Author: Ashley Melzer

HPG Announces 2021 Critical Issues Project Awards

Humanities for the Public Good is proud to announce eight new Critical Issues Project Fund award winners. Chosen from a competitive pool of applications, these projects represent powerful collaborations between UNC scholars and nearby communities.  

This year’s projects share a focus on the theme of “Belonging, ” engaging with the ways people, ideas, and/or spaces welcome or exclude. Their embrace of social justice and art feel particularly relevant to this historic moment. We look forward to watching their growth and impact over the coming year.

Learn more about the projects:

  • Dialogue and Transformation: Bringing Philosophy to Juvenile Justice Centers in North Carolina – Led by Director of Outreach in the Philosophy Department, Michael Vazquez, this project will integrate philosophy and university resources in Juvenile Justice education programs. The first pilot program will be a weekly philosophy discussion group centering on Plato’s Republic for students housed at Cabarrus Youth Development Center in Concord, NC.
  • Remembering the Dead, Honoring the Living: The Barbee Cemetery Remembrance Project – An oral history and community remembrance project from the Southern Oral History Program and the Chapel-Hill Carrboro NAACP centered around the unrecognized Barbee Cemetery in the Meadowmont neighborhood in Chapel Hill.
  • Warren County 1921 Project – A public reenactment and engagement project around the 1921 trial of the Norlina 16, a group of Black men imprisoned after battling an armed white mob that was intent on terrorizing Norlina’s Black community in Warren County. This program is a project of American Studies professor Glenn Hinson, Warren County’s 1921 Project, that county’s SPARK (Seeking Peace and Reconciling Kinship) racial justice coalition, the Warren County NAACP, the Warren County African American History Collective, and UNC’s Institute for African American Research.
  • Race and the Regency – A special six-month web series produced by the Jane Austen Summer Program featuring Q&As, lectures by scholars, and engaged practices with the Jane Austen fandom to explore the role of race in the novels and the author’s legacy.
  • Southern Cultures’ The Abolitionist South – An expansion on the themes and resources of the Southern Cultures Journal’s upcoming Abolitionist South Fall 2020 Issue (special guest edited by Garrett Felber and Dionne Bailey). This project will include an extended print-run of issues for incarcerated individuals, a series of public programs and a one credit course for grad students themed on modern abolition movements.
  • Process Series Storytelling Festival – Recognizing the power and potential of storytelling in its many forms at this pivotal moment in American culture and politics, the Process Series in partnership with UNC’s Department of American Studies will present a Storytelling Festival February 17-21 2021. Featuring performances and workshops features thirteen Native American, African American, Asian American, Latinx and European American Storytellers.
  • A Good Boy  A music theater piece in progress with music by AJ Layague and Marc Callahan (Assistant Professor of Music) with texts by Lynden Harris (Hidden Voices)—all in collaboration with stage director Kathy Hunter Williams (Dept. of Drama). The libretto draws on Harris’s interviews with the mothers, sisters, and children of men living on Death Row–men with whom the creative team has formed relationships over the years. 
  • Pickin’ for Progress – A documentary and community project focused on immigrant laborers on North Carolina farms, their struggle, the union organizers fighting against their exploitation, and the inspiring folk music that has long been the soul of the movement. This is a project of Chair of Music Professor David Garcia, musician Joe Troop, filmmaker Rode Diaz (Iximche Media), organizer Emily Rhyne (Witness for Peace),  Institute for the Study of the Americas Associate Director Hannah Gill, and producers and documentarians Anthony Simpkins and Tim Duggan of GemsOnVHS.

Read about all the projects that have received Critical Issues support thus far. 

HPG Fellows Feature: “Outgunned” by John Bechtold

The following essay was written by John Bechtold, a doctoral student in American Studies and HPG Humanities Professional Pathway Fellow (Summer 2020) during a course on public writing taught by Kelly Alexander. Endeavors , the UNC Research online magazine, did a feature on John last year, which you can read here

– – – – – – – – – – – –

The line worried me. It was long and snaked around the walled perimeter of the Governor’s office in Baqubah, Iraq. People were gathered in the line to ask for help, some wanted money, some wanted a job, others wanted to ask the Governor to intervene in land disputes. It was 2004, a time of possibility in Iraq when lives could be reclaimed and property could be restored, yet before the relentless violence that would enflame sectarianism and birth the Islamic state.

