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KNOXVILLE — A generous gift from a former dean of the University of Tennessee College of Arts and Sciences has helped a unique and growing humanities program reach a significant milestone.

The Marco Institute for Medieval and Renaissance Studies at UT recently named the director’s position to honor donors Stuart and Katherine Riggsby. Robert Bast, the current director of Marco, is the first Riggsby Director.

“In honoring Stuart and Kate Riggsby with the naming of the Marco Institute Directorship, we warmly and gratefully acknowledge their extraordinary role in helping the Marco Institute to flourish from its very inception,” Bast said.

“Yet equally precious was the administrative and institutional assistance provided by Stuart Riggsby, then interim dean of the College of Arts and Sciences, when the NEH first awarded us the prestigious Challenge Grant. The naming of the directorship testifies to future generations that the vision, encouragement and support of Stuart and Kate Riggsby was the sine qua non of the Marco Institute.”

Stuart Riggsby joined the UT faculty in 1969 and served as dean of the college from 2002 to 2004, during the time the program was first established. His wife, Katherine, is a systems programmer for UT and has been with the University’s information technology program since 1982.

Riggsby, who was a professor of microbiology before becoming an administrator in 1997, said he’s always had a love for the Renaissance period.

“I can’t remember when I didn’t love Renaissance music. But for a long time, I couldn’t hear that music in any historical context,” Riggsby said. “Now after many years of hearing and playing Renaissance and medieval music, I still love the music, but have come to realize that the context is even more important.

Riggsby’s personal interests are as all-encompassing as the subject areas of Marco. Upon his appointment as dean of the college in 2003, Susan Martin, assistant vice chancellor for academic affairs, was quoted as saying: “Dean Riggsby’s breadth of knowledge and interests mirrors the breadth of the College of Arts and Sciences itself. He is a scientist who is an extremely knowledgeable aficionado and performer of classical music. He is widely read in literature and philosophy. He even speaks several foreign languages.”

Katherine Riggsby joins her husband in the love for music. The couple has been involved in Shepherd Pipes musical group for more than 40 years. They are also members of the Knoxville Chapter of the American Recorder Society. Katherine is also a member of the Marco Madrigal Singers.

Now in its fifth year, the program that focuses on medieval and Renaissance history, culture and art has grown steadily in students, programming and community involvement.

The institute now involves 30 faculty members from the English, history, art history, religious studies, modern foreign languages, classics and music departments.

The interpretation of religion and politics, the formation of a global economy binding Europe to Asia, Africa and the Americas and the complex interactions between Christians, Jews and Muslims –- today’s current international relations issues are reminiscent of those during the medieval and Renaissance period making their study particularly relevant.

“Knowledge of our past is essential to keep us from repeating yesterday’s mistakes. With its rich tapestry of religious dissent, political organization and global trade, the medieval and Renaissance era offers much from which we can learn,” said Chancellor Loren Crabtree.

Founded in 2001 with a grant from the President’s Initiative in Teaching, Research and Service, the program originally was named MARCO, an acronym for the Medieval and Renaissance Curriculum and Outreach Project. The National Endowment for the Humanities issued a $3 million challenge grant in 2003 and the university formally recognized Marco as an institute in 2004. The group retained their original name Marco in their official title.

Fundraising goals must be met each year in order to receive the NEH’s matching funds. To date each of those goals has been met or exceeded and Marco has raised more than $1.4 million toward the $3 million goal. More than 100 individuals and foundations have contributed to Marco.

“As private donors, the Riggsbys graciously led the way in making the first substantive contribution to the National Endowment for the Humanities Challenge Grant that made possible the creation of the institute. Subsequently, their continued giving has been quite simply unparalleled,” said Bast.

Marco has gained national recognition for its annual lectures and scholarly symposia, support for faculty and graduate student research and publication, public lecture series, teacher-training initiatives in local middle and high schools, and a medieval and Renaissance festival.

For more information about Marco, visit

Polly Laffitte, (865) 974-8478,
Lynn Champion, (865) 974-4676,
Beth Gladden, (865) 974-9008,