Letter from the Director

DN Portrait Berlin 5 13 2022 cropped_1.jpegDear friends of the John Nicholas Brown Center for Public Humanities & Cultural Heritage,

Another academic year has ended and with it came another joyous graduation celebration, on a sunny Saturday afternoon in late May in our beautifully restored and Olmsted designed garden. We had lost our enormous 100-year-old beech tree in its northwest corner and Ron Potvin, our Assistant Director and Curator of the house, moved another, smaller beech tree in its place, and the Edwin Lutyens’ Thakeham bench of 1901 in front of it. It looks splendid.

Of course, this cycle of departure and renewal tends to be on one’s mind when one graduating class leaves, while another is getting ready for its second year. Friendships and relationships have formed that we hope will last long beyond the two years in our program. One of the many innovations we introduced this year was that two of our first-year students, Julia Zimring and Susana Turbay Botero designed and produced the “Year in Review” brochure for the 2nd year’s commencement. You can find it online here. It celebrates much of the work of the graduating class and also chronicles many other activities at the Center over the past academic year, as we finally have returned to an almost normal way of operating.

The Class of 2022 had arrived here during the pandemic; all meetings were on zoom for the first year. The few in-person gatherings we managed to pull off during that year - on the patio outside, bundled up or under umbrellas, with a glass of wine but socially distanced - became particularly memorable. As we slowly returned to normal, the engagement and many projects of the Class of 2022 demonstrated once again how important Public Humanities are today, how broad their range and effects are, and in particular how our program, the most prominent of its kind, continues to shape the field. There are many accomplishments to celebrate - first publications by some, insightful “Tiny Exhibits” by others, Public Humanities Lab and Masters Theses. True to our interdisciplinary structure, all our students worked with faculty in different parts of the university and engaged with departments such as the Center for the Study of Slavery and Justice, the Native American and Indigenous Studies Initiative, the Brown Arts Institute and the Nelson Center for Entrepreneurship through fellowships, and concluded internships throughout the country.

Coinciding with the pandemic, we have engaged in a lengthy process of evaluating strengths and weaknesses of our program, and the input from the 2nd year cohort was particularly useful and formative during this process. Among the innovations we have introduced are more focused tracks, PHUM course signifiers, Masters Theses, an increased number of workshops, a mentorship program with local leaders of cultural organizations and more. The 1st year cohort undertook a class trip to Berlin as part of our Methods in Public Humanities class in order to explore the city’s rich legacy of monuments, memorials and museums. We met with artists, curators, and museum directors and had long, intense discussions about commemoration, restitution and decolonization. More and substantive changes are in the works.

Marisa Brown’s leadership as the Center’s Assistant Director of Programs over the past six years culminated in the installation of Jazzmen Lee Johnson’s “Not Never More” (2022) responding to the 1835 French wallpaper in our central hallway. This coincided with a conference entitled “Inheritance” at the end of April. In the meantime, Marisa has accepted the position as an Associate Director at the Center for Complexity at the Rhode Island School of Design and will surely have a similar impact there. Our new Edward Mitchell Bannister artist-in-residence, Njaimeh Njie has spent a good amount of time here, met with students and worked on her mural for Brown, which will go up in the fall. It already looks amazing.

Prof. Philipp Meuser from Berlin taught a class on “Making the Invisible Visible” about publications on marginalized subjects, such as his 7-volume series on the architecture of Africa. Other visiting faculty in our program were Diane O’Donoghue, our visiting professor of public humanities from Tufts University, artist and public art entrepreneur Janet Zweig, and non-profit consultant Gayle Gifford.

In addition to Marisa’s highly successful lunchtime speaker series, we started our new regular evening “Conversations” of which we organized 25 on Thursday nights through the first academic year. They brought together different publics of Providence and Brown to engage with local artists, architects, writers and thinkers. A short presentation, followed by Q&A and discussions over food and wine. The Center became once again the vibrant location for intellectual exchanges with the broader public, and the gateway to Brown that its founders had imagined. There is much more to come. A large exhibition about the African American painter Edward M. Bannister is being organized through the Center in close collaboration with the RISD Museum, Harvard Art Museums, Smithsonian Institution, Oxford University and many others. As John Nicholas Brown loved architecture (commissioning House Windshield from Richard Neutra) and led Brown’s Architecture Committee for many years (working with Philip Johnson, I.M.Pei, Felix Candela, Charles Moore and others), we have linked the JNBC to Docomomo New England, an international group for the documentation and preservation of modern architecture. In a new collaboration with the City’s Department of Art, Culture and Tourism (represented by JNBC alumnus Micah Salkind), the RI Historical Society (represented by Richard Ring) and Prof. Renee Ater, Provost’s Visiting Professor at Brown, we are working on a new database to collect information about all monuments, memorials and markers in Providence, thanks to a grant from the Rhode Island Council of the Humanities. Prof. Ater will teach a class about this topic in the fall.

We salute the class of 2022, and congratulate them as they receive their Master’s degrees from Brown University. We wish you all the best for your future in Public Humanities!

Dietrich Neumann
Professor for the History of Modern Architecture and Urbanism
Director, John Nicholas Brown Center for Public Humanities and Cultural Heritage


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. Before his appointment as Director of the Center for Public Humanities, Professor Neumann served as Director of Urban Studies, founded his department’s Architecture Concentration and chaired 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.