The DC Humanities Truck Fellows include a multi-disciplinary array of scholars, both faculty and graduate students, who are committed to the practice of community-based research. The Truck Fellows are committed to an ethically grounded, collaborative research process as they engage communities in the DC metropolitan region. The truck project creates an exciting tool that draws these Fellows together to engage in deeper dialogue with one another in order to help enhance each other’s practice.
2019-2021 Truck Fellows
Dan KerrHumanities Truck Director | Associate Professor of History
Mary Ellen CurtinDirector of American Studies
Ludy GrandasSenior Professorial Lecturer at the Department of World Languages and Cultures
Laura Waters HinsonAssistant Professor of Film | Director, Community Voice Project
Benjamin StokesAssistant Professor, School of Communication
David RamosProfessorial Lecturer in Graphic Design at the Department of Art
Melissa HawkinsSr. Professorial Lecturer and Director of the Public Health Scholars Program
Naoko WowsugiProfessorial Lecturer in Studio Art at the Department of Art
When he dreamed of being a truck driver as a child, Kerr never envisioned himself driving the Humanities Truck. But who knew how much fun that could be? Working alongside other visionaries at American University, Kerr, an associate professor of history at AU, spearheaded and now directs the Humanities Truck Project. He is an active community and oral historian committed to the democratization of knowledge production. Since his earliest work with the Cleveland Homeless History Project, he has sought out ways to bring the oral histories he has collected back to the communities they originated from. Through community workshops, participants in his projects have collectively reflected upon and interpreted the gathered stories. He is currently working on a project to document the past, present, and future of the Federal City Shelter in Washington, DC.
Mary Ellen Curtin
Mary Ellen Curtin has a Ph.d from Duke University and is a historian of modern African American and women’s social and political history. Her first book Black Prisoners and Their World documented the experiences of black convict laborers in the South after emancipation. Her next book on the life of Barbara Jordan, the first first black woman from the South elected to Congress, will be published with the University of Pennsylvania Press. Her review article on recent books in prison history will appear in the upcoming edition of the journal Labor and she also has an article in a new anthology entitled The Problem of Punishment. She worked as a consultant, and was interviewed for, the upcoming (Spring 2012) PBS documentary Slavery by Another Name, a history of African Americans and forced labor in the South.
Ludy Grandas is a senior professorial lecturer at the Department of World Languages and Cultures. Her teaching focuses primarily on nation and state formation in Latin America, Studies of Culture in Latin America, the Studies of Culture in Hispanic populations in the US, as well as Spanish Language. Her research interests include labor, immigrant labor, cultural studies as practiced in Latin America. For the last few years she has been collaborating with Trabajadores Unidos de Washington, DC, a non-profit organization whose mission is to empower day laborers, low income workers as well as immigrant workers in DC. She has led two Community Based Learning Courses which connect AU students to these specific populations.
Laura Waters Hinson
Laura Waters Hinson is an award-winning filmmaker and Assistant Professor in the Film and Media Arts Division of the School of Communication. Laura serves as the division’s social impact coordinator and director of the Community Voice Project. Her first feature documentary, As We Forgive, about Rwanda’s reconciliation movement, won the 2008 student Academy Award for best documentary, the Cinema for Peace Award in Berlin, and was broadcast nationally on public television. Since 2009, Laura’s films have been screened at the U.S. Congress, the United Nations, the Smithsonian National Gallery of Art and at dozens of international film festivals such as the Santa Barbara International Film Fest, Austin Film Fest, Seattle Human Rights Film Fest, Manchester International Film Fest, among many others. Her latest documentary, Mama Rwanda, is about the new generation of women entrepreneurs in Rwanda transforming their nation after genocide and was supported by the National Geographic All Roads Film Project. She partnered with the Akilah Institute for Women, using the film to promote women’s education in East Africa and beyond. Laura is passionate about stories of hope coming out of seemingly hopeless places, and her work is dedicated to giving voice to those not often heard. Most recently, Laura directed her first narrative short called Moving Violation, which starred Milana Vayntrub and won Best Narrative Short at the DC Independent Film Festival. During the Spring of 2019, Laura served as the director’s shadow on the set of Showtime’s Homeland. Prior to this, she spent SY 2019/2019 as a Filmmaker-in-Residence within SOC where she re-launched the Community Voice Project (CVP), which partners American University student filmmakers with DC-based non-profits to produce a short film series capturing voices of marginalized community residents.
