Humanities Institute

Staff Bios

Dr. Pauline Strong

Dr. Pauline Strong, Director

512-471-9056 |

(Photo credit: Ann Hamilton)


Pauline Strong has taught anthropology, women's and gender studies, and Native American and Indigenous Studies at The University of Texas at Austin since 1993. After receiving a bachelor's degree in philosophy at The Colorado College, she completed master's and doctoral degrees in sociocultural anthropology at the University of Chicago. Her research centers on historical and contemporary representations of Native Americans and American national identity in such contexts as literature, films, museums, sports arenas, and youth organizations. Strong was a Fellow of the Humanities Institute in 2001 and 2005, and became Director in 2009. 

Strong is the author of American Indians and the American Imaginary: Cultural Representation Across the Centuries (2012) and Captive Selves, Captivating Others: The Politics and Poetics of Colonial American Captivity Narratives (1999). She is also co-editor (with Sergei Kan) of New Perspectives on Native North America: Cultures, Histories, Representations (2006). Her articles appear in journals and anthologies in the fields of American Studies, cultural studies, history, media studies, Native American Studies, and sports studies as well as anthropology. She is the recipient of several teaching awards, most recently the Provost's Teaching Fellowship, and directs the Difficult Dialogues program.

Dr. Phillip Barrish

Dr. Phillip Barrish, Associate Director for Health & Humanities

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Phillip Barrish is the Tony Hilfer Professor of American and British literature in the Department of English and Professor of Medical Education at Dell Medical School, as well as a faculty affiliate with the Department of American Studies and the Center for Women’s and Gender Studies. His current book project is titled Beyond the Bedside: American Literature, Social Justice, and the Health Care System. His previously published books include The Cambridge Introduction to American Literary Realism (2011); White Liberal Identity, Literary Pedagogy, and Classic American Realism (2005); and American Literary Realism, Critical Theory, and Intellectual Prestige, 1880-1995 (2001). Barrish oversees Health Humanities programming at the Humanities Institute and teaches Health Humanities courses to undergraduate, graduate, and medical students. He also directs the MA program in Humanities, Health, and Medicine.  


 A laughing woman with brown curly hair and glasses with green frames. She is wearing a pink and blue woven blouse.

Dr. Melissa Biggs, Administrative Program Coordinator

512-471-9056 |

(Photo credit: Brian Fitzsimmons)

Melissa Biggs is a cultural anthropologist specializing in issues of representation and cultural heritage, with a focus on food and museums. From 2016-2017, she was a Fulbright Garcia-Robles Scholar located in Guadalajara, Jalisco. Her research focused on culinary tourism and traditional cooks. 

Prior to receiving the Fulbright, she was the Difficult Dialogues Program Coordinator (2009-2013) and later the general Program Coordinator (2013-2016) at the Humanities Institute. Melissa has taught at Colorado College, the Culinary Institute of America in San Antonio, Southwestern University, and Texas State University. She has worked as an ethnographer for a number of policy-oriented projects in Texas, and served as a consultant on a community journalism project addressing the gentrification of East Austin. 

Madai Montes

Madai Montes, Health & Humanities Assistant

512-471-9056 |  

Madai Montes is the Administrative Assistant for the Health & Humanities Initiative. Madai also supports the Native American & Indigenous Studies Program at UT. She received her BA in History from the College of Idaho with a focus on Latin American Studies.

Madai has an interest in building communities through storytelling and resource sharing; especially for those who have been historically disenfranchised. Before coming to Austin, Madai worked at Rosie’s Place in Boston, MA, a shelter for poor and homeless women, where she taught residents the value of using their voices to influence local policy.

Cheney Melton

Cheney Melton, Program Assistant

806-420-1937 |

Cheney Melton is the Humanities Institute’s Program Assistant and an undergraduate student at the University of Texas at Austin. She is a McCombs Success Scholar and a member of the Class of 2023.

Cheney is interested in joining a non-profit organization later in her career. She holds particular interest in organizations related to animal welfare and fighting childhood poverty and studies these issues and their causes in her personal time.

Esha Ali

Esha Ali, Communications Coordinator

512-471-9056 |

Esha Ali is the Communications Coordinator at the Humanities Institute and works closely with the directors and staff to increase public engagement and publicize the Institute's activities through social media and various other websites. Esha is a second-year pre-law student at the University of Texas in Austin pursuing a Bachelor of Arts in Sociology with a minor in Philosophy of Law. 

Esha is interested in the non-profit field and solving international global policy problems - tacking environmental injustice, education inequality, and domestic violence against women. She is planning to go to law school to study international law and become a human rights lawyer. 

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    University of Texas at Austin
    Office Address: SAC 4.138
    Mailcode F1900
    Austin, Texas 78712