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Ted Ownby Initiative to Support Graduate Education

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Project has ended
Project ended on November 16, at 11:59 PM CST
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Honor Ownby's Contributions to the Center for the Study of Southern Culture: Support its Students!

Retired University of Mississippi history and Southern studies professor Ted Ownby often talks of his fondness for former students, and now those students can make history by providing for future scholars through the Ted Ownby Initiative to Support Graduate Education.

After 35 years as a member of the University of Mississippi faculty, including 11 years as director of the Center for the Study of Southern Culture, Ownby retired at the end of June to great fanfare.

During his time as a scholar, researcher and director at the center, its graduate programs were expanded to include a Master of Fine Arts in Documentary Expression, its landmark Encyclopedia of Southern Culture was updated and The Mississippi Encyclopedia was released.

When Ownby arrived on the Ole Miss campus in 1988, he knew little about the center. By coincidence, he arrived at the same time as the first large graduate class of master’s students.

“My own specialty to that point, which was primarily my dissertation, relied on history and also some reading in anthropology,” said Ownby, who earned a bachelor’s degree from Vanderbilt University and a doctorate from Johns Hopkins University. “Coming to an interdisciplinary program was exciting but not something I felt prepared to do.

UM master’s students (from left) Andrea Morales, Martha Grace Mize, Christina Huff, Keon Burns and Brittany Brown celebrate their graduation from the Southern studies program outside the Center for the Study of Southern Culture in May 2021. 

 “I’ve gotten to learn from my colleagues and from other students, and learn from the freedom that the program gives. In coming in and immediately team teaching with colleagues who study literature and folk life and sociology and anthropology, it meant I was learning outside my field from the very beginning of being here,” he said.

Some of those learning experiences took place with faculty such as Nancy Bercaw, Bob Brinkmeyer, Bill Ferris and Charles Reagan Wilson – the latter two also former directors of the Center for the Study of Southern Culture – where they encouraged one another to think about the possibilities of interdisciplinary work.

“Students have so much freedom in an interdisciplinary program that our job as faculty is to push them to do excellent work with whatever choices they make,” Ownby said. More recently, he taught with Katie McKee, a professor of English and the center’s current director, who said everyone at the center will miss Ownby’s presence.

“We can take solace in knowing that he will continue doing what he loves: researching and writing about the complexities of ‘the South,’ however anyone defines it,” McKee said. “Ted leaves a legacy of serious, scholarly engagement, not only with abstract ideas about region but also with people and the stories they tell themselves and others about who they are.

“Students love Ted for his steady support of their ambitions; faculty and staff love him for his steady presence in even the most aggravating of situations; and we all love him for his steadfast commitment to the center,” she said.

During his time at the university, Ownby taught many graduate and undergraduate courses, including Southern religious history, Southern cultural history, American intellectual history, Mississippi history, U.S. history survey and seminars on methods, identity, autobiography, violence and peace, and the contemporary South.

Ted Ownby, current CSSC Director Kathryn McKee and former CSSC Director Charles Reagan Wilson.

 He has directed more than 50 master’s theses and more than 30 doctoral dissertations and also served as a member of 100 other graduate committees in Southern studies and history.

“What I love is seeing all of those alumni doing creative things in academia and far beyond academia,” Ownby said. “It’s not like the faculty and administrators got together and said, ‘Let’s create an environment in which we will stimulate creativity,’ but it just happened, and it is impressive to see.”

By establishing the Ted Ownby Initiative to Support Graduate Education, graduate students in the years to come will have the opportunity to research and document in an interdisciplinary program. Ownby has always known that history matters, just as the future of Southern studies does.

Please pay tribute to Ted Ownby’s incredible career and invest in the future of UM graduate students. Give today!

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Tell About the South

The Center for the Study of Southern Culture at the University of Mississippi launched in November 1977 with a three-day symposium featuring iconic Southern author Eudora Welty. Give $19.77 in honor of this moment. You can also make this a recurring gift!


CSSC Graduate Education

The Master of Arts in Southern Studies was established 37 years ago in 1986, and remains the only M.A. in Southern Studies in the world. Ted Ownby has mentored and taught Southern Studies graduate students since the beginning.


Southern Studies 101

Give $101 in honor of the course that Ted Ownby taught to hundreds, maybe thousands, of UM undergraduates. SST 101 is an introductory, interdisciplinary course that examines life in the American South from a variety of perspectives: historical, sociological, political, literary and musical, among others. Your $101 gift will go a long way toward supporting graduate education!


CSSC's Legacy

Since its beginning, more than 500 students have graduated with a B.A., M.A., or M.F.A. in Southern Studies. Ted Ownby has taught, mentored or influenced many of those students. Give to honor his dedication and support the education of hundreds more!


Thousands of Titles

The Center for the Study of Southern Culture's home, Barnard Observatory, is one of the most distinctive and historic buildings on campus. Inside, its shelves hold more than 1,000 books about the South, its history, its people, its politics, its ecology and its future, many of them published by the Center or written by its many faculty, staff and alumni. Ted Ownby produced at least five of the books on the Center's shelves, but he influenced the publication of many, many more. Give a gift that honors his monumental impact on Southern Studies by making a huge impact of your own.

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