Benjamin Stokes is a civic media scholar and designer at American University with the Game Lab and in the School of Communication (SOC). His designs for cities have introduced neighbors through play, and retold local history with rebuilt payphones. Previously, Benjamin co-founded Games for Change, the movement hub for advancing social change with games. Benjamin’s publications include research on participatory design, neighborhood storytelling, and urban mapping by bicycle.
David Ramos is a designer, developer, and design educator based in Washington, D.C. He teaches in the graphic design program at American University and co-organizes Knowledge Commons DC. His research and creative practice looks at using products of design—maps, interactive systems, images, and in-person events—to help us imagine landscapes past, present, and future. David holds an MFA from the Rhode Island School of Design.
Melissa Hawkins is a 15 year resident of DC and an epidemiologist with an interest in translating data to improve community health. Her current research focuses on community-based interventions to reduce chronic conditions, with particular interest in the integration of community health workers (CHWs) to bridge the gap between communities and access to health care services. Recent work has examined the role of CHWs in community-based teams and the effectiveness of CHWs as change agents in improving health equity. She serves as the research director for Healthy Schoolhouse 2.0 intervention study, a 5-year USDA-funded project, to improve nutrition literacy and prevent obesity among elementary school children in Wards 7 and 8 in DC.
Naoko Wowsugi is a community-engaged artist of Korean-Japanese descent. Using combined practices of visual art, local research, and community participation, Wowsugi’s projects highlight and fortify everyday communal and interpersonal identities.
2020-2021 Graduate Fellows
Alexis ZilenMA Student, Public History
Laura SislenMA Student, Public Anthropology
Kai WaltherMA Student, Public History
Alexis is a graduate student in the MA Public History program at American University. She received her BA in History and Anthropology with a concentration in Public History from Gettysburg College. Her academic interests include museum studies, cultural history, and gender history. Alexis is passionate about pursuing social justice initiatives through the humanities. Her research will document and interpret the stories of people experiencing homelessness throughout Washington.
Laura is pursuing their MA in Public Anthropology. Their undergraduate research examined the experiences and history of people who use drugs in America, including an ethnographic approach to understanding the roles of social narratives and embodiment of recovery from drug addiction in sober living homes. Their research will examine how power dynamics, policy, and ideology affect drug use, treatment, and recovery narratives, thus affecting access to care and the embodiment of “recovery”, health, and well-being. In 2019, Laura was also involved in the organization and programming of a large annual community health conference; their responsibilities included speaker selection and the development of novel workshop formats and topics.
Kai Walther is an MA student in Public History. Their research interests include memory and identity in the former Eastern bloc states, history as a tool of social activism, and formations of race and gender through time and space. As an undergraduate they contributed research for and helped plan the Humanities Truck’s 2019 Pride event and conducted oral histories with former DC AIDS activists for a faculty fellow. They look forward to continuing to build relationships with and learning from community partners in the DMV.
Angelyn (Angie) Whitehurst, is a native Washingtonian and active community who advocates for the homeless, the residents of the city, and for the country. She is a writer, poet, artist, actor, and film producer who also volunteers, serves on the Board for the DC Peace Team, and is a regular contributor to Street Sense Media and other local newspapers. Angie brings a plethora of experience having worked for the local government, federal government, and overseas.
Community Advisory Board
Members of the Humanities Truck’s Advisory Board provide valuable insight on the ways the Truck can more effectively engage with communities across the DMV region. They also assist in selecting Fellows and in strategizing for the project’s financial sustainability.
Kimberly SpringleCharles Sumner School Museum & Archives
Naima JeffersonShepard Park Citizens Association
Noel LopezCultural Anthropologist, National Park Service
Kerrie Cotten WilliamsDC Public Library
Nancy ShiaCommunity Photographer
Samir MeghelliSmithsonian Anacostia Community Museum
Kimberly E. Springle is an Historian with a focus on community history. Her research interests include 20th Century African American History, the history of public education, and capturing the untold stories of lesser known contributors to society.
Kimberly is the Founder and Principal Consultant of K.E. Springle Cultural Consulting, serving communities and individuals nationwide in preserving their cultural assets and lecturing on topics related to cultural heritage. Kimberly also presently serves as the Executive Director of Charles Sumner School Museum and Archives, the official museum and repository for DC Public Education. In her capacity, she is the steward of the Historic Museum site and serves as the Historian and Archivist for the DC Public Education System.
