Two Graduate Students Named to Humanities Without Walls’ Career-Focused Fellowship Program

Author: Josh Weinhold

Michael Skaggs Michael Skaggs
Courtney Smotherman Courtney Smotherman

Two Notre Dame graduate students have won fellowships from Humanities Without Walls, a consortium funded by the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation that aims to support collaborative research and scholarship across the humanities.

Michael Skaggs, who is pursuing a Ph.D. in history, and Courtney Smotherman, a student in the Ph.D. in Literature program, were among a cohort of 30 predoctoral fellows selected by HWW, based at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign. They will attend three weeks of summer workshops designed to encourage doctoral students to explore careers both inside and outside the academy.

“The Humanities Without Walls program is an exciting initiative that gets students and faculty thinking about how to develop their academic work in dialogue with a wider public,” said Margaret Meserve, associate dean for the humanities and faculty affairs in the College of Arts and Letters. “Notre Dame is proud to be a partner in the project, and we’re excited for the opportunities HWW is making available to both faculty and students."

The fellows will have the opportunity to meet and learn from organizers of public humanities projects, leaders of university presses and learned societies, digital humanities experts, officials from governmental and non-governmental organizations, and non-faculty professionals from colleges and universities.

Skaggs, whose research focuses on Catholic-Jewish relations and how those religious believers have sought to combat racism, said the program will help identify non-academic areas that could offer him the chance to apply the abilities he honed at Notre Dame.

“Traditionally, humanities scholars more or less stick to scholarly conversations among themselves, which are quite important—those discussions advance disciplines and fields in unique ways,” Skaggs said. “But the skills we acquire while becoming experts in our chosen fields actually bear on many other areas of the human experience. Those skills can, and ought, to be used in service to the broader public in rich, fulfilling careers.”

Smotherman, whose dissertation examines the intersection of history and literature in the historiography of early 16th century Italy, said such interdisciplinary research can make it difficult to land traditional tenure-track positions—but offers the chance of a wide array of other professional possibilities.

“The kind of workshop Humanities Without Walls presents is so valuable in today’s world, because the academic job market remains very challenging—and it’s often intimidating as students get closer to finishing their doctorate,” Smotherman said. “Having a dedicated time to focus on exploring different future paths will enable me to get more out of the career services here at Notre Dame and be better prepared for the next step in my life.”

Notre Dame Ph.D. students fare well on the academic job market, Meserve said, but the skills they develop through researching and writing dissertations also remain in high demand outside of the academy. The College of Arts and Letters is currently developing several programs to help students explore different avenues of professional development.

“This fellowship is a terrific opportunity for Michael and Courtney to learn about different careers in areas where they can put their talents for research, analysis, writing, and project management to good use,” she said. “It should be a fantastic experience, and we’re looking forward to finding out what they learn."