EMORY, Va. — It was the day that changed everything.
For two Emory & Henry College professors, the approaching anniversary of 9/11 marks the release of their newly published book “9/11 and the Academy: Responses in the Liberal Arts and the 21st Century World.”
The eclectic collection of essays explores the impact of 9/11 upon interdisciplinary scholarship and pedagogy in the liberal arts.
“It wasn’t just an event that took place over a quick 102 minutes on Sept. 11, 2001, but it’s something that has had a tremendous residual impact in all sectors of American society,” said Matthew Shannon, associate professor of history, who, along with colleague Mark Finney, associate professor of mass communications, edited the book.
The book, published by Palgrave Macmillan, was released in late July as the culmination of a campuswide project that began five years ago.
An idea is born
What started out as simple conversations in 2014 among the two professors about 9/11 led them to initiate a project that would become a campuswide collaboration. It was an effort that eventually led to the book’s timely creation.
During those conversations, the professors recalled where they were when the attacks began.
Finney may never again hear a plane overhead and not think about 9/11 — the single deadliest terror attack in human history.
“I was at George Madison University getting my master’s degree when 9/11 happened, and I’m pretty sure the plane that ran into the Pentagon flew over my building. We all bore witness to history being made that day,” he said.
“I was a first-year student in college when 9/11 happened,” said Shannon.
Their experiences prompted the professors to learn just how much the world changed after the terrorist attacks.
“We began wondering how many other people had intellectual careers that also were affected by 9/11.”
Conference on campus
The professors said developing a book was the natural course to take after the college hosted a conference in 2015, which brought together scholars to discuss interdisciplinary questions related to the terror attacks on Sept. 11.
“I continue to be amazed at how scholars bring together different disciplines in their own research and the different ways those fields explain an event like 9/11,” said Shannon.
“Take the chapters on religion and psychology,” he said, explaining the chapters in the book. “These fields were asked to explain the motivations of the terrorists and American responses to the attacks. By contrast, historians offer the broader political, cultural and economic contexts that these fields struggle to provide.”
The professors were met with support from every direction during the planning stages of the conference.
“As we started to make the rounds to get support for this project, we found a lot of it — everyone from the chief academic officer at the college all the way down to our colleagues, departments and centers.
“We couldn’t have done this without them. It was a moment in Emory & Henry’s history — a fruitful, collaborative effort.
“Not knowing where the path would lead us, the initial concept of the conference was rooted in the idea of inviting scholars from around the country to campus to talk about how their respective disciplines have been affected by 9/11,” explained Shannon.
Dialogue that took place from four panels of scholars became the foundation for the book. The professors also solicited papers on additional topics written by scholars, some of which are included in the book.
The first night of the conference featured conversations from undergraduate students from Emory & Henry alongside students from Adams State University in Colorado and Coastal Carolina University in South Carolina. The second day of the conference was dedicated to professors who had traveled to the campus to share how their fields of study were affected by 9/11.
Alice M. Greenwald, director of the 9/11 Memorial Museum in New York, was the keynote speaker. An integral part of the conference, Greenwald wrote the forward to the book.
“She talks in the book about memorializing an event that was such a tragedy, but doing so in a way that isn’t just a memorial. It’s informative, and it teaches us something,” said Shannon.
Two main points
According to Shannon, two main points are contained in each of the 12 chapters written by 14 contributing writers.
“Since 9/11, various forms of external pressure have been put on the American institution of higher education. That’s nothing new. It’s happened in other moments of United States educational history, such as World War II,” said Shannon.
According to him, the 9/11 attacks propelled the creation of new fields and a reexamination of others. Some, such as American studies, repurposed older theories to analyze new development.
“Some academic fields were affected directly, such as intelligence and security studies, which were created at the undergraduate level after 9/11,” said Shannon.
“The second point is there are claims that liberal arts may be becoming less relevant as the world becomes more technologically connected. However, I believe the liberal arts fields remain relevant to explain many issues of our day. Liberal arts are there for people to make sense of traumatic events and to help explain important issues.”
The book also shines a spotlight on the media coverage of 9/11.
“Given that 9/11 was, for most, mediated by television, we included two chapters by media studies scholars that offer different perspectives. We were also attentive to the fact that college students today were born in or after 2001, and for that reason, there is a chapter on memory studies.”
‘Not just a book on 9/11’
The authors hope their book initiates conversations and reaches readers with interests in 9/11, higher education and the liberal arts.
“The book will affect people on different registers,” said Shannon. “It will appeal to students of different fields. Educators will benefit, but also folks interested in 9/11 can gain valuable knowledge. It’s not just a book on 9/11.”
Their book “9/11 and the Academy: Responses in the Liberal Arts and the 21st Century World” can be purchased online at www.amazon.com and at the Emory Mercantile Company on Oxford Avenue across from campus.