MANATEE -- The National Endowment for the Humanities recently awarded a $150,000 grant to Eric Hodges, an instructor at the University of South Florida Sarasota-Manatee, and two colleagues at Virginia Tech to develop a summer teaching institute focusing on veterans issues.
"The problem is there is a huge disconnect between the general population and veterans. Less than 1 percent of the population serves in the military," said Hodges, who is a 36-year-old Marine Corps veteran.
"I did my dissertation at Virginia Tech on military veterans and their reintegration into society," he said.
For the planned three-week institute funded by the NEH grant, 16 professors who teach humanities and liberal arts at various colleges and universities around the United States will be brought to Virginia Tech for two weeks to grapple with veterans issue. The group will also spend a week at the Library of Congress in Washington, D. C.
Working against a backdrop of American involvement with wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, the professors will study and compare how philosophers, writers and historians throughout the centuries have recorded the experiences of veterans.
Among the speakers invited to take part in the institute are Jonathan Shay, author of "Achilles in Vietnam," which examines the devastation of war, comparing the psychological trauma suffered by soldiers of Homer's Iliad with the post-traumatic stress disorder of Vietnam vets.
Also speaking at the institute will be Marquette University professor James Marten, author of "Sing Not War: The Lives of Union and Confederate Veterans in Gilded Age America."
Hodges is working with Jim Dubinsky and Bruce Pencek of Virginia Tech to put the institute together. Even the soldier fortunate enough not to have a PTSD diagnosis may have other problems, ranging from "moral injuries" to survivors guilt stemming from their service.
Short term, Hodges expects the institute to yield an anthology of findings by the scholars.
Long term, he would like to see colleges begin to offer veterans studies programs, similar to womens studies or African-American programs.
Such programs are rare in the United States, with Syracuse University and the University of Utah being exceptions, Hodges said.
"Florida as a state, and this community, have a great desire to help veterans," Hodges said.
"Ultimately, the goal is help society get a better understanding of what veterans are going through," he said.
Todd Hughes, veterans service administrator at USF Sarasota-Manatee, believes a course combining veterans issues and humanities could help vets reentering civilian life.
"A direct study like this is an amazing opportunity. We are a separate community in a way, with a set of commonalties that unite us in a way only a fellow veteran can understand. If this was implemented, maybe it could help others understand us and help combat veterans transition home in a way never seen before," Hughes said in a press release.
James A. Jones Jr., Herald staff writer, can be contacted at 941-745-7053 or on Twitter@jajones1.