The line worried me because it was both an easy target for a suicide bomber or else a convenient place to hide a suicide bomber. Both possibilities would produce the same result: more dead bodies. It was my job to protect the Governor’s office, and I didn’t want one of those dead bodies to be someone I knew. And for this reason, I began sending soldiers outside of the compound every morning to shoo people away before the line could form. One morning I was called to the front gate because an old man needed help.

I’m not sure what I expected when I arrived at the gate. But when I did arrive, I found an old man with a frost-white beard cradling a small boy in his arms. Two gauze patches were taped over the boy’s eyes. I learned through an interpreter that this boy, the man’s grandson, was hit in the face with dirt and debris scattered by an explosion. As the old man explained, the boy was playing by the roadside near his home when an IED exploded. It had been four days since his world went dark, and the old man wanted ten dollars for taxi fare to see an eye surgeon in Baghdad. We offered to replace the bandages covering the boy’s damaged eyes. His cheeks were flecked with dried blood, and when our medic tried to pull the bandages off, the gauze stuck to his face. We couldn’t help him without hurting him. So, we sent them away with cab fare.

That was more than fifteen years ago, and I never found out what happened to that boy. I can only imagine how one day playing by the roadside, interrupted by a bang, blast, and flying debris, shaped his life in Iraq since then. What I do know is that his life and others like it – and there are many, many more like it, both past and present, that span the continuum of America’s wars from the Philippines in 1900 to Vietnam to Iraq and Afghanistan – are not visible in the way war is remembered in America on Veterans Day. Public memory is centered on our own soldiers. In other words, the boy is competing with me in this commemorative frame, and he doesn’t have a chance.

The boy competes with me as I sneak up to my children after time away for a surprise homecoming with the cameras rolling for a television audience. The boy competes with me in shows like SEAL Team as I heroically defend America from its fictional foes in Asia yet remain misunderstood at home. He competes with me as my image is paraded across television screens to sell everything from Jeeps to American football. He competes with me as my virtual body is guided over the pixelated terrain of battles past by teenagers playing online military simulation games like Squad. He competes with me in films like American Sniper, where somewhere in the Al-Anbar province of Iraq my sniper self in the form of Bradley Cooper is forced to navigate the rehashed shoot-or-don’t-shoot quandary to protect an American patrol. In that film, the boy appears with a grenade. He steps into the street to attack the patrol and in so doing into the public domain as an agent of violence. He’s literally in the crosshairs now, and he’s outgunned. I’m the hero in this configuration – the one who kills the boy to preserve American lives.

And when the conversation shifts to my sacrifice on Veterans Day, trauma enters the conversation as a sacrificial wound. This move pushes the boy out of the story all together. To compete with me, he must compete with my wounds, the trauma of killing, the shoot-or-don’t-shoot injury, however real or imagined. The cultural representation of war is a narrow space. There’s only room for one sacrificial victim, and it’s always me. As for the boy, he’s not only outgunned, he’s outmaneuvered by a community conditioned to watch the parade with star-spangled eyes from lines formed along city streets.

About the Author

John Bechtold is a retired combat veteran and recent graduate of Duke University. He has begun to cultivate a growing passion in documentary storytelling and has just completed a multi-media documentary project that tells the stories of how our wounded veterans are reclaiming their lives after their experience in war. John is particularly interested in the lived experience of people affected by political violence. When he isn’t taking pictures on a street somewhere in the world, John can be found at home cooking tasty food or trying to stand on his head in yoga class (it’s not working).

Job Posting: Humanities for the Public Good Initiative Communications Specialists

Humanities for the Public Good Initiative Communications Specialists


The Humanities for the Public Good Initiative (HPG) implements mini-granting, curricular, and fellowship programs to enhance the culture of humanities engagement on UNC’s campus. HPG seeks two graduate students for communications assistance. Position pays $25/hour; the hours will vary somewhatbut will likely average ~5/week.

The HPG newsletter is run on Campaign Monitor. Familiarity with it, as well as WordPress and Google spreadsheets, or capacity to quickly become familiar, is helpful. Successful applicants will have a once-weekly meeting with HPG Initiative director; otherwise, hours and work locations are flexible.

The work:

  1. Compile, write, and format monthly newsletter from template with materials supplied by HPG Initiative Director, including maintainenance newsletter subscription lists
  2. Devise standards and solicit entries for HPG blog
  3. Keep HPG website up-to-date

The right candidate(s) will be reliable, have great diction and a strong sense of the interesting, and an interest in (and interest in deepening understanding of) the public humanities. To apply, please use this web form to upload a short cover letter (no more than one page) and C.V. or resume.

