An author, historian, digital humanist, and academic entrepreneur, Dr. Mary Ellen Pethel serves as Assistant Professor of Global Leadership Studies (GLS) and Honors at Belmont University within the Interdisciplinary Studies and Global Education division.
After completing her Ph.D. in history at Georgia State University, Dr. Pethel taught her first class at Belmont in 2012. Since that time, she has published several essays and five books—including Athens of the New South: College Life and the Making of Modern Nashville. Pethel is currently promoting her newest book Title IX, Pat Summitt, and Tennessee’s Trailblazers: 50 Years, 50 Stories (UT Press, 2022).
As a practitioner, Dr. Pethel joined the Belmont faculty full-time in 2018. She developed courses for a new interdisciplinary major/minor program called Global Leadership Studies. In addition, she teaches honors interdisciplinary courses such as Making the Modern City, Leadership Across Cultures, The Good Life, The Human Story: A Documentary Project, Democracy and Media, and Sports in American Culture. As an educator, Dr. Pethel seeks synergy between traditional texts and content delivery and experiential, impactful learning. For example, the course “The Human Story” is co-taught by Emmy-award-winner and professor Jennifer Duck Brown. The 2022-2023 course is producing a documentary on North Nashville (and particularly Jefferson Street) focused on music, food, business, community, and urban planning. The previous iteration of the course (2020-2021) produced a documentary that was screened at film festivals and nominated for two awards.
A versatile, resourceful life-long learner, Pethel is focused on the intersection storytelling and the human experience, which includes social innovation and social entrepreneurship. For example, she is currently the convener between Belmont faculty and students in the Honors Scholars Collaborative with The Branch in Antioch, The Branch is one of the fastest growing nonprofits to serve immigrant and refugee populations in the metro area, and Dr. Pethel’s Honors students will produce deliverables after nine months of research, field work, volunteering, and project execution.
In addition, she serves as faculty class coordinator for the Honors Program and faculty director of University You—a summer partnership between Belmont and Metro Nashville Public Schools. Each summer, four students from each MNPS high school are invited to attend Belmont to participate in an engaging and immersive college experience, which includes course credits.
In 2018, Dr. Pethel completed a post-graduate certificate in Digital Public Humanities at George Mason University, which combined her love of history with technology. This new passion culminated with the launch of NashvilleSites.org in 2019—a digital project focused on self-guided, mobile-friendly walking tours in Nashville. As executive director, Dr. Pethel works with community members, local leaders and organizations, and the Metro Historical Commission. This includes students and faculty at Belmont, Vanderbilt, Middle Tennessee State, Tennessee State, and Fisk Universities.
NashvilleSites.org remains committed to providing free, accessible tours that tell the full and complex story of Nashville’s history. Today, NashvilleSites.org features more than 30 self-guided walking and driving tours, 15 lesson plans (Grades 4-12), and has raised more that $500,000 in funding through grants, private foundations, and in-kind partners.
As a digital humanist and Dr. Pethel also works closely with the Belmont Data Collaborative (BDC) and has long incorporated digital and data storytelling into her teaching and courses. She will begin a yearlong appointment as a Senior Data Fellow with the BDC in 2023, which will allow her to gain new skills and combine her expertise in cultural history with current issues in Nashville such as health care and hypertension, affordable housing and public policy, and tourism and urban development.
Upcoming writing projects include the life of Ward-Belmont alumna and Grand Ole Opry star, Sarah Cannon, better known as Minnie Pearl. Pethel consulted on and is featured in the new NPT documentary, Facing the Laughter: The Story of Minnie Pearl. Dr. Pethel also volunteers as the school archivist at the Harpeth Hall School, the former high school division of Ward-Belmont School.