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Possibilities of the Public Humanities:

A Roundtable

The humanities are in the midst of one of the most challenging moments in our collective history.  And that declaration is by no means surprising.  The fields that find ourselves under the umbrella of The Modern Language Association have been pushed to defend ourselves against claims that we lack relevance to the “real world.”  Budgets have been slashed; tenure lines have been cut; and entire departments have disappeared, gutted by both private institutions and antagonistic state legislatures.  And yet in this moment of crisis we find at least one silver lining.  A growing number of scholars have escaped the so-called "ivory tower," working to bring our interests and  our work into a broader world.  These scholars, who we have grouped together as contributors to the "public humanities," have found innovative ways to actually make a difference for publics that exist beyond the walls of our conferences, our classrooms, and our colleges or universities.


"Possibilities of the Public Humanities" is unabashedly a service-oriented roundtable, organized by the Committee on the Status of Graduate Students in the Profession (CSGSP).  Our goal is to simultaneously (1) showcase examples of the compelling public work that has been produced in ways that might inspire new projects and (2) provide our audience with examples of the resources that they can use to develop and implement their own projects.  After a very short introduction six panelists will offer brief overviews of their work, which will shift into discussions about the conditions of possibility for their projects.  Panelists will speak to (1) the ways that they initially reached out and forged connections with broader publics, (2) their attempts to make the most of institutional resources, and (3) the things that they have learned from their own work.  Each speaker will present for 6-8 minutes, and then our respondent will contextualize these comments from an administrative perspective, addressing the ways that both departments and institutions can help encourage and position public projects. We will actively moderate, leaving 20 minutes for a substantive discussion.


Since this panel is being sponsored and organized by the CSGSP,  it will be directed towards graduate students, postdoctoral fellows, and junior faculty members who are imagining possible futures for themselves. Our roundtable will help them think more carefully and more concretely about the kinds of projects they might pursue, the kinds of time commitments they would need to make, and what they should know as they embark on work that doesn’t yet have clear, established paths for getting started—or for receiving institutional recognition and support.  Despite this target audience, we also anticipate that many of our roundtable’s discussions and questions will also appeal to senior scholars who are thinking about starting new projects in the public humanities.  Some of our speakers will be actively recruiting new collaborators and contributors, and we also invite any person or organization that wants to share information about a public humanities project to circulate handouts with information about how to get involved (a miniature poster session).  


We have selected participants who represent key fields and practices that collectively shape the public humanities:


Jessica Richard (Associate Professor, Wake Forest University) will discuss The 18th-Century Common, a public humanities project for enthusiasts of 18th-century studies that she co-founded and co-edits. The project offers a space for scholars of all levels to share research with nonacademic readers.  


Xine Yao (SSHRC Postdoctoral Research Fellow, University of British Columbia) will describe developing her podcast, PhDivas, along with a new project to oversee a podcast series for C19: The Society of Nineteenth-Century Americanists.  


Kym Weed (Graduate Student, University of North Carolina), will outline her work on a medical humanities project, which she developed as Assistant Director of a new Health Humanities Lab that she helped shape.  


Colin Dewey (Assistant Professor, California State University Maritime Academy) will introduce the “Cal Maritime Ocean Initiative,” an interdisciplinary campus-based research group that connects students and faculty with environmental activists and citizen-science projects in the Bay Area.  


Victoria Papa (Assistant Professor, Massachusetts College of Liberal Arts) will discuss a course that examines the intersection of trauma and pedagogy through a particular case study: a community partnership and service-learning writing course, developed in the aftermath of the Boston Marathon bombing.


Jennie Lightweis-Goff (Lecturer, University of Mississippi) will speak to the challenges and compromises of teaching in maximum security prisons in New Orleans and in Mississippi.  


These presentations will be followed by a response by Armanda Lewis (Director of the Office of Educational Technology, New York University), who will contextualize these presentations from an administrative perspective.  She will speak to the different levels of departmental and institutional support that help encourage and position public scholars: individual interdisciplinary thinking, departmental focus on project-based learning, and institutional partnerships shaped by clear, multi-layered incentives.  


Meredith Farmer (Assistant Teaching Professor, Wake Forest University) will preside and direct the subsequent discussion.  

This panel is sponsored by the Committee on the Status of Graduate Student in the Profession.

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