On April 21st almost 200 scholars and community members attended the second annual gathering of the UC Society of Fellows in the Humanities, hosted by the UC Santa Cruz Institute for Humanities Research at the Museum of Art and History in downtown Santa Cruz.
The event kicked off with a welcome and opening remarks from UCSC Chancellor George Blumenthal and David Marshall, humanities dean at UC Santa Barbara and chair of the Humanities Network Advisory Committee. The opening panel featured four UCSC faculty exploring the question, “What are we doing when we do the humanities?”
In the panels that followed throughout the day members of the 2011-2012 Society of Fellows (http://uchumanitiesnetwork.org/Fellows/) spoke on topics such as “The Power of Language”, “Religion and Modernity”, and “Nationalism and Empire”. The day ended with the “Graduate Student Poster Sessions and Reception”, where the graduate student fellows presented posters detailing their research topics. The day’s presentations showcased not only what it is the fellows do when they are doing the humanities, but also why it should matter to us.
“Civilizations have been in communication with each other always… and I believe that there is solace in thinking that our experience is not unique, that it is a part of the overall human experience over centuries. I find this a relief and I find it optimistic too,” said faculty fellow Maria Mavroudi, professor of history and classics at UC Berkeley, regarding the larger place of history among the humanities and its relevance to the present and our generation.
Bradford Johnston, a graduate fellow in world cultures at UC Merced, explained why the humanities matter to him, “In the humanities (we) study the most fundamental questions humans have long grappled with. We study how humans attempt to give meaning to their lives… how they have organized their thoughts, how they decide what is just and what is moral. In essence I believe the humanities is are better equipped (than other disciplines) to deal with these complex issues, because they alone can capture the complexity of the human experience.”
The event also debuted a new partnership between the IHR and the Santa Cruz Museum of Art and History (MAH). In addition to the presentations, the museum itself was free and open to the public for the entire day.
“By taking this event off campus we’re hoping to break down the conceptual wall between what we do in the university and what matters to the general public,” said Nathaniel Deutsch, IHR director and professor of literature and history at UCSC.
“The core subjects of the humanities—ethics, history, language, identity, religion, and so on—are core elements of human experience, in general, even if we sometimes talk about these things differently in the university then we do in our homes or in the public square.”
“By literally bringing the university to the public, we want to show that what we do in the Humanities both reflects and helps to shape conversations of great importance to everyone,” Deutsch added.
Nina Simon, who recently took over the reins as executive director of the museum, also praised the new collaboration.
“The MAH is focused on being a county hub for exploration of art, history, ideas and culture,” said Simon. “We’re thrilled to partner with the IHR on such a dynamic event that extends our mission and bridges community in a new way.”
Stay tuned for video from the event.