Fisher Historians Receive Second NEH Grant for Veterans Dialogue Project

July 9, 2020

Two faculty members at St. John Fisher College received a second round of funding from the National Endowment for the Humanities (NEH), to support the continuation of a project aimed at generating discussions of duty, patriotism, and loyalty among Rochester-based veterans.

Seal: National Endowment for the Humanities

Dr. Carolyn Vacca, associate professor and chair of the History Department, and Dr. Frederick Dotolo, associate professor of history, first earned NEH funding in spring 2017 through the organization’s special Dialogues on the Experience of War grant. The NEH program supports the study and discussion of important humanities sources about war and military service. The grant was secured with assistance from the Office of Sponsored Programs.

One of only nine projects funded from across the country, Vacca and Dotolo will continue to foster discussions among students and veterans about how war can inform a diverse understanding of the concepts of duty, patriotism, and loyalty. Over the course of two years, students conducted 107 interviews with veterans.

“Our students have never known anything but a volunteer service and many of these veterans served during the time of the draft, which is a different experience in some ways,” said Vacca. “They interviewed veterans with a range of experiences from serving as a pediatrician at a base in Texas to women who served abroad during World War II. It really opened up ideas about the dimensions of service and what it means to serve.”

The experience also helped students hone skills in conducting interviews and learning best practices in moderating discussions.

“Most students, because their experience of discussion comes from professors, are used to asking questions that have predictable answers and that guide them down a path,” said Vacca. “In this discussion training, we talk about shared authority and open-ended discussion. No one really owns the discussion; instead, everyone participates equally. So students create a map of the discussion, start the interview, and let the interviewees go down their own path.”

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.

The next round of funding will help expand the reach of the discussions, engaging with more veterans in and around Monroe County. The researchers plan to collaborate with area nursing homes, Monroe County Jail, Western New York Heroes, and Monroe County Libraries to reach out to veterans and host dialogues.

“Our goal is help reach the broadest array of veterans we can to really build an oral history of their experiences serving in the military,” Vacca said.