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NEH Leader Will Speak at Spring Convocation

 Ferris
William R. Ferris, Jr.

Members of the public and press are invited to hear William R. Ferris, Jr., chair of the National Endowment for the Humanities (NEH), deliver the keynote address entitled "Finding Treasure" at Davidson College's Spring Convocation on Wednesday, April 26. Ferris, a 1964 graduate of Davidson and national leader in the field of Southern studies, will also receive an honorary doctor of letters degree from the college on that occasion. The event begins at 4 p.m. in Love Auditorium of Chambers Building, and there is no admission fee. The ceremonies will also include presentation of numerous academic and leadership awards to outstanding Davidson students. Call 892-2202 for more information.

Earlier in the day Ferris will also speak about "Roots and Routes: Cultural History in the New South" at a luncheon at Museum of the New South

Ferris, an author, folklorist, filmmaker, and academic administrator, was nominated to lead the NEH by President Clinton, and confirmed by the Senate for a four year term which began in November 1997. The NEH is the largest funding source for humanities programs in the country. Created as an independent federal agency by Congress in 1965, the NEH this year has a $115-million budget. It dispenses most of that as grants to "institutions that create and preserve knowledge, enrich classroom learning, expand humanities content on the Internet, and bring ideas to life through public TV and radio, museum exhibitions, and programs in libraries and other community places."

Prior to becoming NEH chair, Ferris served for 18 years as professor of anthropology at the University of Mississippi and founding director of its Center for the Study of Southern Culture. Under his leadership, the University of Mississippi developed the most comprehensive Southern studies curriculum in the nation, incorporating popular, folk, historical, and literary subjects. In 1993 the center was named as a non-governmental organization affiliated with the United Nations.

The center sponsors seminars for teachers, educational tours of the South, traveling exhibitions, and musical performances. It publishes the magazine Living Blues, hosts researchers from all over the world, and sponsors cultural programs on a wide variety of subjects pertaining to the South.

Ferris's scholarship covers the fields of folklore, American literature, music, and photography. He spearheaded creation of the best-selling 1989 Encyclopedia of Southern Culture, which was nominated for a Pulitzer Prize. Other books he has written are Ray Lum's Tales of Horses, Mules, and Men (1992), Local Color (1982), Visits with Eudora Welty and Walker Evans (1978), and Blues from the Delta (1970). His films include Mississippi Blues (1983), which was featured at the Cannes Film Festival. He has also produced sound recordings, and for nearly a decade hosted a weekly blues music program on Mississippi public radio entitled "Highway 61."

Ferris has received the Charles Frankel Prize in the Humanities from President Clinton, the American Library Association's Dartmouth Medal, and the Mississippi Institute of Arts and Letters Award. He has been inducted into the Blues Hall of Fame, and was named by Rolling Stone magazine as one of the nation's top 10 university professors in the nation.

In addition to his bachelor of arts degree from Davidson, Ferris holds a master's and Ph.D. degree in folklore from the University of Pennsylvania, and a master's degree in English from Northwestern University. Prior to teaching at the University of Mississippi, he was on the faculties at Jackson State University in Mississippi and at Yale University.

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