About the Willson Center

The mission of the Willson Center is to promote research and creativity in the humanities and arts. It supports faculty through research grants, lectures, symposia, publications, visiting scholars, visiting artists, collaborative instruction, public conferences, exhibitions, and performances. It is committed to academic excellence and public impact.

The Willson Center is a showcase for faculty innovation and achievement. It facilitates intellectual exchange with the University and the public by the encouragement of interdisciplinary activity, which extends to the sciences and other orders of knowledge. It has the capacity to offer taught programs in support of faculty and graduate research, and in partnership with alumni.

The humanities encompass philosophical, historical, social, ethical, legal, aesthetic, religious, linguistic, and ideological investigations of our world. Humanistic research includes many kinds of scholarship, such as history, criticism, theory, interpretation, and translation. The arts may be understood as the expression of human experience in various modes, such as literature, theater, music, dance, film, painting, printmaking, sculpture, and design.

The Willson Center for Humanities and Arts was founded as the Humanities Center (1987) and named thereafter the Center for Humanities and Arts (1997) and the Jane and Harry Willson Center for Humanities and Arts (2005).

The Willson Center is a constituent of the Office of the Vice President for Research at the University of Georgia, and is a member of the Consortium of Humanities Centers and Institutes.

Willson Center logo collage

Jane and Harry Willson

Jane Willson owns Sunnyland Farms, Inc., the largest mail order pecan business in the country, located in Albany, Georgia. The business, which began in 1948, retails pecans, candy, cakes, and other nuts by mail order, and sells processed and whole pecans wholesale to clients nationwide.

Jane Willson, now retired, was the President and Secretary of Sunnyland Farms. She earned a BA in 1945 from Wellesley College in Wellesley, Massachusetts.

Harry Willson, who passed away in 2004, was Chairman and CEO of Sunnyland Farms. He was born in 1920 in Louisville, Georgia. He earned a BA from Emory University in 1941 and an MBA from Harvard in 1943. He was also a trustee of Andrew College in Cuthbert, Georgia, and a trustee of Phoebe Putney Health Systems, Inc. He was a commissioner in Dougherty County, Georgia and a director of SunTrust Bank of South Georgia.

Jane is extremely civic-minded and has held many community leadership posts, including serving as a board member of the Albany Chamber of Commerce, the United Way of Southwest Georgia, and the Atlanta Opera. She is a retired director of Southern Bell Telephone and Telegraph Co., and a former board member of Albany State College. She has also been on the boards of the Albany-Dougherty Inner City Authority and Albany Technical College.

Jane and Harry Willson
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The Willsons have been major contributors to the Boys and Girls Club in Albany.

Mrs. Willson has served as a University of Georgia Foundation Trustee since 1990, and she is currently active on the Audit Committee and Costa Rica Board. She also serves on the Board of Directors of the UGA Research Foundation.  Jane was a major contributor to the search committee for Dr. Charles B. Knapp, President of UGA prior to Dr. Michael F. Adams.

World travelers and art patrons, Jane Willson and her late husband, Harry, have maintained a long interest in and support of the humanities and arts at UGA. They endowed the UGA Center for Humanities and Arts, which was renamed the Jane and Harry Willson Center for Humanities and Arts in 2005. The Willson Center has established the Harry and Jane Willson Professorship in Humanities and the Jane Willson Professorship in Arts.

The Willsons have also had a strong interest in education and international affairs. In 2001, they gave $1 million to the UGA Center for International Trade and Security to create an endowment that brings visiting scholars and international leaders to the University and provides international internship opportunities for students.

The Willsons are longtime supporters of UGA’s Honors Program. They have assisted the Foundation Fellows Program, which is part of the Honors Program, and Jane Willson has served on the Honors Program Advisory Board. Following Harry’s death in 2004, Jane donated $1 million to the UGA Honors Program to create the Willson International Honors Scholars Program to provide travel grants for Honors students to study abroad.

In 2007, Jane endowed a new fund to support students who take part in the Lamar Dodd School of Art’s Studies Abroad Program in Cortona, Italy. The Jane Willson Cortona Studies Abroad Fellowship is used to support students who might not otherwise have the chance to participate in the multifaceted program.

Jane is a member of the Annual Presidents Club and the Heritage Society, and has been a member of the UGA Partners Program.

In 2006, Jane received an honorary Doctor of Laws (LLD) degree from UGA.


Nicholas Allen, Director (2012–present)

Franklin Professor of English

Allen’s books include Broken Landscapes: Selected letters of Ernie O’Malley (Dublin, 2011), Modernism, Ireland and Civil War (Cambridge University Press, 2009), That Other Island (2007), The Proper Word (2007), George Russell and the New Ireland (2003), and The Cities of Belfast (2003). Recent essays have been published in The History of the Irish Book in the Twentieth Century (Oxford, 2011) and Synge and Edwardian Ireland (2011).

Allen’s work is located at the intersection between literature, history and visual culture. His interests include the study of modernism, empire and, increasingly, writing about ocean and archipelago. Dr. Allen has taught previously at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill and the National University of Ireland, Galway, where he was academic director of the Moore Institute.

nicholas allen

Betty Jean Craige, Director (1993–2011)

Craige is University Professor Emerita of Comparative Literature and Director Emerita of the Willson Center for Humanities and Arts at the University of Georgia. She is Co-Founder of the Delta Prize Program.

Craige has published books in the fields of Spanish poetry, modern literature, history of ideas, politics, ecology, and art.

Craige received the University of Georgia Alumni Society Faculty Service Award in 1994, the Albert Christ-Janer Award for Creativity in Research in 2003, and the Blue Key Service Award in 2010. Dr. Craige has also received awards for teaching. Her title, “University Professor,” was granted in 1995 as “highest recognition for significant impact on The University of Georgia.”

Betty Jean Craige

Bernard P. Dauenhauer, Director (1986–1993)

Dauenhauer, University Professor Emeritus of Philosophy, joined the UGA faculty in 1972 and retired in 1999. He is author, co-author or editor of a number of books and numerous articles and other publications in the field of philosophy.

He has a long-standing interest in interdisciplinary studies in the humanities, particularly in the connections among such disciplines as history, literature, philosophy and religion. He was instrumental in founding UGA’s Humanities Center (now the Willson Center for Humanities and Arts) and served as its first director from 1986-1993.

In 1991, Dr. Dauenhauer was named a University Professor in recognition of outstanding service to UGA beyond regular academic responsibilities.