Letter from the Director

Dietrich Neumann headshot for letter from director 2021.pngDear friends of the Center for Public Humanities,

We look back at a year of unprecedented challenges for everyone, but most importantly a year that saw staggering losses of life around the world due to the pandemic. Here in the United States it was also a year of exciting and invigorating political activism and cultural shifts. Public Humanities are clearly more relevant than ever. We are committed to honoring, documenting and participating in the historical shifts we are witnessing.

We have introduced a number of changes to make the Public Humanities as resilient and effective as possible and to give them a broad footing in the university. Our Community Fellows Board has now term limits, in order to get as many people involved at the JNBC as possible. Marisa had introduced the extraordinarily successful mentorship program, where pairs of Fellows meet with our students to share experiences and offer advice. Our board of Faculty Fellows introduces six departments as partners, namely American Studies, Anthropology, Archaeology, History, History of Art and Architecture and Theater and Performance Studies. The members of this board were deeply involved in our selection of the incoming graduate students. Many classes across the university now carry the new PHUM label that indicates classes of interest to our field.

We look forward to finally returning to our wonderful Center in the fall, and to house many exciting events there. We will continue our lunchtime lecture series and roll out our weekly Thursday evening "Conversations at the JNBC" with (mostly) local writers, thinkers, composers, artists and architects - (starting September 9). We are also re-starting the J. Carter Brown lectures on architecture in the fall, with a lecture by a major contemporary architect each semester. The first Edward Mitchell Bannister Artist-in-Residence at the JNBC will join us this fall, Njaimeh Njie from Pittsburgh. She will work with students, speak at one of our Conversations and create a work of art for our campus. Her tenure will be the first of several events with which we hope to celebrate the work of the painter Edward Mitchell Bannister on the occasion of his 200th birthday a few years from now. A scientific committee has been formed for that purpose.

Marisa is planning a conference about our historic French wallpaper Vues de l’Amerique du Nord (1834) for the spring of 2022 and has commissioned two local artists, Jazzmen Lee Johnson and Deborah Spears Morehead to create art work in response to it. When you come back to the Center, you will notice a few small but important differences: thanks to Ron Potvin, the blue stone pavers around the house have been renewed, water damage at several corner quoins has been repaired, we now have two elegant handrails going up the main steps from Benefit Street and the historic gates will also return. A teak Thakeham Bench designed in 1901 by Sir Edwin Lutyens will be installed in the northwestern corner of our garden in the fall. The beautiful scale model of Windshield, the modernist house that John Nicholas Brown commissioned from Richard Neutra in 1936, was retrieved from the RISD Archives and installed on the second floor.

I am truly grateful for our extraordinary team at the Center, namely our manager Sabina Griffin (about to be a Brown parent…) without whom our organizational changes could never have happened; Marisa Brown, Assistant Director of Programming and in many ways the creative and intellectual steward of our many programs and initiatives, and Ron Potvin, historian and steward of the house, who introduces our students to the hands on experiences in museum studies both in the classroom and in their internship experiences.

Of course, we had to limit ourselves to mostly zoom meetings over the past year, which is not ideal in a field where communication, discussion, empathy and mutual understanding are so central. The few times where we managed to get together (outside, with masks) were joyful exceptions and made clear how much we all missed seeing each other in person. Despite all the limitations, the students have produced some extraordinary work.  Please have a look at our 2020-2021 Year in Review report for some examples.

At this time we salute the outgoing class of 2021 with best wishes for their professional careers and welcome the new cohort to graduate in 2023.

Dietrich Neumann is a Professor at the Department of the History of Art and Architecture at Brown. His publications and classes deal with aspects of the global built environment from the 19th Century to the present, and in particular with questions of architecture, politics and memory. For the past six years, he has served as Director of Urban Studies, he founded his department’s Architecture Concentration and he chairs the University’s Public Art Working Group. His Public Humanities projects (often developed with students in his classes) include a smart phone App for the architecture of Brown’s Campus, called FACADES (also similar Apps for IIT and MIT), the organization of 36 Urban Studies Bus Tours of Providence, maps of the Jewelry District, and of Murals and Graffiti Art in Providence.