The scholarly research of a North Central College history professor was selected to receive funding from a prestigious National Endowment for the Humanities (NEH) grant program.
Bruce Janacek, associate professor of history, was awarded a summer stipend to continue his research into the life and writings of Elias Ashmole (1617-1692) who, during his lifetime, was known as a “virtuoso.” “Ashmole pre-dated the age of specialization.” Janacek explains. During this era, a virtuoso described an individual who was knowledgeable on a wide range of topics that, for Ashmole, included but was not limited to botany, heraldry, antiquities and alchemy. He was also a collector and his collection of artifacts is the foundation of the Ashmolean Museum while his collection of rare manuscripts and printed books are major collections in the Bodleian Library, both in Oxford, England. Ashmole’s manuscripts are of particular interest to Janacek: his research is based on Ashmole’s personal papers and extensive collection of rare manuscripts at the Bodleian Library. He plans to continue his research and writing with the help of the $6,000 grant.
“Yet during this time, intellectuals could be mocked because their knowledge was perceived to be useless, as opposed to practical knowledge such as how to make soap or get rid of grubs in a garden.” In his NEH grant proposal, Janacek drew parallels between Ashmole’s virtuosity of knowledge and modern questions surrounding the value of the liberal arts. “This study offers an historical answer to the question of what kinds of knowledge do we value and why? The debate we’re having today is not new at all. It was born no later than the seventeenth century.”
The NEH summer stipend program is extremely competitive and employs an extensive review process to fund eight percent of the applications submitted. Janacek is grateful that his grant application received input from peers in his research specialty, as well as Vice President for Academic Affairs and Dean of Faculty Dev Pandian and Shelley Porcellino, the College’s director of grants. “Shelly read drafts of my proposal with an invaluable ‘outsider’s’ eye.” Other Illinois summer stipend recipients represent the University of Chicago and Northwestern, Loyola and Illinois Wesleyan Universities.
Click here to view Janacek’s faculty profile.