Over her 17 year career in the museum field, Kimberly has worked with various cultural institutions including the Smithsonian Institution Archives, National Museum of American History and with Lord Cultural Resources, a Canadian-based museum consulting firm. She currently serves on the Executive Board of the National Council on Public History (NCPH), and is a member of the Editorial Review Board and Diversity and Inclusion Committee for American Association for State and Local History (AASLH). In addition, she is a member and First Vice President of Delta Kappa Gamma Society International, DC State Organization, which promotes professional and personal growth of women educators and excellence in education worldwide.
Kimberly earned her Master of Arts Degree in History Museum Studies from the Cooperstown Graduate Program (State University of New York, Oneonta). She also earned a Bachelor of Arts Degree in History with a Minor in African American Studies from College of Charleston, Charleston, SC. She is a proud native of Greenville, South Carolina.
Photo courtesy of Rocview Photography
Naima Jefferson attended Southern Methodist University in Dallas, Texas, where she earned a bachelor’s of business administration in accounting and has a Master of Business Administration from Georgetown University in Washington, D.C where she was awarded the Dean’s Citation for Outstanding Service and was a Georgetown MBA Scholar. Professionally, Naima develops federal policy and works closely with high-level officials to promote the agency’s mission and purpose. She has over 20 years of experience in the financial services industry and is also an entrepreneur. She serves as the president of the Shepherd Park Citizens Association, trustee for the Committee of 100 for the Federal City, as a national committee co-chair for national membership organization with over 10,000 members across the country, and served on the board of the Southern Methodist University Black Alumni Association. She is married and lives in Northwest Washington, DC with her husband in two amazing daughters.
Noel Lopez is the Cultural Anthropologist for National Park Service, National Capital Area. His NPS projects include a study on subsistence/supplemental fishing on the Washington waterways, an investigation of Summer in the Parks and its effects on the GoGo and Punk scene, and ethnographic explorations of community usage of parks throughout the DC region. He wrote his dissertation on White urban Appalachians who were members of the Original Rainbow Coalition along with the Black Panthers and Young Lords in 1960s Chicago. Noel has discussed his research topics on Kojo Nnamndi, WTOP and other local media programs. Noel grew up and lived throughout DC, Maryland and Virginia. He lives with his wife and three kids in Alexandria, VA.Cut
Kerrie Cotten Williams
Kerrie Cotten Williams is currently Head of Special Collections for the DC Public Library’s Washingtoniana, Black Studies and Peabody Room Divisions. Her experience in collection development, archival management, donor relations, grant writing, public programming and outreach, and teaching is supported by her interest and specialization in African American Studies, Comparative Women’s History and LGBTQ Studies. Her work is anchored in donor relations, community archives and archival activism. Kerrie has facilitated the donation of major research collections and digital projects to the DC Public Library, including the organizational records of Fire & Ink, Women in the Life magazine, and the Washington Blade, Inc.
Kerrie is a graduate of Dillard University (B.A. History/English), New York University (M.A. History) and Simmons College (M.S. in Library Science and Archival Management).
I began photographing people in the projects and on park benches in New Haven, Connecticut in 1965. Two years later, I was photographing the same subjects in New York City. I graduated from the City College of New York in 1970 with a major in sociology and minor in photography. I got an MS from Columbia University School of Social Work in 1972 and came to DC to go to Antioch Law School the same year. In DC, I continued photographing people on park benches, as well as political movements, human struggles and extensively documenting the
community I live in. I graduated from Antioch Law School in 1978.
For 20 years, I worked for a news service where my beat was Capitol Hill and the State Department. I’ve been a member of the National Press Club for 25 years. For three years (2012-2015) I worked for The Washington Informer.
I was an Advisory Neighborhood Commissioner in Adams Morgan for seven years. First, from 1982 to 1984, and second from 2007 to 2010.
My collection of hard copy photographs has been in the Washingtoniana section of the Martin Luther King Jr. Library since its temporary closure
in March 2017. Since then, I’ve been working on digitizing my 36 linear feet and 50+ years of negatives. I’ve completed the digitization of 3
years, 1976, 1977 and 1978.
My photos have been published around the world, including in The New York Times, Vanity Fair, USA Today, Paris Match and more.
