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Prof offered 2 NEH grants, chooses to attend institute in Italy

What a delightful dilemma! Many humanities professors across the nation repeatedly apply for National Endowment for the Humanities (NEH) grants, with no success, while an Austin Peay State University professor has her choice of two.

Dr. Allene Phy-Olsen, professor of English, recently received notification that she is one of 12 people nationwide chosen for the $4,200 grant to participate in the NEH Summer Institute, Jews and Arabs in the Middle Ages: Interpretations and History, June 5-July 14 at Vanderbilt University, Nashville.
What a delightful dilemma! Many humanities professors across the nation repeatedly apply for National Endowment for the Humanities (NEH) grants, with no success, while an Austin Peay State University professor has her choice of two.

Dr. Allene Phy-Olsen, professor of English, recently received notification that she is one of 12 people nationwide chosen for the $4,200 grant to participate in the NEH Summer Institute, “Jews and Arabs in the Middle Ages: Interpretations and History,” June 5-July 14 at Vanderbilt University, Nashville.

She also was offered a $3,600 grant to participate in the NEH Summer Institute, June 19-July 21 in Venice, Italy. The institute has been titled “Venice, the Jews and Italian Culture: Historical Eras and Cultural Representations.” She is one of 24 participants selected in a nationwide competition.

“I would have been thrilled to be chosen for one grant,” says Phy-Olsen. “I never dreamed NEH would offer two. I assumed the NEH grants would go to younger faculty who have longer to share what they learn with their students.”

Phy-Olsen, who once before received two NEH grants simultaneously, has elected to attend the institute in Venice. Given the high cost of living in Venice during tourist season, she will have to subsidize the grant but, according to her, it's worth it.

“I've been to Venice five times, but never for an extended period,” said Phy-Olsen, who is known as a world traveler, having visited all seven continents (some several times) except for Australia, which is on her to-do list for Summer 2007.

Directed by Dr. Murray Baumgarten, University of California-Santa Cruz, and Dr. Shaul Bassi, University of Venice, the program in Venice, for college and university professors only, is a five-week, interdisciplinary institute exploring the cultural, intellectual and historic experience of Venetian Jewry. The primary focus will be the Ghetto of Venice, which gave its name to all subsequent ethnic enclosures.

According to Phy-Olsen, the group will examine various artistic materials representing Italian and Venetian Jewish life, including literary, artistic and dramatic works. Studies will begin with the Renaissance, while emphasizing the modern experience of Venetian Jewry. The program is designed to benefit scholars in such fields as European culture, literature, art, history, Holocaust studies, Italian studies and Jewish studies.

Phy-Olsen received her bachelor's degree from the University of Kentucky, Lexington. She earned her M.A., Ed.S. and Ph.D. in English from George Peabody College, Nashville, with a minor in world religions from Vanderbilt University School of Religion. She completed post-doctoral studies at universities in Canada, France, Italy and the U.S.

Prior to coming to APSU, she was a professor of English at George Peabody College for 11 years and professor of English at Alabama State University for 11 years. She also taught English as a foreign language in Morocco and at the U.S. Naval Language School in Maryland.

While living in Alabama, she designed and conducted an institute in Asian religion and culture for public school teachers coping with an influx of Asian refugee students. This initiative was funded by the Alabama Council for the Humanities.

Phy-Olsen has been on the APSU Department of Languages and Literature faculty for 16 years, 14 as director of the Honors Program. She teaches a variety of subjects, but her expertise lies primarily in Renaissance literature and comparative religions.

During her 40 years of teaching, she has received numerous honors and awards. Among them, she was named Outstanding Professor at George Peabody College in the 1970s. In 2003, Phy-Olsen received APSU's coveted Richard M. Hawkins Award for outstanding scholarly and creative achievements. — Dennie B. Burke