FAU Awarded Mellon Foundation Grant

Monday, Feb 06, 2023
Evan Bennett, Ph.D., Professor, Department of History

Image: Evan Bennett, Ph.D., Professor, Department of History

Florida Atlantic University recently received a $251,000 Mellon Foundation grant to support the development of curriculum and curricular materials centering on voting rights history. The grant, led by Evan Bennett, Ph.D., professor of history in Dorothy F. Schmidt College of Arts and Letters, will support the development of Voting Rights as Civic Literacy (VRHCL), a digital collection of curricular materials designed to highlight the history of voting, electoral politics, and Republican governance in undergraduate U.S. History survey courses. VRHCL provides a structured approach to studying the evolution of political participation in U.S. history.

Rather than a history of electoral politics, VRHCL is envisioned as a way of exploring how the answers to questions central to elections have been resolved [or left unresolved] over time: Who can vote? How do they vote? How are votes counted? What does a vote mean?,” said Bennett. “Exploring the mechanisms of voting and representation, students will get a betterunderstanding of how historical actors have shaped and wielded power. They will also see where the nation and its political/judicial leadership have conformed to its Republican ideals and deviated from them. Most fundamentally, they will learn that struggles over elections and representation are inherent to any system of self-governance.”

The Mellon Foundation is the nation’s largest funder of the arts, culture and humanities. The FAU grant is part of more than $12 million in funding to support 26 colleges and universities across the nation mounting social justice-related research or curricular projects.

The grants are the result of Mellon’s Higher Learning inaugural open call, announced in spring 2022 as a means of continuing to support inquiry into issues of vital social, cultural and historical import. The open call invited proposals from institutions exploring three distinct topical categories – Civic Engagement and Voting Rights; Race and Racialization in the United States; and Social Justice and the Literary Imagination.

“This call is designed to highlight the essential role of the humanities – including those disciplines concerned with the interpretation of expressive culture – in addressing our society’s most salient social issues, past and present,” said Phillip Brian Harper, program director for higher learning at Mellon. “We seek to support not only incisive analytical work, but also projects that creatively envision more just and equitable futures.”

The impetus for creating this project at FAU comes from a need to teach civic literacy within a historical context. Florida law mandates that all students meet the Civic Literacy Competency requirement to graduate from a Florida university or state college. Since 2021, students have been required to fulfill this mandate by passing a civic literacy exam and completing one of two courses: United States History since 1877 (AMH 2020) or Government of the United States (POS 2041). The law stipulates that students are expected to show an understanding of the “basic principles of American democracy and how they are applied in our Republican form of government,” the U.S. Constitution, and “landmark Supreme Court cases and their impact on law and society.”

VRHCL proposes to meet this curricular need by providing faculty with free resources to foreground an important component of civic literacy in their U.S. history courses. At the same time, these materials will be available to instructors outside Florida to augment their teaching of the history of voting in their classrooms. Materials may at times be drawn from Florida’s history, but overall the units will focus on voting and political participation at the national level.

“This is a tremendous achievement for Professor Bennett,” said Michael J. Horswell, Ph.D., dean of FAU’s Dorothy F. Schmidt College of Arts and Letters. “We are thrilled with the Mellon Foundation’s support of this very important work.”