College of Arts and Humanities

Uniting the Palmetto State: Clemson partners with University of South Carolina to connect local communities with rich histories

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A joint humanities project led by Clemson University, South Carolina Humanities and the University of South Carolina to build connectivity within local communities and their richly unique histories concludes this month.

South Carolina Humanities was awarded a $50,000 grant by the National Endowment for the Humanities (NEH) in September 2023 for “United We Stand: Connecting Through Culture,” a humanities initiative to foster common purpose and cross-cultural understanding. The two universities and South Carolina Humanities partnered to host 13 talks in local communities through the “Just Sharing: Building Community through Stories of our Past” programs in Beaufort, Charleston, Clemson, Columbia, Orangeburg and other municipalities.

College of Arts and Humanities Dean Nicholas Vazsonyi, South Carolina Humanities Consultant Alice Taylor-Colbert and the University of South Carolina Director of the Humanities Collaborative Holly Crocker have been the driving forces behind “Just Sharing.”

“This was an excellent opportunity provided by the NEH to help bring together our polarized and fractured communities. As part of this initiative, it was really important to me for us to work together with our colleagues at the University of South Carolina. The initiative is called ‘United We Stand,’ and so I thought that we should enact that idea as the state’s two leading universities,” Vazsonyi said. “I’m so grateful for the thoughtful and eloquent contributions from our skilled faculty.

“We should be proud of ourselves for working together as partners,” he added. “Whatever we can do together strengthens us all. We have some painful stories and episodes to work through. The only path to healing is to be brave and be willing to talk openly with patience and a gentle spirit.”

Clemson University College of Arts and Humanities Dean Nicholas Vazsonyi (left) speaks with Professor of History Vernon Burton at a local “Just Sharing” event.

Clemson has been represented by humanities faculty members Vernon Burton, Brian McGrath and Rhondda Robinson Thomas, as well as University Historian Otis Pickett, who participated in moderated panel discussions with their Columbia counterparts on voting rights, women’s rights, slavery, the pre-Civil War and Reconstruction eras in the South and other topics regarding the impact of hate on society at the community-level. Audiences were encouraged to ask questions and engage in discussions.

Taylor-Colbert said that community hosts and leaders chose the university faculty topics, selected a local historian to share a story and chose the moderator for the three-person panel. All of these steps allowed the programming to be locally driven.

“Each community’s interests and needs are served,” Taylor-Colbert said. “We are proud to have offered the ‘Just Sharing’ stories program for South Carolinians. We hope that this model using storytelling from the past can help strengthen communities and prevent distrust and hatred by building empathy for others.”

The final program is scheduled for Tuesday, June 25, in Laurens County at 6:30 p.m.

If a community is interested in continuing this initiative, South Carolina Humanities will advise it regarding programming, resources and grant funds that can be pursued. For more information, email South Carolina Humanities coordinator Tiye Barnes at tiye@schumanities.org.

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