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Professor Laura Whatley Awarded Prestigious National Endowment for the Humanities Grant

Posted April 23, 2014 in Faculty

KCAD Art History professor Laura J. Whatley, Ph.D. has been awarded a coveted National Endowment for the Humanities (NEH) grant to conduct research in England this summer. She will be in residence at St. John University in York, where she will be participating in the NEH-sponsored seminar entitled “Arts, Architecture, and Devotional Interaction in England, 1200–1600.”

Dr. Laura J. Whatley

Dr. Whatley will primarily be conducting field research for her forthcoming book, The Holy Land and Crusade in English Art and Imagination c. 1140-1400, which examines the influence of the Crusades on English art and architecture over the longue durée – a period that begins with the establishment of the military orders in England in the 1140s and ends with Richard II’s reign (1377-1399). The world-renowned medieval studies center at the University of York and the equally rich cultural and historical collections of nearby Cambridge and Oxford will allow her to directly engage with places, artifacts, and artworks that will help her shape her research into a compelling narrative.

“You come to a point where, even with things being digitized and accessible, you really can’t sink into your subject,” Dr. Whatley said. “You have to immerse yourself. This trip is so important because I can actually sit down and look through chronicles and records to try to get as clear a picture of the medieval mentality as I can.”

Trinity Apocalypse (Cambridge, Trinity College Ms. R.16.2), ca. 1250, London or Saint Albans, fol. 14r

NEH funding is awarded through a peer-review process that’s highly competitive – only approximately 32% of all applicants are successful – and Dr. Whatley’s qualifications, research plan, and dedication to medieval scholarship made her an ideal candidate. She’s traveled to England before, having self-financed several trips to the University of Leeds to participate in the International Medieval Congress, one of the largest medieval conferences in the world, but this is the first time she’s applied for NEH funding to further her research goals.

Throughout the seminar, Dr. Whatley will be able to interact collaboratively with her colleagues in the field, an activity she feels is just as essential to the success of scholarship as it is to that of practice-based professional fields.

“All scholars do is collaborate,” she said. “The reality is that there’s a connection between the questions you’re asking and the questions that someone who’s working on say, 13th century Florence or Spain is asking. To some degree it’s essential to be able collaborate and ask people questions about their work because it will also drive your own work.”

Temple Church, London, (credit: Laura J. Whatley)

At KCAD, Dr. Whatley teaches a range of pre- and early modern courses in the Art History program, including Classical Art, Art of the Medieval Mediterranean, and Northern Renaissance Art. Most of her students are not Art History majors, but she sees historical scholarship as an act of collective discovery and problem solving that benefits all students regardless of their academic focus. She and the other Art History faculty members recognize the importance of giving KCAD students the ability to think and write about art and design in addition to creating it.

“The great thing about looking at history, whether it concerns 1300 or 1995, is the way you interrogate it, the way you break it down, the questions you ask about it and the ways in which you go out and try to find those answers,” Dr. Whatley said. “I think artists, designers, practitioners, and historians in some regards are all kind of looking for the same connections to materials and we ask a lot of the same questions. We just have different methodologies of finding the answers, so again it’s this idea of collaboration.”

Seal of the Hospital of Saint John of Jerusalem in England, ca. 1187 (London, National Archives DL 25/320), (credit: Laura J Whatley)

While in England, Dr. Whatley will also be finalizing an article titled, “Noble Women, Crusading and Illuminated Apocalypses in Thirteenth-Century England,” which examines luxury illuminated Apocalypse manuscripts that became incredibly popular among the nobility and royal family in mid-thirteenth century England.

On July 9, she will present a portion of the project as a part of a panel at the International Medieval Congress at the University Leeds.