Howard Rambsy

The Stephen L. and Julia Y. Hansen Humanities Fund is starting off its first year with English professor Howard Rambsy and his idea for an African American poetry database. 

Rambsy, distinguished research professor of African American literature,  said after years of studying African American literature, he was searching for better ways to share knowledge of African American poetry. 

“I've been thinking a lot about the platforms on how poetry moves throughout the world and it's often through anthologies,” Rambsy said. 

Rambsy said his goal is to create a database focused on African American poetry. He said he will start by introducing the website to students and then branching out to a wider audience. 

“What it does is offers information on African American poems, how they move across various anthologies over the course of decades,” Rambsy said. “It can show people information, or how poems have been circulated, reprinted and published in different places.”

Rambsy said he will be working on the content and Smith will be working on the technical side of things, such as designing the website. He said he would like for his website to have animations to help people visualize certain poems and help them to better understand. 

“It starts with research that I have to do, or have done, on African American poetry and then what we'll do from there is start constructing a website, and they'll show you different things,” Rambsy said. 

Margaret Smith, research assistant professor of Digital Humanities, said she is working with Rambsy by transforming his ideas on the technical side to develop the website. 

“He had this idea for a resource that would put all of all kinds of different questions about anthologies online, so that people could just come and ask questions and get answers back and create this kind of interactive resource,” Smith said. 

Smith said her work entails asking questions and figuring out what technology will best serve the underlying goals of this project. She said she started by using a WordPress site, but is now able to explore different options because of the grant. 

“That'll be some exploring of different technologies, and maybe doing some user testing and just kind of playing around, which is a big piece of development, just sort of tinkering with things,” Smith said. 

Smith said her and Rambsy have collaborated on a number of projects together since starting the database for African American poetry. 

“He's always got really exciting ideas about how to sort of bring technology to bear on the humanities, and use technology to really expand to broaden and deepen how we engage with traditional humanities sources,” Smith said. 

Rambsy said he and Stephen and Julia Hansen, the couple who started the grant, worked at SIUE during the same time. 

“I want to continue to be associated with something they do, because they've always been supportive of the arts, so it was really a big honor to get it because of them,” Rambsy said. 

Kyle Moore, senior director of development, said Stephen and Julia Hansen have worked at SIUE and have been heavily involved in the humanities. 

“They have a deep adoring sense for the humanities and want to see it get opportunities that some of the other professional schools and things get,” Moore said. “They created a fund to provide support for projects that enrich faculty and student engagement in the understanding and appreciation of the humanities, within the College of Arts and Sciences.”

Moore said there’s a committee made up of faculty from humanities departments that select three people to receive the grant. 

“It was something that we absolutely needed and wanted,” Moore said. “We worked with the Hansons to make sure that we could get it up and moving as fast as possible and still accomplish the goal that they wanted.”

Smith said grants like the Stephen L. and Julia Y. Hansen Humanities Development Fund helps faculty explore, build and test new ideas.

“We tend to privilege fully formed ideas and kind of traditional modes of scholarship because they've been proven, they're established and so it can be really hard to carve out time and resources to support things that might fail,” Smith said. “Creating space for potential failure and potential success is really important to create those sorts of innovative spaces and innovative research projects.”

Stephen Hansen, retired history professor and Interim Chancellor for the university, said they wanted to provide funding to help faculty improve the quality of programs for students in the humanities. 

Julia Hansen, retired humanities librarian, said her experience getting to know the faculty and students at SIUE has made her want to support their endeavors. 

“We're really excited about the first results, just to see the variety of ways the faculty are thinking about how they can enrich their students' experiences with a little bit of extra funding,” Julia Hansen said. 

Stephen Hansen said they strongly believe the humanities serve as great building blocks for a good education, regardless of what profession a student wishes to pursue. 

“For us, the humanities opens up so many windows to the world and to understanding the world around us and understanding even ourselves and, and how we've come to be where we are as people,” Stephen Hansen said. “Those perspectives and ways of analyzing and thinking provide all of us critical insights, not only into our worlds but building blocks to understanding and communicating better.” 

Stephen and Julia Hansen wanted the project ideas to be created by the faculty and judged by the faculty. 

“We feel strongly about giving back to SIUE,” Stephen Hansen said. “It's been a great community for us, for our careers and our families.”

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