with community-based organizations in mid-central Pennsylvania to plan and present public humanities and humanities-based arts programs. In place from 2003 to 2011, Public Humanities Scholars resulted in a number of fruitful collaborations between faculty and community groups.


James V. Brown Library, Williamsport, PA

Brian Black, Professor of History, Penn State Altoona

"A Dance in Response to Perceptions of Justice"

"Harvesting Pennsylvania's Natural Resources: Marcellus Shale in a Historical Perspective"

The Public Library for Union County

Lisa Jenkins, Instructor of Music, Penn State

"The History and Instruments of Celtic Music"


Allied Motion Dance Company, Altoona (Blair Co.)

Emily Grosholz, Professor of Philosophy, African Studies and English (University Park Campus)

“A Dance in Response to Perceptions of Justice”

Allied Motion Dance Company sought scholarly assistance in planning and implementing a new dance piece, based on Harper Lee’s To Kill a Mockingbird, which would explore the ideas of justice and ethics, and their development in response to local events. Professor Grosholz provided input and assistance as the dance was developed and suggested new thematic approaches. She then participated in the event itself by giving a pre-show lecture and a post-show talk-back.

Public Library of Union County, Lewisburg (Union Co.)

Irwin Richman, Professor Emeritus of American Studies and History (Penn State Harrisburg)

“Discovering History in Your Town”

The Public Library of Union County wanted to provide a program for the community that focused on the architecture and historical significance of old buildings in Lewisburg. Professor Richman lectured and gave a guided tour of the town, pointing out features that were visual clues to the development of houses and establishments in Lewisburg.

Saint Francis University, Loretto (Cambria Co.)

Julia Kasdorf, Associate Professor of English and Women’s Studies (University Park Campus)

“Creativity and Conflict: Writing and the Mennonite Religion”

Saint Francis University asked Professor Kasdorf to deliver a lecture on the influence, both positive and negative, that the Mennonite tradition has had on her poetry. In the last ten years, the Amish and Mennonites have located in Cambria County, and the University, through Dr. Kasdorf’s lecture, hoped to increase local understanding of the Amish and Mennonite traditions among the general population of the northern Cambria County area, which is predominately rural and lacks adequate public venues.

State College Friends School, State College (Centre Co.)

Chika Okeke-Agulu, Assistant Professor of Art History (University Park Campus)

“African Masks and Stories”

This collaboration consisted of Dr. Okeke-Agulu’s participation in two activities: a lecture open to staff and students on the subject of African masking, which dealt with issues of play and ritual; and a session on African storytelling in the second/ third grade classroom, which was studying Africa. Both activities were geared toward exposing the children to diverse cultural phenomena, which will make it possible for them to appreciate the richness of human societies, beyond the ones with which they are familiar.


Community Education Council of Elk and Cameron Counties, St. Marys (Elk Co.)

Michael Hogan, Professor of Communication Arts and Sciences (University Park Campus)

“Looking Back on Today”

Elk and Cameron County residents have long looked to the Community Education Council (CEC) to fill the voids in educational programming in their service area. The organization had been requested to provide a forum for intellectually stimulating conversation for adults who are not seeking post-secondary credit courses. With the help and guidance of Professor Hogan, the CEC presented a series of lecture/discussion sessions for the general public centered on recent national and international events.

Jefferson County Historical Society, Brookville (Jefferson Co.)

Julia Kasdorf, Associate Professor of English and Women’s Studies (University Park Campus)

“Creative Minds at Work”

The Historical Society asked Professor Kasdorf to help them develop a series of workshops which would bring people of different ages together to engage in meaningful conversations about the arts, in particular, about how different generations use the arts – sometimes controversially – to express themselves.

National Park Service, Allegheny Portage Railroad NHS, Portage (Cambria Co.)

Brian Black, Associate Professor of History and Environmental Studies (Penn State Altoona)

“People of Portage: Is there a Connection with the Back to Liberia Movement?”

This was a two-part summer project. Professor Black first built upon research completed by a Park Service intern, which indicated the presence of minorities working on the Allegheny Portage Railroad. He then reviewed the research and made recommendations in conjunction with park staff and the local African American community to improve the Park’s display and verbal interpretation. Secondly, Professor Black reviewed research conducted by the Johnstown Heritage Association on the African American community in Johnstown and surrounding communities. This research indicated a possible connection between those traveling the Portage Railroad and the “Back to Liberia” movement.

Public Library for Union County, Lewisburg (Union Co.)

Jerry Zolten, Associate Professor of Communications (Penn State Altoona)

“Back to the 60s”

The Library designated 2006 as the year to celebrate the 1960s. Professor Zolten presented a talk on “The Art and Music of the 60s,” which was of personal interest and significance to their target audience—“the Baby Boomers.” He was also asked to assist in choosing a book for discussion and to offer any other suggestions that might make this program a success.

St. Marys Public Library, St. Marys (Elk Co.)

William Pencak, Professor of American History (University Park Campus)

“St. Marys’s Role in the Civil War”

The St. Marys Public Library wanted to sponsor a lecture and exhibit about their community’s role in the Civil War. They were paired with Professor Pencak who specializes in Civil War and local history.

State College Area High School, Enrichment Program, State College (Centre Co.)

