NEH-funded project to explore meaning of ‘home’ in African diaspora communities

NEH Humanities in the Public Square imageA year-long project at UNC-Chapel Hill, “Telling our Stories of Home: Exploring and Celebrating Changing African-Diaspora Communities,” has been awarded a Humanities in the Public Square grant from the National Endowment for the Humanities.

The project, led by two UNC faculty members in UNC’s College of Arts and Sciences — Kathy Perkins, professor of dramatic art, and Tanya Shields, associate professor of women’s and gender studies — will kick off with a conference and festival March 31 to April 2 and April 6-8.

At the public event, held at the Sonja Haynes Stone Center for Black Culture and History, women scholars and international artists will come together to explore the theme of home through drama, spoken word performances, poetry, film/video, dance, music and visual art. They will address the following questions:

  • What is home in the lives of these women?
  • How is home shaped by exile, incarceration, war, stress, anxiety or climate change?
  • How do we belong to our homes, if our experiences have been erased, marginalized or misrepresented?
Evelyne Trouillot is a novelist, poet, scholar and playwright from Haiti who will be at the festival.
Evelyne Trouillot is a novelist, poet, scholar and playwright from Haiti who will be at the festival.

Two pieces at the festival will explore the nature of understanding one’s home in the upheaval of war: “Torn Asunder” is an account of African Americans searching for separated family after the Civil War, and “Angel’ is a coming-of-age story set during upheavals in Grenada’s de-colonial process.

“Home in its ideal sense is a place of belonging, legitimacy and comfort. For some, however, it is a war zone, a place of pain and a place of un-belonging,” Shields said. “The humanities provide connective tissue to help us explore these questions of home in historical, political and contemporary contexts.”

After the festival, community centers, local arts councils and the Stone Center will host public gatherings featuring films and discussions around the complex themes of home developed in the festival. Educational resources for N.C. public school social studies teachers will be developed, and the themes will be explored in the African Diaspora Fellows Program summer institute held at UNC in July 2016. A professional videographer will capture all performances and the information will be digitally archived.

The new NEH Humanities in the Public Square program brings together humanities scholars and the public for dialogue on contemporary issues of concern to communities.