Two Professors Selected for NEH Institutes

Published on April 11, 2018

Two Eastern Kentucky University professors have been selected to participate in a 2018 National Endowment for the Humanities (NEH) Summer Institute.

Earning the prestigious honor this year are Dr. Paula Kopacz, professor of English and Foundation Professor, and Dr. Minh Nguyen, professor of philosophy and Asian Studies, director of the interdisciplinary Asian Studies Program, associate director of the Honors Program, and coordinator of National and International Scholarships and Fellowships.

Kopacz photoKopacz will attend the NEH Summer Institute in American Maritime Studies, hosted by the Munson Institute of the Mystic Seaport Museum, the Museum of America and the Sea, in Mystic, Connecticut. Nguyen will participate in the NEH Summer Institute on “Self-Knowledge in Eastern and Western Philosophies” at the College of Charleston in South Carolina.

For Kopacz, the four-week program offers an opportunity to study and do research in American Maritime history from different disciplinary perspectives: maritime history from ancient times to the present, including the slave trade; the 19th-century whaling industry; archival research in writings related to maritime experience; marine industries, such as the cruise industry; and modern environmental and ecological issues, among other topics.

“I am excited about the opportunity to expand my own learning into different areas of maritime studies and learn how other colleges and universities are incorporating maritime studies into their curricula,” said Kopacz, who in 1996 was named an EKU Foundation Professor, the highest honor for teaching excellence bestowed by the University. “I will be able to continue my work on Melville, which will enhance my teaching of ‘Moby-Dick’ and other literature of the period.

“The program’s science-based field trips and case studies on current environmental and ecological issues related to the sea and other waterways will expand my knowledge-base and model pedagogical approaches I hope to replicate with the help of colleagues back at Eastern,” she added. “I am excited that I will meet and talk with the leading scholars in the various areas of maritime studies. Some of them share my interest in the inland maritime frontier, such as we see in John Filson’s emphasis on rivers in his ‘Discovery, Settlement and Present State of Kentucky,’ the subject of my current writing project.”

Because Kopacz teaches a course on Literature of the Sea, she expects the Institute will broaden her understanding of maritime culture and sociology in addition to literature. She hopes in the future to teach an interdisciplinary course in maritime studies.

Most all, she’s excited to be at Mystic Seaport Museum because it has the only surviving wooden whaleship from the 19th century, the Charles W. Morgan. “Some of our sessions will be on board the ship, which has recently been repaired and restored to the water. In its preservation shipyard, the Museum is now preparing Mayflower II, the historical replica of the ship that brought the Pilgrims to Massachusetts. Through my stay at the living history museum, I hope to learn some maritime skills and get a richer sense of the extensive auxiliary businesses associated with ship-building and equipping.”

Nguyen photoNguyen said his participation in the Institute will enable him to develop a course tentatively titled “Self-Knowledge in Eastern and Western Thought,” suitable for cross-listing with Philosophy, Asian Studies and Honors. The Institute will also “enrich and revitalize my understanding of self-knowledge (the topic of my doctoral dissertation and various publications) and enable me to incorporate a comparative perspective – specifically that of Indian and Buddhist philosophy – into my research and generate material that in turn can be used in the self-knowledge-focused sections of my courses. The realization of these two goals is part of my persistent attempt to infuse Asian Studies into my teaching and research.

He added that the Institute will fill a gap in his philosophical education and give him the opportunity to intensively examine Indian and Buddhist texts and practices with leading experts in the field, so that he “might have a better foundation on which to lead my own class discussions.”        

The Vietnamese-born Nguyen, editor of the recently published and internationally acclaimed “New Essays in Japanese Aesthetics,” said the NEH has invited him to submit a proposal to direct a summer seminar or institute for college and university teachers on the topic. “Participation in the Institute and guidance from the directors will enable me to determine if I am capable of directing an NEH summer seminar or institute on Japanese aesthetics and, if so, how best to put together a competitive proposal.”

Nguyen served on the Board of Directors for the Kentucky Humanities Council from 2010 to 2016 and has made a number of presentations on why the humanities matter to education for global citizenship.