Dr. Jeffrey R. Willis of Converse College was presented with one of two Governor’s Awards in the Humanities during an October 31 luncheon at the South Carolina State museum. Former South Carolina governor and U.S. Senator Ernest F. Hollings was the other recipient.
Established in 1991, the Governor’s Awards in the Humanities recognize outstanding achievement in humanities research, teaching and scholarship; institutional and individual participation in helping communities in South Carolina better understand our cultural heritage or ideas and issues related to the humanities; excellence defining South Carolina’s cultural life to the nation or world; and exemplary support for public humanities programs. From 1991-2006, 44 individuals and organizations have received awards. The Humanities Council SC is completing its 34th year as the state-based program of the National Endowment for the Humanities.
A native of Greenville, S.C., Dr. Willis is the Andrew Helmus Professor of History Emeritus at Converse and serves as the college archivist. He retired from the classroom in 2005. Before joining the Converse faulty in 1967, Willis taught at The Citadel and Randolph-Macon Woman’s College. The Greenville, S.C. native earned his bachelor’s degree from Furman University and his master’s and Ph.D. from the University of Virginia.
"This award is about saying ‘thank you’ to Jeff for the contributions he’s made to the humanities and to local history through his tireless efforts as a teacher and volunteer," said South Carolina Governor Mark Sanford. "Whether it has been sharing his expertise about local and European history in the classroom, speaking for civic organizations, or authoring numerous books and articles, he continues to be a real resource for history in the Upstate."
Willis has published three books of photographic history—“Spartanburg: A Postcard History,” “Converse College,” and “Remembering Greenville: Photographs from the Coxe Collection.” He wrote a number of articles for the Hub City Writers Project’s “Textile Town,” a history of Spartanburg County’s textile industry and its workers.
A confessed Anglophile, Willis taught a wide range of Converse courses in modern European history with specialties in British history, Russian history, Irish history and 20th century Europe. He is the founder of the popular Converse College London Term, during which students live and study in London, England for a term. He has also taken students abroad to Ireland and Russia.
Willis is a past president of the South Carolina Historical Association and the Spartanburg County Historical Association. He has served as a board member of the Greenville Historical Society and the Historic Greenville Foundation, and has been a member of the Walnut Grove Plantation Committee. In addition to his three photographic history books, Willis has published numerous articles and essays on local history and also serves as editor of The New Greenville Mountaineer and The Papers and Proceedings of the Greenville County Historical Society. He was also editor of The Drover’s Post, the newsletter of the Spartanburg County Historical Association, for many years. An in-demand speaker in the Upstate, Dr. Willis has presented programs for countless organizations.
In 1991, Dr. Willis was presented with the Kathryne Amelia Brown Award for excellence in teaching. A colleague noted of Willis, “I can think of no