Why We’re Here: HPG Symposium – May 3rd-4th, 2019

See the registration page & form to propose breakout sessions for Saturday – forms no longer active


The Sympoisum

The Humanities for the Public Good Initiative brought together students, artists, scholars, cultural practitioners, and people interested in using humanistic knowledge to forward publicly engaged scholarship, for two days of events on Friday, May 3rd & Saturday, May 4th, 2019. All events were free, and unless otherwise designated on the registration form, open to the public. More on the conference theme and the “unconference” break out sessions below.

Schedule of Events

 Friday, May 3rd 
Before Lunch: Graduate Summit
8:30 a.m.-10 a.m.
Pleasants Family Room, Wilson Library
Engaged Grad Breakfast Forum: Talking Mentorship, Project Support, Career Pathways

Robyn Schroeder, Humanities for the Public Good
Rachel Schaevitz, Carolina Public Humanities
A breakfast discussion connecting engaged humanities graduate students & strategizing about HPG investing in grad priorities
10 a.m.
Pleasants Family Room, Wilson Library
Meaning-Making for Engaged Graduate Students Mini-Workshop

Maria Erb, Diversity & Student Success, Graduate School
An opportunity for graduate students with public scholarship goals to reflect on their social impact priorities and how they are or aren’t connected to graduate study
11 a.m.
Pleasants Family Room, Wilson Library
Doing the Dissertation Differently: Resources, Evaluation, & Graduate Lightning Talks

Charlotte Fryar, American Studies
Sarah George-Waterfield, English & Comparative Literature
Grant Glass, English & Comparative Literature
Kimber Thomas, American Studies
Helen Orr, Religious Studies

Facilitators: Philip Hollingsworth, Institute for the Arts & Humanities; Dwayne Dixon, Department of Asian Studies
Examples of new, innovative humanities and social science dissertations on campus, with reflections on the available and needed practical and intellectual resources for supporting them
12:30 p.m.
Lunch, Carolina Inn
Mentoring Graduate Students for Professional Success Beyond the Tenure Track

Facilitators: Rachel Schaevitz, Carolina Public Humanities; Robyn Schroeder, Humanities for the Public Good
A lunch conversation, in breakout groups, between grads, faculty, and staff about challenges and needs in mentoring grad students for professional success (as grads’ themselves define it).
After Lunch: Campus Summit
1:30 p.m. (Panel A)
Donovan Lounge, Greenlaw Hall
HPG Engaged Project Spotlight

Stories to Save Lives (Sara Wood & Rev. William Kearney)

Migration Stories: Linguistics & Belonging Among Refugees from Burma (Becky Butler, Jennifer Boehm, and Amy Reynolds)

National High School Ethics Bowl (Steve Swartzer)

UndocuCarolina (Rubi Franco Quiroz, Ricky Hurtado, and Barbara Sostaita)

Facilitator: Daniel Fisher (National Humanities Alliance)
Reflections on the first round of “Migration & Mobility” community collaborative projects funded by the Humanities for the Public Good Initiative.
1:30 p.m. (Panel B)
Pleasants Family Room, Wilson Library
Digital Public Humanities Roundtable

ArtBot (Elizabeth Manekin & Kristen Foote)

Red Record/Carolina K-12 Teacher’s Development Institute on Difficult History (Seth Kotch, Christie Norris)

Digital Portobelo (Renee Alexander Craft)

Facilitator: Dan Anderson, Digital Innovation Lab
Reflections on the sustainability, outreach, and programmatic challenges and possibilities and the intersections of digital and public humanities.
3 p.m. (Panel C)
Incubator Room, Hyde Hall, Institute for the Arts & Humanities
Knowledge, Access, and the Public

Elaine Maisner (UNC Press)

Elaine Westbrooks (UNC Libraries)

Lovey Cooper (Scalawag Magazine)

Tammy Baggett (Durham County Library)

Facilitator: Meli Kimathi, Communication
All. Contemporary library & publisher approaches to making new knowledges accessible against technological and resource barriers.
3 p.m. (Panel D)
University Room, Hyde Hall, Institute for the Arts & Humanities
Supporting Local Arts & a Healthy Arts Ecosystem ft. Orange County Public Art Commissioner

Amanda Graham (Carolina Performing Arts)

Fred Joiner (Carrboro Poet Laureate)

Katie Murray (Orange County Art Commission)

