Sociology professor Willa Johnson was given a major fellow award by the U.S. Holocaust Memorial and Museum for research this year. She will be finished with her manuscript by the end of her sabbatical this year.
Willa Johnson, biblical scholar and University of Mississippi professor of sociology, was recently awarded the $32,000 Cummings Foundation Fellowship award by the U.S. Holocaust Memorial and Museum in Washington, D.C., for research through the end of this year.
“I am immensely grateful to the U.S. Holocaust Memorial and the Cummings Foundation for awarding me this fellowship,” Johnson said.
“The generosity of the Cummings family will allow me to write a book manuscript, but beyond that will help me to strengthen relationship between the Holocaust Memorial and the university.”
The College of Liberal Arts offered matching funds that will support Johnson’s travel expenses to Europe for final data collection during her time of research and sabbatical. Within the College of Liberal Arts, the Department of Sociology and Anthropology is enthusiastic about Johnson’s achievement.
“The Department of Sociology and Anthropology was thrilled to learn that Dr. Johnson had received the prestigious Cummings Foundation Fellowship,” said Kirsten Dellinger, department chair and associate professor of sociology.
“She is examining how art can be used as empirical evidence, a pressing question nicely situated in the intersection of humanities and the social sciences.”
The effects of Johnson’s fellowship are intended to be far-reaching.
“This has implications for my research but also for my students, the Oxford community and the state of Mississippi,” Johnson said.
Johnson said despite the painful racial legacy in Mississippi, and specifically at Ole Miss, Holocaust survivors that she has worked with are always pleased to know that her work with them has the support of the dean, the College of Liberal Arts and the Department of Sociology and Anthropology.
“In that way, they see support of me as also support for teaching about what they experienced; it means everything to them,” Johnson said.
This award represents several years of research and data collecting that began in 2010 in Israel at Yad Vashem Martyrs’ and Heroes’ Remembrance Authority.
In 2008, Johnson began working on her project titled “The Shoah as History: A Sociological and Cultural Analysis of Human Bodily Conditions in the Artworks of Karl Schwesig.”
“This journey has been nearly indescribable,” Johnson said.
“From the homes that welcomed me in Israel to the private art collectors in Germany, I am humbled and grateful for the many people who have cared about the project enough to share their time, resources and lives to make it possible.”
Johnson said the Holocaust survivors who have selflessly opened up the most painful chapters in their lives to teach her are the crucial element in all of her research and data collecting.
“They are more than data; I am so grateful that I have been accepted as a friend and, indeed, family by many of them,” Johnson said.
Johnson will take her last trip to Germany this spring, which allows her to pick up the last data about Schwesig’s life. She will be finished with her manuscript by the end of her sabbatical this year.
In 2011, Johnson wrote a grant for public programming, which was awarded to the university’s Critical Race Studies Group by the Association for Jewish Studies’ Legacy Heritage Jewish Studies Project.
This grant supports public programming at the university in 2012-2013 by a lecture series called “Intertwining Legacies: Jews and African Americans in the Deep South.”