LAWRENCE — You can call her a humanities evangelist. Nancy Jackson believes, contrary to certain national dialogues, that the humanities are vitally important to a vibrant society. She points especially to the nonprofit sector in the United States, which she characterizes as humanities — and humanity — in action.
As the Simons Public Humanities Fellow at the University of Kansas’ Hall Center for the Humanities, Jackson will connect the work of KU scholars who study social movements and social change to Kansas nonprofit organizations.
“Every nonprofit has a theory of change — an operating assumption about what actions will achieve the change they seek,” she said. “ Scholarship could inform those theories. History, American studies, African and African-American studies all contain evidence of what has — and has not — actually worked while English, history of art and philosophy bring insights about what moves people to care, to take action.”
Ultimately, Jackson hopes to create a feedback loop between scholarship in humanities and practice in nonprofits, improving both and demonstrating the power and importance of the humanities along the way.
“We hope to highlight the diverse scholarship here at KU and the great work of nonprofits in Kansas and around the region,” Jackson said. “I think this could prove to be a really wonderful reminder that nonprofits are a big part of our economy and the one part that’s wholly dedicated to making the world better.”
Jackson has been part of the KU community for more than two decades, working as an editor at the University Press of Kansas, where she helped scholars make their work more accessible to wide audiences and at KU Endowment, raising support for the Spencer Museum of Art and the College of Liberal Arts & Sciences, before becoming assistant vice president. She also founded her own award-winning nonprofit and recently co-founded Generous Change, a company dedicated to serving nonprofits across the country.
At KU, Jackson earned a bachelor’s degree in humanities and a master’s degree in history. Those studies set her up well for work in the nonprofit sector, where she interacted with fellow humanities majors on a regular basis. In addition to anecdotal evidence, she plans to do research into the percentage of nonprofit sector workers who studied humanities in some form prior to joining the field.
“If what we can do is make a connection between humanities graduates and this sector that makes society better every day, that’s a tremendous answer to the question, ‘What do the humanities do for society?’” Jackson said. “I think the nonprofit sector punches way above its weight.”
Jackson has begun working with several KU scholars to pair their work with the community. Those interested in taking part can reach her at firstname.lastname@example.org. Eventually, she plans to collect the scholars’ research on social change and how it takes effect in the world in a compendium of essays and short videos. The Hall Center for the Humanities will also host a public event in the fall highlighting the lessons learned and work done on both sides.
Until then, there is plenty of evangelizing about the humanities and nonprofits to be done.