Susan Harbage Page (Associate Professor, Women & Gender Studies)

Facilitator: Elizabeth Engelhardt
How do we characterize the local arts economy, and what is (and ought to be) the university’s role?
5:30 p.m.
Ackland Art Museum
Wine & Snacks Reception Event Co-Hosted by Orange County Art Commission and the College of Arts & Sciences

Featuring Culture Mill et al
An opportunity for scholars and staff to mingle with local artists and performers

Featuring local performers including Culture Mill
 Saturday, May 4th 
9 a.m.
Hyde Hall, Institute for the Arts & Humanities
BreakfastBagels, fruit, and coffee
10 a.m.
Incubator Room, Hyde Hall

Alexis Pauline Gumbs, Courtney Reid-Eaton, and Sangodare
Alexis Pauline Gumbs, Sangodare, and Courtney Reid-Eaton will lead a participatory keynote accompanied by a Black feminist book installation.
11am, 12noon, 2pm & 3pm - Concurrent with Sessions Below

Incubator and Seminar Rooms of the Institute for the Arts & Humanities, Hyde Hall
**Unconference Style Breakout Sessions**
Topics TBA
Propose a Breakout Session here:
Participants will have the opportunity to vote on topics in person on Saturday morning.
11 a.m.
University Room, Hyde Hall, Institute for the Arts & Humanities

Becoming Allies: What Makes a Good University Partner

Joseph Jordan (Sonja Hanes Stone Center)

Della Pollock (Marian Cheek Jackson Center for Saving & Making History)

Susan Brown (Chapel Hill Public Library)

Facilitator: Kim Allen, Kenan Scholars Program Director
Reflections from long-standing local cultural leaders about the practical challenges and imperatives to form lasting and meaningful partnerships.
12:30 p.m.Lunch
Grab a boxed lunch and find a spot with your new friends!
A lunch conversation, in breakout groups, between grads, faculty, and staff about challenges and needs in mentoring grad students for professional success (as grads’ themselves define it).
1:45 p.m.
University Room, Hyde Hall, Institute for the Arts & Humanities
Organizing Culture: Making Change with the Humanities

Daniel Fisher (National Humanities Alliance)

Barbara Lau (Pauli Murray Project)

Raphael Ginsberg (Friday Center Correctional Education Program)

Facilitator: Molly Luby, Special Projects Coordinator, Chapel Hill Public Library
Dynamic approach to understanding the many faces of cultural organizing in the broad education & cultural sector.
3:15 p.m.
University Room, Hyde Hall, Institute for the Arts & Humanities
Reckonings: Local History and Racial Equity

Charlotte Fryar, Reclaiming the University of the People

Danita Mason-Hogan & Molly Luby, Remembering the Chapel Hill Nine

James Williams, Orange County Community Remembrance Coalition

Vera Cecelski, Stagville State Historic Site
Spotlight on local history-and-present projects at the campus, town, county, and regional level which are aim to remediate racial inequity.
4:45 p.m.
Closing RemarksRobyn Schroeder, Director, Humanities for the Public Good Initiative

Those with questions may write to the Humanities for the Public Good Initiative Director Robyn Schroeder (rschroeder [at] Don’t be strangers.

Our Theme: “Why We’re Here”

We chose the theme “Why We’re Here” to center the core impulse of the Humanities for the Public Good initiative, which is our collective human urge to promote the well-being of others–to serve the public good itself, and to engage in critical conversations about the histories of doing that well and badly, and forward evidence and experience-based conversations about ongoing and needed changes in higher education and the cultural sector. We invite engaged scholars, humanists, artists, and cultural workers to come together in a democratic spirit for constructive discussion and workshopping. To talk about why we’re here, in or at Chapel Hill, Orange County, or the Research Triangle, is to promote our collective morale by reminding us what the point of higher education in the humanities is in the first place–to improve minds and lives, to learn from each other, and to build the ideas and questions that lead to relationships, problem-solving, and a culture that reflects the best of what we know.

