UMass Boston to Use $100K NEH Grant to Create Courses Focused on Boston Harbor & Coastal Communities

Colleen Locke | April 19, 2018
UMass Boston is located on Boston Harbor. Trips to the Boston Harbor Islands will be part of the new three course-sequence.

UMass Boston is located on Boston Harbor. Trips to the Boston Harbor Islands will be part of the new three course-sequence.
Image by: Lisa Link

NEH Grant One of Three Received by UMass Boston

The National Endowment for the Humanities (NEH) has given UMass Boston and its community partners a $99,774 grant to create a three-course sequence focused on Boston Harbor, the Boston Harbor Islands, and the diverse coastal communities surrounding the harbor that many UMass Boston students call home.

Rajini Srikanth, dean of the Honors College, a professor of English, and the codirector of the “Living with the Urban Ocean” project, says humanities and environmental science faculty will co-teach the three courses, which will blend the humanities, social sciences, and natural sciences. Throughout their coursework, UMass Boston students will take UMass Boston’s boat, the M/V Columbia Point, to the Boston Harbor Islands; engage in experiential learning activities in close collaboration with the National Park Service; and use the Joseph P. Healey Library’s archival material on the Harbor Islands. The third course in the sequence is a capstone that will ask students to approach environment challenges faced by coastal communities surrounding the harbor through a combination of humanistic and scientific perspectives.

“The course cluster is designed to incorporate humanistic methods of inquiry such as literary analysis, archival research, storytelling, writing and reflection, and interpretive exercises, with the goal of increasing students’ awareness of the close and millennials-long interaction between human consciousness and activity and the natural world,” Srikanth said. “This increased awareness provides the framework within which students engage in experiential learning that strengthens their appreciation for the harbor’s impact on the city, its history, and its future.”

Planning for the course cluster begins this summer; the courses will be available to students starting in spring 2019. Srikanth and the team say the goal is that the courses will eventually form the core of a new academic option for UMass Boston students – an environmental humanities focus.

“For the port city of Boston, the ocean is a living, breathing presence, and engagement with the environmental realities this relationship entails is a key aspect of UMass Boston’s commitment to its urban surroundings. This project will help the university, students, and faculty alike better understand the necessity of bringing the humanities to the table as we plan for the future of the city and the harbor that helps define it,” Srikanth said.

The following university units and personnel are involved with this project:

Liza Stearns, the director of visitor engagement, education, and the arts for the National Parks of Boston, and Marc Albert, manager of natural resource partnerships for the National Parks of Boston, are among the community partners for this project. Other community partners are the Climate Ready Boston Initiative, the City Archaeology Program, and Interfaith Ecological Ministries.

This grant is one of three NEH grants UMass Boston received this month. The other two grants are a three-year, $181,000 grant to create a digital catalog of Plimoth Plantation’s archaeological collection and a $6,000 grant to research a book on the history of venereal disease in 18th century England. The NEH awarded $18.6 million in grants to 199 humanities projects across the country.

About UMass Boston
The University of Massachusetts Boston is deeply rooted in the city's history, yet poised to address the challenges of the future. Recognized for innovative research, metropolitan Boston’s public university offers its diverse student population both an intimate learning environment and the rich experience of a great American city. UMass Boston’s 11 colleges and graduate schools serve 16,000 students while engaging local and global constituents through academic programs, research centers, and public service. To learn more, visit

Tags: boston harbor , boston harbor islands , english department , environmental studies , honors college , humanities , inenas , orsp , school for the environment

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