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$100,000 NEH Grant to Fund Veterans Dialogue Project at St. John Fisher College

March 30, 2017

Two faculty members at St. John Fisher College received a $100,000 grant from the National Endowment for the Humanities (NEH), which will fund a project aimed at generating discussions of duty, patriotism, and loyalty among Rochester-based veterans through the exploration of World War I and the Afghanistan/Iraq counter-insurgencies.

Carolyn Vacca

The College is just one of 15 recipients of the NEH’s special Dialogues on the Experience of War grant program, which supports the study and discussion of important humanities sources about war and military service.

Set to launch in spring 2018, it will be managed by Dr. Carolyn Vacca, associate professor and chair of the History Department, and will include Dr. Frederick Dotolo, associate professor of history.

“Through the study of humanities sources about war and public discussions, we hope to enhance our understanding of the historical resonance of war experiences and the pressing moral and ethical issues associated with war,” said Vacca.

As the Monroe County Historian, Vacca has engaged municipal research and memorialization of local World War I participation, and has participated in two veterans’ oral history projects, one of which is held in the Library of Congress Veterans History. Dotolo, who served in a Marine Reserve Rifle Company for more than 22 years, currently directs the European studies concentration in history at the College; his research and teaching interests include the Italian pacification of Libya during the colonial era, a proposed Libyan Counterinsurgency against ISIS, and the history of a small mixed British expeditionary unit in Mesopotamia and Persia during World War I.

This project will engage student veterans at Fisher, individuals associated with the Veterans Outreach Center, the Veterans One Stop Center of Western New York, and retired service members living in or receiving support through several community homes in a dialogue about how the two wars can inform a diverse understanding of the concepts of duty, patriotism, and loyalty.

The first phase of the program entails preparing a small group of student veterans at Fisher to lead the public dialogues. The students will enroll in a for-credit independent study, becoming well-versed not only in historical and contemporary text and media (memoirs, literature, art, film, etc.) related to the two conflicts, but also the best practices in moderating discussions. The students will then work with the local agencies to host the community-based discussions, preparing materials and presentations, and leading the group through the dialogue about the texts.

Vacca’s research and current teachings regarding the use of animals in warfare will serve as one lens through which the discussions will focus. Dotolo will draw on his expertise in war gaming and simulations to create an experiential component for the project, allowing participants to gain a deeper understanding of the dynamic complexities of modern small warfare.

“This project accomplishes something that we try to teach: the humanities are fundamental to our lives as citizens,” Vacca said. “We hope—by exploring the ideas of patriotism, duty, and service—that we can make a connection to how the humanities are called upon in making the life-changing, serious decisions living those ideals often require.”

Created in 1965 as an independent federal agency, the NEH supports research and learning in history, literature, philosophy, and other areas of the humanities by funding selected, peer-reviewed proposals from around the nation. In March 2017, the NEH announced funding for 208 humanities projects totaling $21.7 million.

Any views, findings, conclusions, or recommendations expressed in this press release do not necessarily represent those of the National Endowment for the Humanities.