March 13, 2008

SIUC establishes Center for Delta Studies

by Andrea Hahn

CARBONDALE, Ill. — A new research and scholarly networking tool is in place at Southern Illinois University Carbondale with the establishment of the SIUC Center for Delta Studies.

The Delta refers to a federally designated area known as the Delta Regional Authority – 240 counties and parishes in eight states bordering the lower Mississippi River. The region includes 16 Southern Illinois counties. There are geological, cultural, demographic and historical similarities that encourage study of the large area as a unit.

John Koropchak, vice chancellor for research and the graduate school dean, said the area's demographics make Southern Illinois an area far different from Chicago and upstate Illinois.

He said plans for a Center for Delta Studies date back several years as the University sought to find a way to "marshal the resources of the research universities in the region to help to address (the region's) issues and circumstances."

"The Center for Delta Studies provides a mechanism by which to organize discussion and efforts on campus intended to address these issues and problems in the Delta Region," he said.

Professor Jane Adams, who holds a joint appointment in anthropology and history at SIUC, is the director of the new center. She hopes the center will create new avenues of interdisciplinary scholarship and improve communication between academic fields for those whose expertise connects with the greater Mississippi River Delta area. She hopes that the universities in the SIU system will take a leadership role for scholars of this region both at SIU and at other universities.

"I've had something like this center in the back of my mind for about 20 years – a center that would involve everyone on campus who is involved with that region," she said.

Adams said she found younger scholars, in particular, are eager to find others studying the same area they are, even if those other scholars are in different disciplines.

"It was really that enthusiasm that made me think this would fly," she said.

Another factor, she said, is the current trend for grant monies to flow toward interdisciplinary research efforts.

"Especially when you are a young scholar, you have to be getting published in your professional journals, the ones specific to your discipline," she said. "But you also need to understand other disciplines, sometimes, in order to do that. This center will help network with a large group of people."

Adams said research isn't the only goal of the center. So is service. Some of the current research and activity at SIUC concerning the Delta area already is service oriented. Adams referred to such projects as Preservation Summer conducted jointly by Michael Batinski, chair of the history department, and Robert H. Swenson in the School of Architecture in the Delta region, or the recent rescue of an historic flatboat by students working with Swenson and SIUC archaeologist Mark J. Wagner. According to the proposal to establish the center, some of the future interdisciplinary research may involve Delta area citizens and focus on practical solutions to long-term problems.

At present, the center is not a physical place, though plans call for it to have a cyber presence with a Web site by its second year. More immediately, the center hosts symposiums in different program areas. Already, the center hosted two events. In November, a panel of scholars and experts discussed disaster planning in the context of Hurricane Katrina, and in February, the experts discussed climate change and its possible effects on the Delta region.

The governing board and director of the center includes faculty from eight different SIUC colleges.