Series on the Public Humanities
In June 2013, my colleague Jenny Strakovsky and I undertook to plan a series of conversations about the humanities in the public sphere here at Stanford. Although in many ways the humanities are alive and well at Stanford, programs can often feel very insular, as though they exist only for the professors and students on campus. Jenny and I wished to have a serious conversation about how the humanities might exist outside of academia, and why they should.
Over the course of the 2013-2014 academic year, with the help of the Humanities Education Focal Group, the Stanford Humanities Center, and the Office of Community Engagement, we have had conversations about the humanities as public service, about public scholarship, and about the potential relationship between the public humanities and the digital humanities. We have hosted speakers such as Professor Emily Auerbach of the Odyssey Project at Wisconsin-Madison, Professor Doris Sommer of the Cultural Agents Project at Harvard, and Professor Bruce Burgett, Chair of Imagining America and co-director of the University of Washington Graduate Certificate in Public Scholarship.
In addition to allowing me the experience of planning and executing a speaker series with a co-coordinator, a number of involved faculty, staff, and graduate students, and a budget of $13,000, the conversations that we've had have helped me clarify to myself what matters to me in the humanities. With so much talk of the "crisis" in the humanities, it's important for those of us who care about them to question why they matter, not only within academia, but outside of it as well, so that we may better articulate why our work is important. Moreover, it is important to produce work that is important. As Professor Burgett said in his talk on public scholarship: "Crises are not always bad." They can be important catalysts for change. I believe that an understanding of the humanities in the public sphere is crucial to producing meaningful change within the humanities.