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Mississippi Humanities Council Recognizes History Professor with Award

by Web on January 29, 2019

Dr. Stephanie R. Rolph, associate professor of history at Millsaps College, is the Millsaps College 2019 recipient of a Humanities Teacher Award given by the Mississippi Humanities Council.

The Humanities Teacher Awards program honors outstanding humanities professors at each of the state's institutions of higher learning.

As a recipient of the award, Rolph will give a public lecture entitled “I’m Here to Tell You Why Those White Supremacists Matter (or Things I Never Thought My Humanities Training Would Prepare Me to Say in Public)” on Feb. 6 at 4 p.m. in room 215 of the Gertrude C. Ford Academic Complex.

The lecture is free and open to the public, and a reception is scheduled afterward.

Rolph’s lecture will explore her recent book, “Resisting Equality: The Citizens’ Council, 1954-1989.” The book explains ways in which white resistance to civil rights gained revived white supremacy in the South and the nation at a time when the national political landscape was realigning.

“My presentation is a reflection of the unexpected places that my humanities education has placed me—from cocktail conversations to teaching incarcerated men and women, antipoverty work, and using runaway slave ads to track slave movement during the Civil War,” she said. “Most recently, my book has placed me in front of diverse audiences, from the Mississippi Book Festival to a meeting of the Sons of Confederate Veterans. Our work in the humanities shouldn’t separate us from people outside of the academy. It should bring us into direct conversation with them.”

Rolph said she is honored to receive the award from the Humanities Council, which she respects because of its public programming and support for innovative projects in the classroom.

“What I love about the Mississippi Humanities Council is its tagline, ‘The Humanities Are for Everyone,’” she said. “As a scholar and teacher, I firmly believe that. We can spend significant portions of our lives as scholars toiling away in the archives, revising drafts of chapters, and shopping publishers to adopt our manuscripts and bring them to press. But in the end, if we’re not reaching the general public, we’re preaching to the converted.”

The humanities hold promise for emphasizing common traits as humans and sharpening our understanding of difference, she said.

“For historians that means, sometimes the questions that surface era after era are the same but the answers are vastly different—and those differences raise new questions and so on,” Rolph said. “The truly satisfying aspect of the humanities that I hold most dear is that there is not end point. A classic piece of literature read through the eyes of a new generation can connect readers to a past that is centuries removed—and that generation of readers can breathe new life into its meaning. I love the individuality and the collective experience of that.”

Rolph, who graduated cum laude with a bachelor’s degree in history from Millsaps in 1999, joined the Millsaps faculty in 2010 after she earned a master’s and doctorate in modern U.S. history from Mississippi State University. She teaches a wide array of courses on American history as well as race and gender issues. 

Dr. Keith Dunn, provost and dean at Millsaps, said Rolph has been a leader on campus, “infusing public history and community-engaged projects into her teaching.”

Rolph has held several leadership roles at Millsaps, including director of Community-Engaged Learning and chair of the Curriculum Committee, and she currently serves as the Faculty Council president. She also serves as the academic director of the Shepherd Higher Education Consortium on Poverty, a consortium of 26 premier higher educational institutions committed to the study of poverty and supporting undergraduates toward a lifetime of professional and civil efforts to diminish poverty and enhance human capability.

Wayne Dowdy, a junior from Hammond, Louisiana, who is majoring in history and Spanish, said Rolph is an enthusiastic teacher who is accessible to her students.

“Every time I finish a course with Dr. Rolph I walk away with a deeper and more complex appreciation of history,” he said. “When she is discussing or lecturing on the history of the American South, she is great at making connections and articulating concepts in a way that helps her students realize why that history is so important today. She consistently lifts up the voices of oppressed peoples and their narratives in her lectures and assigned readings.”

Next month, the Mississippi Historical Society will recognize Rolph’s book with the 2019 McLemore Prize,and she will give the keynote address at the society’s awards dinner.

The McLemore Prize recognizes the most distinguished scholarly book on Mississippi history or biography published in the previous year.