The National Endowment of the Humanities (NEH) recently awarded the University of Arizona Southwest Center (SWC), housed in the College of Social and Behavioral Sciences, a $500,000 challenge grant to establish La Búsqueda, a place to host scholars, visitors and members of the community engaged in Southwest-focused studies in the humanities.
The late Bazy Tankersley, a famed Arabian horse breeder, bequeathed her Tucson home to the Southwest Center for the express purpose of creating such a meeting place for scholars to study the biggest challenges of our time.
La Búsqueda (“the Search”) will become a space where scholars will search for answers to society’s grand challenges, drawing upon the humanities to help illuminate new solutions.
The grand challenge themes that will frame La Búsqueda’s first three years of programming align with the NEH initiative “The Common Good.” Year one will focus on cultural and political polarization in the Southwest. Year two will investigate humanity’s relationship to nature. And in year three, researchers will explore the societal effects of shifting demographics in the region.
Programming will include visiting scholars, conferences, and public outreach, such as lectures, readings and salons. The 9,100 ft2 facility will have room to house as many as 20 visitors, host conferences for up to 40 participants, and provide public outreach programming for 100 attendees.
A key feature of La Búsqueda’s programming will be its inclusion of “community fellows,” non-academics working within their communities to create solutions to humanistic problems using their unique and valuable knowledge.
La Búsqueda will disseminate scholarship through the publication of special issues of the SWC’s Journal of the Southwest (JSW) and monographs in the Southwest Center Series at the UA Press.
J.C. Mutchler, an associate research historian at the Southwest Center, spearheaded the NEH application. He sees La Búsqueda as attracting visiting faculty and collaborators from across the country.
“We have received strong interest in La Búsqueda from other universities,” said Mutchler. He adds that priority will be given to groups engaging the grand challenges themes, which will further leverage La Búsqueda’s impact.
Joseph Wilder, the director of the Southwest Center, is not surprised that other researchers would want to come to La Búsqueda.
“The understanding of a complex region divided by an international border is greatly enhanced by experiencing it firsthand,” said Wilder. “The UA’s proximity to Mexico, combined with the University’s faculty expertise and library and museum collections that are particularly strong in their Southwestern and borderlands holdings, create a synergy of geography and intellectual resources.”
To receive the $500,000 grant, the UA will need to raise $1.5M in matching nonfederal funds. Mutchler says the SWC has already secured more than 40 percent of that match through $500,000 in property equity and $125,000 from the Southwestern Foundation for Education and Historical Preservation.
The NEH grant and matching funds will be used to repair and renovate the Tankersley property and to launch an endowment to support the intellectual activities planned for the space.
“La Búsqueda will provide the physical and intellectual space for thoughtful critical inquiry and discourse,” said Mutchler. “I believe it will catalyze Southwest-focused humanities research relevant to both academics and the public for decades to come.”