Daniel Berman, Assistant Professor of Classics and Ancient Mediterranean Studies (University Park Campus)

“Introduction to the Ancient World and Its Languages”

This project offered students at the State College Area High School introductory lessons in ancient languages – Ancient Greek, Latin and Ancient Egyptian – taught in lecture and seminar format by Professor Berman. Latin classes focused on grammar, rhetoric and history; Ancient Greek classes on grammar and literature; Ancient Egyptian classes on Egyptian history and the decipherment and interpretation of Egyptian hieroglyphs.

State College Area High School, World Languages Department, State College (Centre Co.)

Javier Escudero, Associate Professor of Spanish (University Park Campus)

“Faces of Latin America”

This project was designed to expose Central Pennsylvania high school students to the current social, cultural and racial issues in Latin America that increasingly impact their daily lives. Professor Escudero provided exhibition-quality photographs of people and places in Latin America and also presented two lectures with slides to the students that expanded on the themes in the exhibit.


Centre County Office of Aging, Bellefonte (Centre Co.)

Cecil Giscombe, Professor of English (University Park Campus)

“The Underground Railroad in Centre County”

The goal of this collaboration was to develop a program for all age groups which would highlight the rich history of Centre County, particularly the County’s role in the Underground Railroad. The Centre County Office of Aging (CCOA) was paired with Professor Giscombe, a scholar who is knowledgeable about the region. He provided the CCOA with information about the Underground Railroad in Centre County and helped guide the development of the program.

Frenchville One Room School Historical Project, Frenchville (Clearfield Co.)

Barbara Bullock, Professor of French and Linguistics (University Park Campus)

“Frenchville History Project”

This group wanted to preserve the French history of Frenchville, PA, located in Clearfield County. Frenchville was founded by French immigrants and has remained a French-English bilingual community ever since, although now most of the fluent French speakers are gone. The project focused on the restoration of Frenchville’s one room school house, which will serve as a local history and language museum. The group was assisted by Professor Barbara Bullock, who has been involved in the community in language documentation and preservation since 2002.

Friends of the Hollidaysburg Public Library, Hollidaysburg (Blair Co.)

Michael Barton, Associate Professor of American Studies and History (Penn State Harrisburg)

“Historical Quilt of Hollidaysburg”

This group wanted to educate and create interest in the history of Hollidaysburg through the art of photography and the beauty of quilting. They wanted to be paired with a Penn State scholar who was familiar with the architecture and history of Hollidaysburg as well as skilled in graphics, art, communications, and public speaking.


Altoona Symphony Society, Altoona (Blair Co.)

Charles Youmans, Associate Professor of Music (University Park Campus)

“Pre-Concert Lectures for the Altoona Symphony Society’s Classical Series Concerts”

Professor Youmans was asked by the Altoona Symphony Orchestra to formulate a plan for a pre-concert lecture series. He reviewed the four concert programs and presented several possibilities for each concert. Discussion of the audience profile and of the orchestra’s artistic and audience-development goals allowed the collaborators to choose the best option and to hone the concept for each lecture. In the lectures Professor Youmans’s expertise allowed him to point out the stylistic and historical features of the music that are most critical for meaningful listening.

AMD & ART, Johnstown (Cambria Co.)

Brian Black, Associate Professor of History and Environmental Studies (Penn State Altoona)

“Scholars, Community and Connections: Exploring the Networks of Meaning in Environmental Remediation at AMD & ART”

AMD & ART believes that the arts and humanities are critical components of any significant environmental remediation project. Professor Black was asked to provide the perspective of the arts and humanities in developing and presenting a one-day symposium on the history of the community of Vintondale, PA and on the connections between the arts and humanities in creating a large mosaic map of this historic site as a key interpretive element.

Fort Roberdeau Association, Altoona (Blair Co.)

Bruce Trinkley, Professor of Music Composition (University Park Campus)

“Fort Roberdeau Musical Drama Project”

Professor Trinkley helped the Association to shape the Fort’s vision of a musical drama that could enhance Fort Roberdeau’s visibility as a heritage tourism destination. He explored with them story possibilities inherent in the Fort’s rich history and suggested staging strategies for an outdoor drama that moves the audience through a number of different sites on the Fort.

Huntingdon County Arts Council, Huntingdon (Huntingdon Co.)

Lisa Jenkins, Instructor, School of Music (University Park Campus)

“Greenwood Furnace State Park Project”

Professor Jenkins planned a series of musical exhibitions and performances to take place in the Park based on music that was local to the Greenwood Furnace area during the latter half of the 19th century.

Portage Area Historical Society and School District, Portage (Cambria Co.)

Robin Becker, Professor of English and Women’s Studies (University Park Campus)

Suzanne Elder, Associate Professor of Theatre Arts (University Park Campus)

“Everyday Life along the Mainline in the Twentieth Century”

In this project, two Penn State professors, a poet and an expert on the history of fashion, partnered to work with Portage area residents to design costumes and write vignettes based on oral history and research. Students then performed the historical vignettes for Cambria County’s Bicentennial.

Southern Alleghenies Museum of Art, Loretto (Cambria Co.)

William Pencak, Professor of American History (University Park Campus)

“Humanities-at-Large: The Development of an American and Pennsylvania History, Heritage and Humanities Residency Program for an Art Museum”

Professor Pencak helped the Southern Alleghenies Museum of Art identify important humanities topics related to regional, state and national art, history and heritage scholarship that would assist towards the process of developing a Humanities-Scholar-Residency Program to complement the Museum’s successful artist residency program.