About the Willson Center

The mission of the Willson Center is to promote research, practice, and creativity in the humanities and arts. It supports faculty and students 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 Research at the University of Georgia, and is a member of the Consortium of Humanities Centers and Institutes, the National Humanities Alliance, and the Alliance for the Arts in Research Universities (a2ru).

Willson house

Jane and Harry Willson

Jane and Harry Willson founded 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, who passed away in 2015, was the President and Secretary of Sunnyland Farms. She earned a BA in 1945 from Wellesley College in Wellesley, Massachusetts. Extremely civic-minded, Jane 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 was a retired director of Southern Bell Telephone and Telegraph Co., and a former board member of Albany State College. She also served on the boards of the Albany-Dougherty Inner City Authority and Albany Technical College.

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 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 and Harry Willson

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The Willsons were major contributors to the Boys and Girls Club in Albany.

Mrs. Willson served as a University of Georgia Foundation Trustee. She also served on the Board of Directors of the UGA Research Foundation and the Costa Rica Board.

World travelers and art patrons, the Willsons 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 Willsons also established the Harry and Jane Willson Professorship in Humanities and the Jane Willson Professorship in Arts.

The Willsons 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 were longtime supporters of UGA’s Honors Program including the Foundation Fellows Program. Jane Willson served on the Honors Program Advisory Board and, following Harry’s death in 2004, 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 supports students who might not otherwise have the chance to participate in the program.

Jane was a member of the Annual Presidents Club and the Heritage Society, and was 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)

Professor in Humanities

Nicholas Allen is the director of the Willson Center and holds a Professorship in Humanities in the department of English at UGA. He has published several books on Ireland and its literature, has been the Burns Visiting Scholar at Boston College, and has received many grants and awards, including from the Mellon Foundation, the National Endowment for the Humanities and the Irish Research Council.

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.


Nancy Felson

Nancy Felson, Professor Emerita of Classics, joined the UGA faculty in 1975 and retired in 2010. She has published extensively in the areas of Greek literature, anthropology of Greece, theory, political theory, and Latin poetry. She received numerous research and teaching awards during her career.

Dr. Felson envisioned a center for interdisciplinary research and was instrumental in cultivating the original institutional approval and financial support of the Center.

Nancy Felson