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Parker Academy project team
Transdisciplinary Research Project Studies the Parker Academy’s Impact

September 21, 2017- Northern Kentucky University has been awarded a prestigious National Science Foundation (NSF) grant to continue a humanities and social sciences project. NKU faculty and students are studying the Parker Academy, the first school in Ohio to offer a fully integrated education—anyone who wanted to be student, regardless of race or gender, learned in the same classroom. The school was founded in 1839.

The Parker Academy project entails a transdisciplinary collaboration under the direction of NKU History Professor Dr. William Landon, Anthropology Professor Dr. Sharyn Jones and Associate History Professor Brian Hackett.

“National Science Foundation grants are extremely competitive, so it’s rare for a humanities-related project to be funded. I imagine the Parker Academy proposal stood out because of its transdisciplinary core involving both Anthropology and History,” said Dean Diana McGill, College of Arts and Sciences. “Through this project, our students will experience the complexity of archiving, applying historical context to the information learned through the archived documents, and then conducting an archeological dig to discover artifacts. The experience will be pretty amazing when you think about it from our students’ perspective.”

Parker Academy journal

The NSF grant is specifically for undergraduate research opportunities. The funding started in July and will carry through June 2020. The project is already underway, and this grant allows the team to expand the scope by hiring 15 undergraduate research fellows each year. During the fall and winter, the students will work with the collection of letters, journals and photos that make up the Parker Academy archive. Margaret McDermott, a descendent of the Parkers, is loaning NKU the archive collection to organize and study. In the spring, the students will move out to the archeological dig and find connections to the archive.

“The extant Parker family journals that we've begun to mine, make it clear how important music was in bringing people together at the Academy. When we were on the site this past summer, we actually found pieces of 19th century harmonicas and a mouthpiece for an as-yet unidentified instrument,” said Dr. Landon. “In a classroom environment, it’s sometimes hard to draw concrete connections between ‘text’ and ‘place,’ but students who will work with us on this project will learn how to make such connections with hands-on archival, historical, geographical and archaeological experience."

Students at Parker Academy site

The project also engages a wide range of community partnerships including the Village of New Richmond, the National Underground Railroad Freedom Center and the current landowner Greg Roberts.

“This project would never have happened without Greg Robert’s cooperation. The academy was made up of three major buildings: a men’s dorm, a women’s dorm and the school. The women’s dorm still exists—it’s actually Greg’s house,” said Dr. Hackett. “He wants to educate the public about what had happened on the land that he owns and why these issues still resonate today.”

The Parker Academy project looks to demonstrate how gender equality and social justice issues shaped American history. The National Underground Railroad Freedom Center is planning an exhibition based on the project findings.

“This type of experience is going to help our students understand various environments in the workplace eventually. The students who come out of this program will be trained in working with complicated, and apparently unrelated details. And they’ll be trained to make sense of those things,” said Dr. Jones.      

This is the second prestigious NSF grant the university received this year. NKU Chemistry Professor Dr. Lili Ma was awarded a NSF grant for an organic chemistry research project.