This fall, South Carolina Humanities presented Governor’s Awards to two esteemed members of the Clemson Family, Professor Vernon Burton and Professor Emerita Dixie Goswami.

Burton and Goswami were honored at a luncheon ceremony Oct. 19 in Columbia, along with Karen Alexander, CEO of The Auntie Karen Foundation, and Betty Jo Rhea, former mayor of Rock Hill, South Carolina.

The annual awards were established in 1991 to recognize excellence in research, teaching, scholarship and other outstanding contributions to cultural life in South Carolina and beyond. South Carolina Humanities is a state-based, nonprofit program of the National Endowment for the Humanities.

Betty Jo Rhea, Dixie Goswami, Karen Alexander and Vernon Burton

South Carolina Humanities recognized the contributions of, from left, Betty Jo Rhea, Dixie Goswami, Karen Alexander and Vernon Burton with 2017 Governor’s Awards in the Humanities.
Image Credit: Allen Anderson

At Clemson University, Orville Vernon Burton is a professor of history, Pan African studies, sociology, anthropology and computer science, and is director of the Clemson CyberInstitute.

He came to Clemson in 2010 after a distinguished tenure at the University of Illinois, where he taught in multiple disciplines, served as associate director of the National Center for Supercomputing Applications and was founding director of the Institute for Computing in Humanities, Arts and Social Science at Illinois. He also held the appointment of Burroughs Distinguished Professor of Southern History and Culture at Coastal Carolina University from 2008-10.

Burton was born in Georgia in 1947 and raised in the small textile and farming community of Ninety Six. He attended Furman University before earning his Ph.D. at Princeton.

An award-winning teacher, scholar and leader in digital humanities, Burton’s research interests include the American South, especially community and race relations. He is author or editor of more than 200 articles and 20 books including “The Age of Lincoln” and “In My Father’s House Are Many Mansions,” both of which were nominated for Pulitzer Prizes.

One of Burton’s proudest moments at Clemson was arranging for Supreme Court Justice Sonia Sotomayor to speak on campus in September and meet with students. Burton said he loves how student-centered the university remains, even as it is becoming a top research institution.

At the awards ceremony, Burton said it is an exciting time to be a historian in South Carolina. He saw grace in state legislators’ decision to no longer fly the Confederate flag in the wake of the massacre at Charleston’s Mother Emanuel Church.

“People do not learn their history from the books historians write (or my grandchildren would have a larger college fund),” he said. “We learn our history from what our communities tell us is important, by what they memorialize and to whom they erect statues.”

“I am honored to receive this award because it illustrates the importance of the Humanities to our state and also the importance of Clemson Humanities,” Burton said. “I hope receiving this award recognizes all the great humanities scholars at this great land grant university.

“More personally, I feel so wonderful that my good friend Dixie Goswami, a hero to both my beloved wife Georganne and me, receives this award at the same time,” he said.

Goswami is a professor emerita of English at Clemson, as well as an alumna. Born in Rock Hill in 1931, Goswami said the mentorship she received at Clemson while earning a Master of Arts in English in 1967 was a shaping influence in her life.

Goswami was a senior scholar at the Clemson University Strom Thurmond Institute for Policy and Analysis. Her scholarly activity focuses on professional writing and civic engagement and literacy: she has written and edited books and articles about both.

She also was a senior scientist at the American Institutes for Research in Washington and is the director and co-founder (1996) of the Write to Change Foundation, which supports youth leadership, literacy and advocacy. Goswami also is director of special projects for Middlebury College’s Bread Loaf School of English Teacher Network and a longtime member of the Bread Loaf faculty in Middlebury, Vermont.

As director of the Middlebury Bread Loaf NextGeneration Leadership Network, her current work involves inclusive education policies and practices that provide vulnerable young people with the skills, resources and support they need to flourish. The network funded by The Ford Foundation engages youth from six states, including South Carolina, as allies and advocates in writing and acting for social and educational change.

At the luncheon, Goswami dedicated her Governor’s Award to Professor Emeritus Bill Koon, who taught at Clemson for 35 years and was a former chair of English before his death Oct. 3. She recalled Koon as a “writer, humanities scholar, and provider of opportunities for scholarly and creative work in the humanities in this state and beyond.”

Goswami said the diversity of her own family, which she describes as “white, Indian, African American, Latino, Bulgarian and other,” reflects the diversity and connectedness of the people in the state who benefit from South Carolina Humanities in their communities, schools and as citizens of the world.

“The humanities matter to us, helping us at this critical time to understand each other through our languages, histories, and cultures, insisting that we think critically and creatively about being informed and compassionate citizens,” she said.

“The humanities matter to old folks like me,” said Goswami, “and to the young people who will be the next generation’s leaders. The South Carolina Humanities matter.”