College of Liberal Arts

University of Mississippi

UM History Professor Earns Prestigious Fellowship

Jessica Wilkerson to spend coming year completing book on women-led movements in the South

JUNE 2, 2016  |  BY REBECCA LAUCK CLEARY

Jessica Wilkerson

Jessica Wilkerson

Jessica Wilkerson, an assistant professor of history and Southern studies at the University of Mississippi, is trading Oxford for Cambridge, Massachusetts, during the 2016-17 academic year as part of the Visiting Scholars Program at the American Academy of Arts and Sciences.

The academy’s Visiting Scholars Program provides residential fellowships for junior faculty members and postdoctoral scholars in the humanities and social sciences. The fellowship offers scholars a year for research and writing free from teaching and administrative duties, a collaborative work environment and an opportunity to interact with academy members.

“The academy also organizes weekly seminars when we will meet with the other fellows, as well as editors, publishers and senior scholars, to discuss our work,” said Wilkerson, who has taught classes on Southern history, women’s history, contemporary U.S. history and oral history at UM since fall 2014.

Her research interests include Southern and Appalachian history, U.S. women’s and gender history, labor and working-class history, 20th century social movements and oral history. She earned her master’s degree from Sarah Lawrence College and her doctorate from the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.

In spring 2016, Wilkerson taught a successful graduate class on oral history techniques. The class ended with students performing short pieces from their oral histories.

One of the students in that class, Kate Wiggins, said she learned a great deal about how to capture personal stories of oral history subjects.

“I enrolled in Dr. Wilkerson’s class with a curiosity about oral history, and I found that I loved it,” said Wiggins, a second-year master’s student in Southern studies from Boone, North Carolina. “This work is not easy, and Dr. Wilkerson’s guidance and gentle nudging outside our comfort zones made us all better interviewers and students.”

Wilkerson will not be required to teach any classes at the academy so she can devote all her energy to writing “Where Movements Meet: From the War on Poverty to Grassroots Feminism in the Appalachian South.” The book traces the alliances forged and the grassroots movements led by women in the Appalachian South in the 1960s and ’70s.

She received the news just before spring break, and said she was pleasantly surprised.

“My motto is to apply for anything and everything that could support my research and writing, and that means I am used to getting rejection letters,” Wilkerson said. “But every now and then, the stars align. I feel very fortunate to have the time to pursue my writing goals, and I am grateful for the support of the academy and the University of Mississippi.”

Housed at the academy headquarters, visiting scholars participate in academy-sponsored conferences, seminars and informal gatherings while advancing their scholarly research. The academy provides office space and computer services as well as library privileges in cooperation with the Mahindra Humanities Center at Harvard University.

Nearly 60 academic institutions across the country have become university affiliates of the academy, supporting the Visiting Scholars Program and participating in academy studies on higher education.

Wilkerson said she is looking forward to meeting the other seven visiting fellows in her cohort.

“I love being a part of small, focused scholarly communities and writing groups, so it’s a perfect fit for me,” she said. “And while I enjoy small-town life, it will be lovely to explore a new-to-me city. Is there a more intellectually thriving place than Boston and Cambridge? Museums, bookstores, lectures, exhibits, performances galore. It will be fabulous!”