Stanley’s New Role Highlights Citizenship of Place

Emory & Henry seeks to enhance an emphasis on citizenship with the help of a long-serving scholar and professor who has enlarged the impact of the College’s community outreach by underscoring the value of place.
Posted September 01, 2021

Dr. Tal Stanley, who previously served as the director of the Appalachian Center for Civic Life, director of the Interdisciplinary Program in Civic Innovation and director of the Bonner Scholars Program, has been named the E&H resident scholar for the citizenship of place. In this role he will lead the institution’s effort to enhance an understanding of citizenship among students and within the community.

The work will involve researching the College’s history, telling the story of Emory & Henry as a learning environment located in Southwest Virginia and engaging in the issues of the region and the world. Stanley will seek through the Watershed Project to encourage others “to think about citizenship as more than political boundaries and legal status, but as a relational process bound up with places.”

According to Stanley, the Watershed Project involves using photographs, interactive maps, diagrams, recorded oral histories, original documents, and videos to draw on the perspective of many people and many histories of Southwest Virginia. As Southwest Virginia’s oldest educational institution, Emory & Henry College is part of that story. “The Watershed Project builds on the understanding that it takes many approaches and many stories to tell the truth of a place and its people,” said Stanley. “Challenging long-held perceptions and enlarging what we know of our histories, the Watershed Project also tells new stories and offers new possibilities for our future in Southwest Virginia.”

Stanley has long encouraged others to think of place as having three distinct parts: the natural environment, the built environment, and human history and culture. Often from a discussion of human history and culture comes a focus on relationships, through which individuals have the opportunity to exercise their most constructive forms of citizenship, even in the face of conflict, according to Stanley.

As the director of the Appalachian Center, Stanley emphasized that everyone – regardless of education, income and opportunity – has within them the gifts, passion and vision to make a difference in the world and in the lives of their neighbors. Additionally, he has long contended that if these qualities are true of people, they are also true of places.

Stanley will remain involved with the Appalachian Center, now under the direction of Dr. Scott Sikes, a former student of Stanley. He also will continue to teach in the area of civic innovation.

“It’s time for me to be as supportive as I can of people who have some really good ideas,” Stanley said. “I like to think that I have made the space and provided the opportunity for them to do good work.”

Dr. Tal Stanley is featured in the PBS documentary, The Story of the New River, which premiered Thursday, Oct. 21 at 7 p.m. on Blue Ridge PBS.

The Story of the New River focuses on one of the most prominent features of the Southwest Virginia landscape. “The Story of the New River builds on insights that have been at the core of the work of the E&H Appalachian Center for Civic Life since its founding in 1996, and everyday inform and direct all of our teaching in the Interdisciplinary Program in Civic Innovation,” says Dr. Stanley. “Although it has been a long time in production, The Story of the New River demonstrates the work ahead of us in Emory & Henry College’s Watershed Project, to tell in new ways the stories of Southwest Virginia and its people.”

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