The University of Illinois system has launched a $2 million initiative to promote the arts and humanities. Devin Hunter, an assistant professor of history at UIS, is co-leader on two projects that have been funded by this initiative. Both projects aim to improve local economies and promote fair interpretations of history, as well as allow students to help develop different public history sites.
The first of these projects, “The Humanities Innovating New Knowledge” (THINK) was funded for $150,000. This project aims to create the groundwork for humanities-based exhibits among all three campuses. The Chicago campus of the University of Illinois already has something similar, which will be used as an example of what the rest of the project will eventually become. Devin Hunter is the leader of the UIS portion of this project. The different ways in which the 1908 Springfield race riots are commemorated will be the focus for the UIS campus. The funding will be used to pay student workers, purchase any materials required for building the exhibit, support community partners along with other future expenses that may come up during the creation of the exhibit.
The second project, “The Mythic Mississippi: I-Heritage as Public Engagement and Economic and Social Development,” was funded for $180,000. The purpose of this project is to promote tourism in downstate Illinois by creating historical routes that highlight the region’s history. It is led by Helaine Silverman, a professor of anthropology at the Champaign-Urbana campus as well as Devin Hunter at the UIS campus. The goal is to promote the economy of downstate Illinois by attracting tourists to historical sites, who will in turn stimulate the local economy. The other goal is to promote the accurate study of history in southern Illinois. In addition to the creation of these routes themselves, there will be classes taught at both UIS and UIUC. At UIS there will be an undergraduate class about cultural heritage tourism, and a graduate class about the “Mythic Mississippi” project itself. This is a two-year project, and will culminate in 2021 with a national symposium about the benefits of heritage tourism for local communities.
Both projects funded through the initiative will benefit the students of UIS and the Springfield community as a whole. The city has always been a center for historical tourism and will be able to help develop more public history sites across the state through these new programs. This initiative will also fund a $150,000 renovation of the UIS Studio Theater and fund the $150,000 Hip-Hop Xpress project, a mobile bus filled with recording equipment to be used across the state to educate students on African- American history and the cultural impact of hip-hop.