Mississippi Humanities Council recognizes two MSU faculty members

Contact: Sarah Nicholas

Studio portrait of Mark Clark
Mark Edward Clark (Photo by Megan Bean)

STARKVILLE, Miss.—Two Mississippi State faculty members are being recognized by the Mississippi Humanities Council with awards recognizing outstanding work by Mississippians in conveying insights of the humanities to public audiences.

Mark Edward Clark, associate professor in the university’s Department of Classical and Modern Languages and Literatures, is MSU’s winner of the 2020 Humanities Teacher of the Year Award, which pays tribute to outstanding faculty in traditional humanities fields at each of Mississippi’s institutions of higher learning.

Clark’s tribute includes an honorarium and invitation to deliver the College of Arts and Sciences Humanities Lecture. The Feb. 26 presentation begins at 3 p.m. in MSU’s Shackouls Honors College Forum Room, 401C Griffis Hall. Titled “Religious Tolerance, Pluralism, and Moderation in the Later Roman Empire,” the lecture and a following reception are free to all.

Studio portrait of James C. "Jim" Giesen
James C. “Jim” Giesen (Photo by Russ Houston)

James C. “Jim” Giesen, associate professor in MSU’s Department of History, is the recipient of MHC’s 2020 Humanities Scholar Award for his work as the official scholar for the Mississippi tour of the Smithsonian Institution exhibit, “Waterways.”

Both Clark and Giesen will be honored by MHC at the organization’s annual ceremony March 27 in Jackson.

The Mississippi Humanities Council is funded by Congress through the National Endowment for the Humanities to provide public programs in traditional liberal arts disciplines to serve nonprofit groups in the state.

Clark’s presentation will focus on his study of conflict in the Roman Empire between pagans and Christians. “The conflict focused upon the altar of the goddess Victoria in the senate house,” Clark said. “I suggest that in spite of the bitter debate surrounding the removal of the altar in 382 by a Christian emperor, surprising examples of religious tolerance and moderation emerged from the historical record. I also argue that even at the imperial level, official efforts were made to strike a balance between the two sides and to maintain a pluralistic religious policy.”

Tommy Anderson, MSU College of Arts and Sciences associate dean for academic affairs, said Clark has a “deep and abiding commitment to promoting humanities in both his research and teaching.”

“His scholarship is broad in scope, from the Homeric poems to ancient Roman coins, and he is invested in sharing with his students not only the history of the Classical past, but also how this past shapes what students believe today,” Anderson continued.

Anderson said Clark’s ability to “bridge the gap” for generations of students and scholars is one of Clark’s “greatest legacies.”

Clark joined MSU’s faculty in 2011 to add Greek to CMLL’s curriculum and to develop a concentration in classical languages and literatures. He previously had a three-decade career at the University of Southern Mississippi. With research interests including Greek epic, Latin literature, Roman religion and the Classical Tradition, Clark is a member of Phi Beta Kappa (1973) and Phi Kappa Phi (1984).

For more on Clark’s humanities lecture, contact the College of Arts and Sciences at 662-325-2646 or email Julia Osman, director of MSU’s Institute for the Humanities, at josman@history.msstate.edu.

For Giesen’s work on “Waterways,” his award includes a commissioned work of art to be presented at the MHC annual ceremony. “Waterways” is part of the Smithsonian’s 2018-2019 traveling Museums on Main Street program, designed by Smithsonian scholars.

“I am honored to have been chosen by the council to receive this award, especially because I’ve seen how hard the MHC works to make sure that Mississippians not only have access to history, philosophy, poetry, music and literature, but that we can be inspired by the humanities in our everyday lives,” Giesen said, pointing to Mississippi’s “unparalleled” history with the humanities.

Anderson said Giesen’s scholarship on “Waterways” is an illustration of “how the humanities can shed light on deeply important aspects of what it means to be part of the Mississippi community so tied to water.”

“His research poignantly links the human condition to the water cycle, its effect on landscape, population settlement and migration, and its influence on culture and spirituality,” Anderson said. “His unique ability to highlight how the human condition is shaped by what we often perceive to be inhuman forces is what makes Dr. Giesen’s work so compelling.”

While serving as the official scholar of the “Waterways” exhibit, Giesen traveled throughout Mississippi, interacting with residents who have a connection to the history of water in the state.

“At each of the six stops, I made a presentation tailored to the interests of the local hosts. My talk, ‘Water Ways: Ebbs and Flows of History in the Magnolia State,’ wove together three episodes in Mississippi history that had to do with water,” Giesen said, noting he discussed topics such as the Biloxi Wade-ins, the 1927 Mississippi River Flood, and the Mississippi River Basin Model.

Giesen serves on the Mississippi Humanities Speakers Bureau, as editor of the University of Georgia Press series “Environmental History and the American South,” and heads the Node of Excellence in Agricultural, Rural and Environmental History Ph.D. program in MSU’s history department.

In June, the national Agricultural History Society established the James C. Giesen Award for Exceptional Teaching in Agricultural History, created and named in Giesen’s honor. He also joined an elite percentage of the membership to be named an AHS society fellow.

A faculty member at MSU for 13 years, Giesen is a 2018 Grisham Master Teacher.

MSU’s College of Arts and Sciences includes more than 5,200 students, 325 full-time faculty members, nine doctoral programs, 14 master’s programs, and 27 undergraduate academic majors offered in 14 departments. It also is home to the most diverse units for research and scholarly activities, including natural and physical sciences, social and behavioral sciences, and the humanities. For more details about the College of Arts and Sciences visit www.cas.msstate.edu.

MSU is Mississippi’s leading university, available online at www.msstate.edu.