Doctoral student awarded one of university's most lucrative fellowships

AUSTIN, Texas—Antony Cherian, a doctoral student in the School of Information at The University of Texas at Austin, has been awarded the first of three Scholar-in-Residence Fellowships for the “Project in Interpreting the Texas Past,” the Intellectual Entrepreneurship Program (IE), Texas Parks and Wildlife Department (TPandW), the Houston Endowment and the Summerlee Foundation have announced.

Cherian will receive from the Houston Endowment and the Summerlee Foundationa year’s salary, benefits, a travel and supply allowance, and access toprofessional audio, video and multimedia production equipment to research andhelp reshape the historical interpretation at Varner-Hogg Plantation state historicsite.

“This fellowship, valued in excess of $30,000,” said IE Program Director Rick Cherwitz, “is one of the largest grants awarded a UT graduate student, symbolizing the importance of ‘citizen-scholarship’ to the university’s mission.”

The Scholar-in-Residence Program is part of the “Project in Interpreting the Texas Past,” developed by Dr. Martha Norkunas, IE faculty member and director of Texas Folklife Resources. The project is a collaborative partnership among the University of Texas at Austin’s College of Liberal Arts, IE Program and TPandW. It focuses on graduate student training and research around a case study site of public interest, encourages interdisciplinary study and integrates theoretical and applied knowledge.

Under Norkunas’ guidance, graduate students then produce new and engaging interpretive programs for historic sites all over Texas, ultimately improving the public’s understanding of the past. These richer, fuller interpretations are especially important for the thousands of school children who annually visit Texas historic sites.

For his scholar-in-residence project, Cherian will work closely with the staff at Varner-Hogg Plantation state historic site and with Dr. Norkunas to create a series of public programs, a documentary film and an interactive DVD and Web site.

“Varner-Hogg has the potential to be the most exciting and dynamic historic site in the state,” Cherian said. “The land can tell the stories of Texas from the indigenous Karankawa people to the Spanish colonialists to Stephen F. Austin’s Anglo settlers and the African American workers they enslaved. It can tell us about the prison laborers and sharecroppers who tended the sugar and cotton after slavery times.

“It can speak of the political and philanthropic influence of the Hogg family and of the oil rush in the 1920s that yielded them $40,000 a day in crude. The challenge of our project will be to help the public make sense of the varied contributions these women and men made to the site over the years and to our communities today.”

The plantation at Varner-Hogg is primarily a decorative arts museum. However, TPandW staff recognize and welcome the need to broaden the scope of the interpretation to include the greater spectrum of past residents of the site.

Cherian’s research at Varner-Hogg will build on previous Interpreting the Texas Past scholars’ work recovering the stories of the forgotten residents of the plantation. Of particular concern are the long-overlooked contributions of African Americans and women at the site. In the coming year, Cherian will conduct primary research through historical records and archival documents and help to revive the site’s community-based oral history program. He will use the products of the documentary research and the oral histories in a series of public programs at the site, including radio programs, online virtual exhibits, lectures and community events. The research and public programs will culminate with the documentary video, DVD and Web site.

A selection committee composed of faculty from The University of Texas at Austin and members of the TPandW reviewed the applicants and selected Cherian from among a pool of highly qualified candidates.

Cherian has been a student in the School of Information (previously the Graduate School of Library and Information Science) since 2000. The school’s focus on emerging technologies and commitment to community education has helped him research and present the history of marginalized groups to public audiences.

Previously Cherian and Mark Westmoreland, doctoral student in Anthropology, made a feature documentary video, “Truth I Ever Told,” through an IE fellowship from the Project in Interpreting the Texas Past. “Truth I Ever Told” won the American Folklore Society’s 2003 Zora Neale Hurston Prize in African American Studies for its oral history of an African American farming community in rural Washington County, Texas, and an excerpt from the documentary is featured in the Texas State History Museum’s exhibit “Play Ball!: Texas Baseball.” Cherian has also worked on public history and digital media projects for the Smithsonian’s National Museum of the American Indian, DiverseArts’ Austin Blues Family Tree, the Lummi Nation’s Northwest Indian College and The University of Texas at Austin’s College of Natural Sciences.

For more information contact: Dr. Martha Norkunas, 512-441-9255, or Dr. Rick Cherwitz, 512-471-1939.