Humanists have much to learn from others and each other about doing engaged project work–whether in public scholarship, engaged teaching, project-based service, or otherwise. We’ve drawn out a schedule which highlights just some of the vectors of experimentation right now, flagging opportunities and resources as well as sources of inspiration. Key topics include:

  • pathways for developing engagement skills
  • making knowledge public and accessible
  • supporting local artists and understanding the problems and possibilities in the local arts economy
  • practical approaches to university-community partnership
  • in keeping with Humanities for the Public Good’s upcoming critical projects theme of “Reckonings and Reconciliation”, learning about projects uncovering local histories of marginalization, anti-blackness, and exclusion

A Note on the Small Group Breakout Sessions: Unconferencing Our Symposium

Many folks indicated an interest in taking time to talk across disciplines and professions about public engagement topics, outside of the panel/lecture format. We set aside the Incubator Room at the IAH on Saturday, May 4th, for one-hour meetings proposed by symposium attendees. Symposium attendees had a chance to read proposals and vote 4-6 proposals into existence over breakfast that day.

Humanities for the Public Good Graduate Coordinator Meli Kimathi (mem [//at//] coordinated this portion.

Before the HPG Symposium: Popular Narratives and the Experience of War

Co-sponsored by Humanities for the Public Good, the Graduate School, the Carolina Veterans Resource Center, the History Department, and the English & Comparative Literature Department, learn more about the panel discussion and veterans’ writing workshop which took place on Saturday, April 27th, under the direction and management of doctoral students Davis Winkie and Paul Blom.

Popular Narratives and the Experience of War: A Public Forum and Veterans Writing Workshop

Are you a veteran?

Have you ever felt a gap between vets and civilians?

Your story can help bridge the gap, and we can help teach you to tell it.

Register for the inaugural UNC Veterans Writing Workshop!

You are invited to a two-part event on April 27, 2019. The first part of the event is an open-to-the-public discussion, where four 1990s/GWOT vets will discuss how American popular culture has influenced the civilian-military divide in their personal experience. The current panelists are:

  • Joe Kassabian (author of The Hooligans of Kandahar, host of the Lions Led by Donkeys Podcast)
  • Eric Burke (Civil War historian and OIF/OEF enlisted infantryman)
  • Kate Dahlstrand (Civil War/Reconstruction historian, director of UGA’s Student Veteran Oral History Project, GWOT enlisted combat vet)
  • Michelle Moyd (East African military historian, early/mid ’90s USAF officer)

After the panel discussion, all workshop participants will receive a free catered lunch, courtesy of UNC Humanities for the Public Good. Then you’ll transition into a writing workshop, with writing prompts partly-inspired by the public discussion. The workshop will feature trained facilitators (most of whom are military affiliated) who will help you learn narrative and story-telling skills. If you’re proud of the stories that we help you tell, there is a possibility that our collaboration can continue, building towards publication in an online archive or even an edited book!

Your POC for any questions is co-organizer Davis Winkie. He can be reached via email at He’s pretty responsive, but don’t hesitate to follow up on anything that goes 24 hours without a response.


Location: UNC-CH Campus, Carolina Union, Room 3408 (Free parking available on Stadium Drive on weekends)

Date: 4/27/19

Time: 10:30 AM – 4:00 PM

Price: Free

Administrators: Davis Winkie, Paul Blom

Point of Contact: Davis Winkie,


Event Sponsors: Humanities for the Public Good; The Graduate School

Support also provided by: The College of Arts & Sciences, Division of Fine Arts & Humanities; The College of Arts & Sciences, Division of Social Sciences & Global Programs; Carolina Veterans Resource Center; Department of English and Comparative Literature; Curriculum in Peace, War and Defense; Department of History; Center for the Study of the American South


To register for this event, click here.

Note: Registration is only required for the workshop portion of the event. If you are a member of the public interested in attending the discussion panel, you do not need to register in advance.


For more information and regular updates, check us out on Twitter and Facebook.


Check out our resources and help us spread the word about this event! Download and share Flyer 1 and Flyer 2!


About the Event Organizers:

Davis Winkie is a military history Ph.D. student at UNC. He studies America’s memory of its 20th century wars, with a particular focus on war movies made during the 1950s and 60s. His research also explores how movies and other popular narratives of war potentially affected Vietnam-era service members. Additionally, Davis is a soldier in the NC Army National Guard, and he will commission as a second lieutenant this summer. Davis will be moderating the panel discussion portion of the event.

Paul Blom is a second-year PhD student in English and Comparative Literature, whose research focuses on the ethical and political implications of depicting trauma in literature. This research is partially motivated by his own brother’s combat experiences in Iraq from 2003-2004. Paul has taught and worked with underserved populations overseas and currently serves as a Teaching Fellow at UNC. He is the Fiction Editor for The Carolina Quarterly literary magazine and regularly writes scripts for promotional videos and short documentary and narrative films. He has extensive experience teaching composition, writing, and rhetoric.