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Home:  >News & Events   >News Archives   >2002
William Ferris, leading Southern culture expert, former NEH chair, joins University of North Carolina faculty

April 23, 2002

Editor’s note: A slightly different version of this article appeared on March 7, 2002, on the University of North Carolina’s College of Arts and Sciences web site.

CHAPEL HILL, N.C. — William R. Ferris, former chairman of the National Endowment for the Humanities and a widely recognized leader in Southern studies, black music and folklore, is joining the faculty of the University of North Carolina.

He was named professor of history and associate director of the Center for the Study of the American South, effective July 1. He also will be an adjunct professor in the Curriculum in Folklore.

“The appointment of Bill Ferris signals a significant addition to a university that prides itself on scholarship in the humanities, the very soul of Carolina,” said Chancellor James Moeser. “Bill will enhance an already distinguished record of achievement built over many years by faculty, students and staff in the important area of Southern studies.

“We want Chapel Hill to be the leading center in the nation for the study of the American South, not only in terms of its past, but its present and future. Bill’s appointment bridges both the academic and the public service missions of the university.”

A native of Vicksburg, Mississippi, Ferris is an award-winning author, folklorist, filmmaker and scholar of Southern culture. Before leading NEH (1997 to 2001), he was the founding director of the Center for the Study of Southern Culture at the University of Mississippi, where he was a faculty member for 18 years. Since January, he has been a Visiting Public Policy Scholar at the Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars in Washington, D.C.

“Bill Ferris is one of the most outstanding public intellectuals in the United States today,” said Risa Palm, dean of UNC’s College of Arts and Sciences. “His knowledge of the roots of American culture — especially Southern and African-American culture — extends deep and wide across the arts and humanities. He will be an extraordinary resource to the university and to the citizens of North Carolina and the region.”

Ferris has written or edited 10 books and created 15 documentary films, most of which deal with black music and other folklore from the Mississippi Delta.

“It is a special honor to be associated with the department of history, the Center for the Study of the American South and the curriculum in folklore,” Ferris said. “Since my undergraduate days at Davidson College in the early ’60s, I have considered the University of North Carolina one of our nation’s greatest universities.

“As a teacher, scholar and administrator, I have focused on the American South for over 32 years, and my travels have often led me to Chapel Hill. I look forward with pleasure to working with students, faculty and administration at the university as part of their distinguished legacy of studying the American South.”

Ferris has won many prestigious honors, including the Charles Frankel Prize in the Humanities from President Clinton, the American Library Association’s Dartmouth Medal, the Mississippi Institute of Arts and Letters Award, and the W.C. Handy Blues Award. In 1991, Rolling Stone magazine named him among the Top Ten Professors in the United States.

He holds a bachelor’s degree in English from Davidson College, master’s and Ph.D. degrees in folklore from the University of Pennsylvania and a master’s degree in English from Northwestern University. He has also taught at Jackson State University in Mississippi and Yale University.


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