Jim Giesen Selected As 2020 Mississippi Humanist of the Year by Mississippi Humanities Council

Monday, January 6, 2020

James C. “Jim” Giesen, associate professor in MSU’s Department of History, is the recipient of MHC’s 2020 Humanities Scholar Award for his work as the official scholar for the Mississippi tour of the Smithsonian Institution exhibit, “Waterways.”

For Giesen’s work on “Waterways,” his award includes a commissioned work of art to be presented at the MHC annual ceremony. “Waterways” is part of the Smithsonian’s 2018-2019 traveling Museums on Main Street program, designed by Smithsonian scholars.

“I am honored to have been chosen by the council to receive this award, especially because I’ve seen how hard the MHC works to make sure that Mississippians not only have access to history, philosophy, poetry, music and literature, but that we can be inspired by the humanities in our everyday lives,” Giesen said, pointing to Mississippi’s “unparalleled” history with the humanities.

Tommy Anderson, Associate Dean of Academic Affairs, said Giesen’s scholarship on “Waterways” is an illustration of “how the humanities can shed light on deeply important aspects of what it means to be part of the Mississippi community so tied to water.”

“His research poignantly links the human condition to the water cycle, its effect on landscape, population settlement and migration, and its influence on culture and spirituality,” Anderson said. “His unique ability to highlight how the human condition is shaped by what we often perceive to be inhuman forces is what makes Dr. Giesen’s work so compelling.”

While serving as the official scholar of the “Waterways” exhibit, Giesen traveled throughout Mississippi, interacting with residents who have a connection to the history of water in the state.

“At each of the six stops, I made a presentation tailored to the interests of the local hosts. My talk, ‘Water Ways: Ebbs and Flows of History in the Magnolia State,’ wove together three episodes in Mississippi history that had to do with water,” Giesen said, noting he discussed topics such as the Biloxi Wade-ins, the 1927 Mississippi River Flood, and the Mississippi River Basin Model.

Giesen serves on the Mississippi Humanities Speakers Bureau, as editor of the University of Georgia Press series “Environmental History and the American South,” and heads the Node of Excellence in Agricultural, Rural and Environmental History Ph.D. program in MSU’s history department.

In June, the national Agricultural History Society established the James C. Giesen Award for Exceptional Teaching in Agricultural History, created and named in Giesen’s honor. He also joined an elite percentage of the membership to be named an AHS society fellow.

A faculty member at MSU for 13 years, Giesen is a 2018 Grisham Master Teacher.

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