Rhodes College Announces New Spence Wilson Center for Interdisciplinary Humanities

image of Rhodes College campus
Overlooking Rhodes College's Briggs Hall, where the Spence Wilson Room was dedicated in 2017

Rhodes College celebrated its 175th anniversary last year, and now it is marking another exciting milestone in the life of the college with the establishment of the Spence Wilson Center for Interdisciplinary Humanities.

The center bears the name of respected Memphis businessman and philanthropist Spence Wilson, who has been a long-time supporter of Rhodes. Wilson served on the board for more than 40 years, nine as chairman. Wilson also has been a dedicated advocate and supporter of the humanities at Rhodes, and the Spence L. Wilson Distinguished Chair in Humanities was established more than a decade ago as an outgrowth of his involvement and love for the faculty and his long-term commitment to the humanities and the Memphis community. Having this center bear his name honors that commitment and highlights the humanities’ importance at Rhodes and positions it to serve as a national model.

“We are very excited about the possibilities that the Spence Wilson Center for Interdisciplinary Humanities will provide,” said Dr. Timothy Huebner, provost and vice president for academic affairs. “The new center has the potential to transform how we think about teaching and scholarship in the humanities at Rhodes. Building on the college’s longstanding tradition of excellence as a liberal arts institution, it will provide additional resources for faculty support and student fellowships, while also spurring new initiatives such as digital humanities projects and additional public programming.

head and shoulder image of Spence Wilson
Spence Wilson

The work of the Spence Wilson Center for Interdisciplinary Humanities will focus on:

  • Bringing faculty and students at Rhodes, visiting scholars, and members of the greater Memphis community together for addressing complex, global questions through humanistic inquiry
  • Enabling new team-taught courses at Rhodes and encouraging interdisciplinary, public-facing research
  • Raising the profile of the humanities at Rhodes

At the college, the humanities include history, English, modern languages and literatures, ancient Mediterranean studies, philosophy, religious studies, Africana studies, gender and sexuality studies, Asian studies, Latin American and Latinx studies, and Jewish, Islamic, and Middle Eastern studies (JIMES), as well as the college’s Foundations Programs in the Humanities.

“The Spence Wilson Center will be unique in its commitment to supporting faculty and students within a single division of the college and in promoting interdisciplinary teaching and research—including undergraduate research—within the humanities. Given the foundational importance of the humanities to our curriculum, the impact of the center will be felt across campus and throughout the Memphis community,” said Huebner.

In addition to providing faculty and student grants, the new Spence Wilson Center for Interdisciplinary Humanities will support a scholar-in-residence and Communities in Conversation, which is Rhodes’ signature public lecture series providing a forum for community dialogue on a variety of topics in the humanities, as well as those related to current affairs.

“At a time when the whole world is talking about non-human artificial intelligence and its implications, we at Rhodes are committed to providing an education that promotes independent critical thinking, fosters human originality and creativity, advances knowledge of the distinctive products of human culture, and encourages civil discourse,” said Huebner. “The humanities matter at Rhodes.”

In 2009, Wilson  was awarded the honorary Doctor of Humanities degree from the college. He and his wife, Becky, created the Spence L. Wilson Service Scholarship Program and the Spence Wilson Faculty International Travel Fund at Rhodes. They are members of the Peyton Nalle Rhodes Society, which recognizes the college’s most generous supporters. In addition, Wilson serves as a member of the Council of Emeriti Trustees at Rhodes.

The search begins in the fall for a new Spence Wilson Chair to lead the center.