If we want the humanities to be more than academic—if we want them to make a difference in the world—we need to change the way we work. We need to rethink some of the traditional assumptions of the humanities. I suggest here seven rules of thumb for doing public humanities.
(Distributed August 29, 2014)
Program Series Launching in September 2014: Bringing Guantánamo Home
At the end of the July, Deputy Director, Anne Valk will be leaving Brown and the Center for Public Humanities for Williams College, where she will be leading public humanities initiatives through a multi-disciplinary appointment. Annie has shaped the Brown Center in the most profound ways. Outgoing director, Steve Lubar hired Annie seven years ago and he vividly remembers a quality Annie mentioned during her interview: “I am a collaborator. I believe in collaboration.”
Since 2012, a group of undergraduate and graduate students from Brown have joined teams from 14 other universities as well as hundreds who served, lived, and were held at GTMO in a process of unearthing and exploring its hidden histories.
The result is the Guantánamo Public Memory Project, an internationally traveling exhibit of surprising stories, images, and documents from before 9-11 and after, as well as dialogues on why GTMO's past matters today. We are thrilled to be hosting the exhibit in Providence from September 2 – 30, 2014.
Background “Oral History and Community Memory,” co-taught by Anne Valk and Holly Ewald, teaches both theory and practice. Students research the history of an area, interviewing people who spent time there. And then they use the archive of interviews to teach others, creating interactive exhibits and tours that reveal Providence’s history and spaces through the stories of those who lived here.
"The area is not there for me to remember . . . It's almost like losing one of your peers."
June Simmons-McRae spoke in reverent tones of her childhood neighborhood of West Elmwood during a recent oral history interview. Once a vibrant neighborhood, West Elmwood was demolished in the early 1960s as part of Providence’s urban renewal movement. The Huntington Industrial Park was built in its place. Today, the neighborhood only lives on in the memories of former residents and the bonds that many friends still share.
Mapping Arts Project: Providence maps the city by locating the black artists who worked in the city. It combines digital technology, university archives, and community partnerships to make historical knowledge accessible and interesting.
Keila Davis: Presenting at the Mapping Arts Event on April 16.
The Westport (Massachusetts) Historical Society asked for our help with their newly acquired 1710 Cadman-White-Handy House. How might they use it as “a cultural hub around which the community can reconnect to its heritage”?
Students in the “Shrine, House, or Home: Rethinking the House Museum Paradigm” course took on the challenge. Molly Kerker, a student in the Public Humanities MA program, was a member of that class. I asked her about this experience.
What was the most challenging aspect of coming up with a plan to interpret the Handy House?
Archivists, arts administrators, art teachers, communications managers, consultants, cultural planners, curators, development writers, interpretive guides, marketing coordinators, museum curators and educators, nonprofit business managers, oyster farmers.
Education, interpretation, research, and administration.
Cities, historic sites, museums, parks, and universities.
"If I could tell you what it meant, there would be no point in dancing it.” - Isadora Duncan... I like to think of myself as culturally literate. I work in the arts, I can drop the odd Shakespeare quote in conversation, and I can tell abstract expressionism from Dadaism. But when I began working with American Dance Legacy Initiative (ADLI) I realized how illiterate I was when it came to dance.
Claims of authenticity or ownership relate to power and impact all of the work we do in the public humanities. Who owns what? Who gets to speak for whom, and when? Commemoration and representation, the use of social media, heritage, sites of conscience, public art: all of these areas of work are classed, raced and gendered and they all rely on claims to power and the propagation of dominant stories. Yet it is important to understand that even working to tell the hidden, invisible or resistance narratives can be troubled.