How do scholars and artists pursue community-oriented research? For Soterios Johnson, engaged scholarship in the humanities starts with honest dialogue. Since arriving on campus as the newly appointed director of Humanities, Arts, and Cultural Partnerships, Johnson has embarked on an extended listening tour to assess the needs and resources of faculty and potential community partners. “A lot of engaged scholarship has taken the form of service learning,” Johnson said, “but we feel it can be much more than that. The ultimate goal of this kind of scholarship is to create new knowledge and to build trust between communities and the university.”
Engaged scholarship, a term first coined in 1996 by Ernest L. Boyer, has long inspired humanists to form mutually beneficial relationships with local communities. In 1999, a consortium of colleges and universities founded Imagining America to promote public-facing arts and humanities scholarship. Recognizing UC Davis’s wide-ranging commitment to civic engagement, Imagining America recently announced it will relocate its national headquarters to Davis in summer 2017.
While attending Imagining America’s national meeting in Milwaukee, Johnson was struck by the presence of many UC Davis students who attended the conference: “Everyone was really impressed with the energy and thoughtfulness of the students.” Faculty and students will have further opportunities to become involved with Imagining America when the national meeting comes to UC Davis in October 12—14, 2017.
As Johnson sees it, sustainability is a crucial component of engaged scholarship. “We don’t want to just parachute scholars in. By lending the university’s expertise, ultimately we hope to help communities create lasting infrastructure to sustain projects on their own.” Although Johnson is currently identifying potential community organizations in the Davis and Sacramento region, he hopes to forge partnerships with organizations across Northern California.
If you a faculty member in the humanities interested in discussing your plans for community-engaged scholarship, contact Soterios Johnson today.
–Michael Accinno, Graduate Student Researcher and Ph.D. candidate in musicology