Since its founding, the UT Center for the Study of War and Society has provided an opportunity for students, faculty, and the public to explore the history of war and its many impacts on society. The Center has partnered with UT faculty and local organizations, such as the East Tennessee Historical Society and Blount Mansion, to offer programs and internship opportunities for students. The Oral History Project makes veterans’ stories available to the public, promoting understanding about what is was like to serve in America’s wars.
In the coming months, the Center will transition to new faculty leadership. Vejas Liulevicius, who has served as Center director for 13 years, will turn over direction of the project to Chris Magra, a professor in the UT history department. Magra will continue to promote the Center’s mission, exploring the relationship between war and society and the human experience of war and peace, international, conflict, and diplomatic cooperation. He plans to pay particular attention to the experience of Tennesseans at war, throughout American history.
“As a Center at Tennessee’s flagship university, we have a great opportunity to partner with local historical societies to do the important work of recovering and preserving the history of our home,” said Magra, a specialist in the period of the American Revolution. “Shifting the focus from the modern era to a wider period of the 1700s to the present will enable us to incorporate more diverse stories and help us capture more of our region’s history.”
The Center will continue its vital work with graduate and undergraduate students at UT, including graduate fellowships and undergraduate internship opportunities that offer students credits toward their history degree and practical training in public history.
“I really can’t say enough good things about my time as an intern with the Center,” said Jeremy Long (’22). “Coming from a military background, it’s important to me to remember the stories and lives of our veterans, and the Center puts that priority front and center. These people are a dying breed, and we only have so much time to get their experiences recorded for future generations.”
Building on the oral history program – an institutional mainstay – undergraduate student interns with the Center will interview local veterans and active military personnel at UT and in the surrounding communities. Interns will transcribe and upload these histories to the Center’s website, which will remain accessible to UT faculty and students, as well as the public. In addition to collection of the oral histories, interns with the Center will assemble biographical portraits of people who have engaged in warfare in our region.
The Center will continue to administer graduate fellowships and work with other UT organizations on grant opportunities.
“We helped graduate students active in our programs achieve an amazing record of success in outside grants, since 2008 winning more than a dozen fellowships, including Fulbright Fellowships, German Academic Exchange Fellowships, US Holocaust Memorial Museum fellowships, a Guggenheim dissertation writing fellowship, and a Berlin Program Fellowship,” said Liulevicius, Distinguished Professor of Humanities and outgoing director of the Center for the Study of War and Society.
During his time as director, Liulevicius has been instrumental in securing grant funding for the Center. In cooperation with the UT Libraries Special Collections, he helped win grants from the National Archives and Records Administration and a Veterans Legacy Project grant from the Veterans Administration.
Other programs Liulevicius started during his tenure that will continue under Magra’s leadership include the After Wars seminar, public lectures and symposiums, as well as high school engagement.
“Vejas established a tradition of going into local schools to talk about the Center and its historical research,” Magra said. “Since Tennessee history is now a state requirement for K-12 education, we have a great opportunity for high school programming. I look forward to participating and providing lectures drawing from the Center’s research.”
With financial assistance from the UT Humanities Center, the After Wars seminar will continue, and Magra will host a lecture series that will facilitate the Center’s mission.
“The Center for the Study of War and Society played an instrumental role in my development as an historian, both professionally and intellectually,” said Bradley J. Nichols (’16), assistant professor of history at the University of Missouri. “Beyond the fact that the After Wars Seminar offered an opportunity to share my work and receive feedback from distinguished scholars, the numerous guest lectures taught me a great deal about how to present research in the first place.”
Community outreach will remain a core part of the Center’s mission. Magra and student interns will use the public forums to bring the Center’s research to our campus and East Tennessee communities. Lectures and symposia will continue to help UT students connect to scholars in the field.
“The Center for the Study of War and Society was an invaluable aspect of my doctoral studies at UT,” said Jordan T. Kuck (’14), assistant professor of history at Brevard College. “The Center’s After Wars seminar enabled me to get to know and collaborate with professors from numerous academic disciplines. The guest speaker series was also fantastic in that the talks were fascinating and I got to know established, reputable scholars in my field.”
Liulevicius will remain as director until spring 2022 when Magra will be named as interim. The two professors will work together on the transition through the summer. Liulevicius will return to the UT history faculty and Magra will assume full administrative duties by fall 2022.
“We are grateful for the work Vejas and his team did to build the reputation of the Center for the Study of War and Society,” said Ernest Freeberg, professor and head of the UT Department of History. “We look forward to the new iteration of the Center and the opportunities for students and members of our local community to increase engagement with the Center.”
Park photo by Jared Short on Unsplash