UC Society of Fellows Meeting Takes the Humanities to the Public

The University of California Santa Cruz has long been known for its innovative, cross-disciplinary, and occasionally offbeat approach to education and research (note the university’s beloved mascot, Sammy the banana slug). On Saturday, April 21, UCSC’s Institute for Humanities Research (IHR) will expand on this tradition of breaking down established boundaries when it hosts the second annual University of California Society of Fellows gathering.

Challenging the often-isolated nature of humanities conferences, the IHR has moved the gathering off campus and into the community of Santa Cruz and will open the gathering to the public. Events will take place at the Museum of Art & Art History at the McPherson Center in the heart of central Santa Cruz. On the day of the gathering, the UCSC Division of Humanities is providing free access to the museum for all community members. Flyers for the event invite the public to bring family and friends, and a free raffle for donated items from local businesses provides further incentive to join in.

Nathaniel Deutsch, Director of the Institute for Humanities Research, explains: “By taking this event off campus we’re hoping to break down the conceptual wall between what we do in the university and what matters to the general public.” To that end, the meeting’s theme asks “What are we doing when we Do the Humanities?” and frames the event as an exploration and celebration of humanities research.

Faculty and graduate fellows from across the University of California system will gather to discuss their work and examine three central questions:

  • What does it mean to do the humanities?
  • Why do the humanities matter?
  • What’s public about the humanities?

The afternoon will consist of panel discussions and poster presentations. Panel topics include the power of language, religion and modernity, empire and nation. Poster presentations cover research on the ethnography of disasters, feminist art, slavery and cannibalism, the criminalization of religious practice, party-crashing in medieval literature, the inevitable fate of the novel, and many others.

Two of UC Davis’s own faculty have been invited to present their work as President’s Faculty Fellows in the Humanities: Anna Maria Busse Berger of the music department and Beth Rose Middleton of the Native American studies department. UC Davis graduate students Vivian Choi (Anthropology) and Matt Russell (Spanish and Portuguese), Davis Humanities Institute Dissertation Year Fellows, will be presenting their work as Graduate Fellows in the Humanities at this year’s meeting.

The President’s Faculty Research Fellowships in the Humanities were begun in 1986 as part of UC President David Gardner’s Humanities Initiative. Now a core program of the UC Humanities Network, these competitively selected fellowships support the most compelling research projects of faculty and graduate humanities scholars across the UC system. For more information on the UC Society of Fellows, see http://www.uchumanitiesnetwork.org/Fellows/.

At the annual meeting held at a different UC campus each year, Fellows report on the research undertaken during their fellowship year and participate in a public forum around key issues and trends in humanities research and the impact of this work for the University and beyond.

Breaking down walls between the university and the broader public seems natural to Deutsch. “The core subjects of the Humanities—ethics, history, language, identity, religion, and so on—are core elements of human experience, in general, even if we sometimes talk about these things differently in the university then we do in our homes or in the public square,” said Deutsch “By literally bringing the university to the public, we want to show that what we do in the Humanities both reflects and helps to shape conversations of great importance to everyone.”

For more information on the Institute for Humanities Research and the UC Society of Fellows gathering, see http://humanities.ihr.ucsc.edu/.