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A University of Tennessee historian has won a $3 million challenge grant to establish an endowed center for medieval and Renaissance studies in Knoxville.

Dr. Michael Kulikowski, a historian of medieval Spain and the Mediterranean area, has been awarded a National Endowment for the Humanities grant that will allow the university to develop an endowment for the existing Medieval and Renaissance Curriculum and Outreach (MARCO) project.

The NEH award will provide $600,000 in money to seed a permanent endowment that will pay the center’s future operating expenses. UT will raise an additional $2.4 million to match the federal contribution.

“This grant will allow our scholars to establish a permanent institute that will be among the best in the nation,” said Dr. Clifton Woods, UT vice chancellor for research. “This is a boost to the many disciplines at UT which take part in Renaissance and medieval studies.”

The center will involve 26 faculty members in eight departments, including history, English, art, religious studies, modern foreign languages and classics. Kulikowski said the endowment will provide continuing support for a yearly three-day symposium and related publication, a visiting speaker series, a dissertation award, and an annual post doctoral fellowship, as well as summer workshops for public school teachers and a central meeting space on campus for medieval and Renaissance scholars.

“The medieval and Renaissance periods are crucial for understanding the modern world,” Kulikowski said. “During this period, the foundations of current theories of government were laid. The era shaped the interactions among the three major religions — Christianity, Judaism and Islam.

“For the first time, civilizations on all continents began to interact, and the first moves were made toward a global understanding of the world.”

The NEH grant will build on the MARCO project, which was funded in 2001 as a UT Presidential Initiative for Teaching, Research and Service. The three-year startup grants provided money for a number of small-scale research and scholarly centers on the Knoxville campus.

“The NEH-supported endowment will allow us to continue many of the activities started by MARCO,” said Dr. Robert Bast, the UT historian who directs the MARCO project. “We’ve already held two symposia and are preparing for our third annual program at the end of February.”

Bast said the program has sponsored two medieval and Renaissance festivals that involved costumed performers, demonstrations of traditional crafts, food of the period, and staged combat. UT faculty have also provided a language arts in-service program for Knox County teachers.

“Our success with the MARCO grant was one reason the NEH cited in giving us this award,” Kulikowski said. “We were able to show we had made good use of the money UT had already invested.”

An NEH statement said the grant was made to help carry out long-term plans for strengthening the MARCO project and enhance its financial stability by encouraging nonfederal support.