Free speech, unfettered inquiry, civility, trigger warnings, safe spaces, academic values. These terms increasingly fill headlines reporting on debates and incidents occurring on today’s university campuses. What constitutes a healthy university environment and what currently threatens that health? What role should the National Humanities Center play in this significant, and often contentious, conversation?
The National Humanities Center, New America, and The Tech Museum of Innovation recently presented a provocative conversation and a series of short presentations that explored the state of the humanities in the digital age—a time in which technological tools are both advancing scholarship and becoming key subjects of critical inquiry about their impact on society.
This panel discussion, held Thursday, April 19, 2018 at the New York Public Library, was part of the Humanities Moments project, an initiative created by the National Humanities Center to explore the intersection between the humanities and transformative moments in our individual and public lives.
The humanities and sciences are often viewed as distinct and separate areas of inquiry. Yet whether we study history, chemistry, philosophy, or physics, our overarching methodology is similar in that it involves gathering data and constructing narratives—i.e. telling stories. A way of framing our overlap is by seeing the humanities and sciences as (1) guided by evidence, (2) subject to interpretation, and (3) open to revision. This one-day symposium on April 7, 2018 was an opportunity for humanists and scientists to come together to explore our commonalities and learn from each other.
How do scholars become fascinated by their subjects? How do the processes of research, analysis, writing, and teaching change their perspectives of the world? This series, presented in partnership with the Chapel Hill Public Library, explores these questions through public discussions with leading scholars from the NHC. These informal dialogues will highlight the personal aspects of scholarship—how scholars became interested in specific fields of study, what fuels their passion for their subjects, about the larger questions that intrigue them, and the influence their scholarship has on their ways of thinking about and living in the world.
Since the publication of her first novel nearly fifty years ago, Lee Smith has established herself as a preeminent voice of the South through her award-winning and critically acclaimed fiction. Last year, with her very first work of nonfiction, Dimestore: A Writer’s Life, Smith shared her own story, from growing up in a small coal-mining town in the Appalachian Mountains to becoming a writer and raising her family in North Carolina. Widely praised by critics across the country, Dimestore not only offers insight into the making of a great American writer but opens up a conversation about life in small towns across the nation.
Tera Hunter and Andreá Williams, “African American Marriage in the Twentieth Century: A Conversation”
For centuries marital status has been an important social marker, providing access to a variety of legal rights and contributing to a sense of social stability. Further, since marriage has been seen as fundamental to preserving social and familial norms, it has been considered a central element for ensuring socioeconomic success and social respectability among African Americans and others. Two of this year’s Fellows will discuss the fraught history of marriage and marital rights for African Americans—as well as the ways cultural expectations about marriage have shaped the lives of African American women over the past century—with Tania Munz, vice president for scholarly programs at the Center.
As they are usually understood, the designations “nuclear wasteland” and “pure wilderness” are opposites; when they converge into nature reserves on the sites of decommissioned nuclear weapons lands we often describe this circumstance as “paradoxical” or “ironic.” Peter Galison argues that the categories of wastelands and wilderness are far from opposites; that their relation is more intriguing (and disturbing) than a binary of purity or corruption. Removing parts of the earth in perpetuity—for reasons of sanctification or despoilment—alters a central feature of the human self, presenting us in a different relation to the physical world, and raising irreducible ethical questions about who we are when land can be classified, forever, as not for us humans.