Knox College recently welcomed 14 scholars from across the United States for the inaugural Bright Institute, a selective program that brings together liberal arts college professors who teach early American history.
From July 30 to August 10, the Bright Fellows attended an in-residence summer seminar on the Knox campus. Their activities included discussing and analyzing various articles and books related to early American history, sharing their research interests, and exploring innovative teaching strategies. They also toured Knox's Seymour Library and examined some of its resources, including 18th century and early 19th century maps.
The 14 scholars are the first cohort of Bright Fellows and will participate in additional summer seminars in 2019 and 2020.
"This inaugural year has gone above and beyond my expectations," said Assistant Professor of History and African American Studies Courtney Pierre Joseph, who teaches at Lake Forest College. "My cohort is amazing, brilliant, and supportive. The readings and discussions have been illuminating and challenging, which has really made me rethink about my work and teaching in early American history."
Knox College faculty member Cate Denial, director of the Bright Institute, said the scholars "forged a supportive, generous, compassionate cohort."
"We've asked hard questions about our field, undertaken serious study of the American Revolution, and also found time to laugh and learn about one another, providing each other with support wherever we are in our careers," added Denial, Bright Professor of American History and Chair of the Department of History.
This year's Bright Institute already is having an impact on the scholars' teaching and research. Joseph, for example, plans to incorporate more engaging primary sources in her early African American history course. Jonathan Hancock, assistant professor of history at Hendrix College, said he gained "a burst of energy and inspiration to complete my book manuscript."
Bryan Rindfleisch, assistant professor of history at Marquette University, said: "I've already taken my course syllabus for Early American History and turned it inside out, based on the advice and suggestions of my peers here at the Bright Institute."
The Bright Institute at Knox College is a three-year program designed for scholars of American history before 1848 who teach at U.S. liberal arts colleges. It is supported through a trust established by Edwin W. Bright and his wife, Mary Elizabeth Hand Bright, a 1944 alumna of Knox College.
Every Bright Institute participant, in addition to attending the three summer seminars, receives $3,000 in research support during each year of the seminar. The Institute also covers participants' lodging and other expenses.
The 2018 seminar was co-led by Serena Zabin, professor of history and director of American Studies at Carleton College and author of Dangerous Economies: Status and Commerce in Imperial New York (UPenn, 2009), and Joshua Eyler, director of Rice University's Center for Teaching Excellence and adjunct associate professor of humanities.
The scholars said that Denial, as director, deserves much of the credit for the success of this year's Bright Institute.
"Cate Denial did an amazing job of curating a smart, insightful, and generous intellectual community when she pulled together the first cohort," said Will B. Mackintosh, associate professor in the Department of History and American Studies at the University of Mary Washington. "We are all liberal arts professors, with the common experiences that that implies, but there was also amazing diversity within the cohort as well. It made for extremely productive conversations about teaching and research."
Monica Rico, associate professor of history at Lawrence University, said one highlight of the two-week seminar was how "Knox came to feel like a home away from home after just a few days. Everyone on campus from the President to food services to the librarians made us feel so welcome."
Hancock especially enjoyed viewing the map collections from Knox's Special Collections and Archives. "Seeing previously unfamiliar maps gave me some ideas for incorporating versions of those maps in my teaching, and I'm excited to share those images with my students," he said.
Bright Fellows expressed appreciation for the Bright family's support of the Institute and said they're already anticipating the 2019 summer seminar at Knox.
"In terms of research, we have all committed ourselves to bringing some kind of publication to workshop at the Bright Institute next year, which will take the form of a journal article, book chapter, conference presentation, or project proposal," Rindfleisch said.
Denial added that she looks forward "to continuing to build relationships with everyone in the program; to connecting with them throughout the year both online and in person; and to coming together again to examine new trends in our field next year."
"I can't wait to read everyone else's work—everyone is so committed to this field, to new ways of opening up the field to diverse voices, to recognizing the knowledge and wisdom inherent in alternate archives, oral history, and material culture," Denial added. "It's going to be a delight to grow as a group over the next couple of years."
Photo at top of page: The 2018 cohort of Bright Institute scholars outside of Alumni Hall. Photos below: Bright Institute scholars engage in discussion, Seymour Library Director Jeff Douglas speaks with the scholars, and in a photo by Bright Institute scholar Bridgett Williams-Searle, some of the other scholars examine a map in Seymour Library's Herman R. Muelder Reading Room.