Former NEH Chair Kicks Off New Hidden Humanities Lecture Series at UA

Dr. William Ferris, professor of history and senior associate director of the Center for the Study of the American South at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, will present “Standing at the Crossroads: The Humanities and the American South” Oct. 6 as part of The University of Alabama’s new Hidden Humanities lecture series.

The lecture will be held at 7 p.m. in room 205 of Gorgas Library on the UA campus.

Hidden Humanities is a newly founded lecture series that aims to bring nationally prominent scholars and writers to the UA campus to discuss the so-called “crisis in humanities.” Each lecturer will be invited to address, head on, the positive contributions of the humanities to society at large.

Ferris served as the chairman of the National Endowment for the Humanities from 1997-2001 and is a widely recognized leader in Southern studies and African-American music and folklore. He has conducted thousands of interviews with musicians ranging from the famous, like B.B. King, to the unrecognized, like Parchman Penitentiary inmates working in the fields.

He has written or edited 10 books and created 15 documentary films. He co-edited the massive “Encyclopedia of Southern Culture” (UNC Press, 1989), which was nominated for a Pulitzer Prize.

His other books include “Mule Trader: Ray Lum’s Tales of Horses, Mules and Men” (1992); “Local Color” (1982, 1992); “Images of the South: Visits with Eudora Welty and Walker Evans” (1978); “Mississippi Black Folklore: A Research Bibliography and Discography” (1971); “Blues from the Delta” (1970, 1978, 1988), translated into Italian as “Il Blues del Delta” (2011); and “Give My Poor Heart Ease: Voices of the Mississippi Blues” (2009), translated into French as “Les Voix du Mississippi” (2013).

His most recent book, “The Storied South: Voices of Writers and Artists,” was published in 2013 by the University of North Carolina Press.
His films include “Mississippi Blues” (1983), which was featured at the Cannes Film Festival. He has produced numerous sound recordings and hosted “Highway 61,” a weekly blues program on Mississippi Public Radio for nearly a decade. He also has published his own poetry and short stories.

A native of Vicksburg, Mississippi, Ferris was the founding director of the Center for the Study of Southern Culture at the University of Mississippi, where he taught for 18 years. He also taught at Yale University and Jackson State University. A graduate of Davidson College, he received a doctorate in folklore from the University of Pennsylvania.

He has won many prestigious honors, including the Charles Frankel Prize in the Humanities, the American Library Association’s Dartmouth Medal, the Mississippi Institute of Arts and Letters Award and the W.C. Handy Blues Award. In 1991, Rolling Stone magazine named him among the Top Ten Professors in the United States. He is a fellow of the American Folklore Society.

In 2014, the French translation of “Give My Poor Heart Ease” won the Coup de Coeur de l’Académie Charles Cros Musiques du Monde prize from Académie Charles Cros in the world music book category, and Ferris received the B. L. C. Wailes Award, given to a Mississippian who has achieved national recognition in the field of history by the Mississippi Historical Society.

The goal of the Hidden Humanities series is to challenge the widespread notion that the humanities ought to be a low priority in education. The lectures are intended to clarify the nature of the current debate over the importance of the humanities and shed new light on why intellectual disciplines at the heart of the modern university now appear to be so undervalued.