Dr. Samir Meghelli serves as Museum Curator at the Smithsonian Anacostia Community Museum. Prior to joining the Smithsonian Institution, he was a professor at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, as well as a Visiting Scholar at Northeastern University (Boston, MA) and the Paris Institute of Political Science (Paris, France). He received his B.A. (magna cum laude) from the University of Pennsylvania and his M.A., M.Phil., and Ph.D. in History from Columbia University.
Dr. Meghelli’s research, teaching, and curatorial work have focused on social movements, cultural/musical history, urban history, and community history. He has produced and consulted for documentary films and historical exhibitions, as well as led community history projects in Philadelphia (PA), New York City (NY), and Washington, DC. Most recently, he led a research project exploring the history and contemporary dynamics of neighborhood change and neighborhood activism in Washington, DC, and curated the culminating exhibition: “A Right to the City.” He is the co-author of “The Global Cipha: Hip Hop Culture and Consciousness” (2006), co-editor of “New Perspectives on the History of Marcus Garvey, the U.N.I.A., and the African Diaspora” (2011), and his writings have appeared in The New York Times, Black Arts Quarterly, and The Western Journal of Black Studies, among other places.
Humanities Truck Committee
The Humanities Truck Committee is comprised of individuals from the American University community, and consults with Truck staff on the selection of Fellows and more.
MJ Rymsza-PawlowskaAssistant Professor of History
Leslie NellisAssociate Archivist, University Library
Ximena VarelaDirector, Arts Management Program | Department of Performing Arts
Rob AlbroResearch Associate Professor, Center for Latin American and Latino Studies
Jane PalmerProfessorial Lecturer in the Department of Justice, Law, and Criminology
Juliana MartinezAssistant Professor, World Languages & Culture
MJ Rymsza-Pawlowska grew up in D.C. and is thrilled to be living and working here! An assistant professor in AU’s Department of History, MJ is interested in popular history, form, and representation, MJ ‘s research asks how our understanding and portrayal of the past changes alongside larger cultural shifts. Her first book, History Comes Alive: Public History and Popular Culture in the 1970s was published in 2017, and she is currently in the beginning stages of a new project, tentatively called Burying Our Feelings about time capsules in the twentieth century. As Associate Director of the Grad Program in Public History, MJ’s interdisciplinary teaching and practice revolves around exhibition and interpretation—she is currently developing a Humanities Truck project called Community History Snapshots: students in her Public History Practicum will work with community partners to highlight the way that Washington’s built environment has been changing. MJ is also involved with DC’s local history community; she has written for Washington History magazine, and is on the Planning Committee of the 45th Annual DC History Conference.
Dr. Trevor Owens is a librarian, researcher, policy maker, and educator working on digital infrastructure for libraries.
Owens serves as the first Head of Digital Content Management at the Library of Congress. He is also a Public Historian in Residence at American University, where he teaches digital history graduate seminars. He also teaches graduate seminars in digital preservation as a lecturer for the University of Maryland’s College of Information, where he is also a Research Affiliate with the Digital Curation Innovation Center.
He currently serves on the board of Anacostia Trails Heritage Area Inc, as a founding board member of Digital Cultural Heritage D.C., and as a member of the Digital Library Federation Advisory Committee.
Owens previously worked as a Senior Program Officer and as Associate Deputy Director for Libraries at the United States Institute of Museum and Library Services (IMLS). At the IMLS, he led the establishment of the National Digital Platform initiative, which under his leadership, invested more than $30 million in 110 projects to advance digital infrastructure for libraries across the nation. Prior to that, he worked on digital preservation strategy and as a historian of science at the Library of Congress. Before joining the Library of Congress, he led outreach and communications efforts for the Zotero project at the Center for History and New Media at George Mason University.
Owens is the author of three books, the most recent of which, The Theory and Craft of Digital Preservation, was published by Johns Hopkins University Press in 2018 and has won outstanding publication awards from both the American Library Association and the Society of American Archivists. His research and writing has been featured in: Curator: The Museum Journal, Digital Humanities Quarterly, The Journal of Digital Humanities, D-Lib, Simulation & Gaming, Science Communication, New Directions in Folklore, and American Libraries.
In 2018 Library Journal recognized Owens as one of the “top changemakers who are transforming what it means to be a librarian.” In 2014 the Society for American Archivists granted him the Archival Innovator Award, presented annually to recognize the archivist, repository, or organization that best exemplifies the “ability to think outside the professional norm.”