I recently received an e-mail from a distinguished colleague who wished to congratulate me on becoming the director of Wesleyan’s Center for the Humanities. Well, it was kind of a congratulations as my colleague both articulated how lucky I was to take over an institute that he described as the “very essence of Wesleyan” but also how difficult it will be to fill the shoes of the directors that have come before me.
My colleague was exactly right because I am very lucky and privileged to be able to assume this position but I also realize the burden of living up to the high bar set by my predecessors Jill Morawski, Henry Abelove, Betsy Traube, Richard Ohmann, Dick Vann, Richard Stamelman, Hayden White…well the list goes on. I know I cannot replicate the past but as an historian I like to think I can be guided by it and as we embark on this new chapter, one aided and emboldened by the robust support of the administration, the Mellon Foundation, and our alumnae/i. I have returned to the founding documents of the Center not to recreate a bygone past but to imagine an inspired future.
The core mission of the Center for the Humanities is to provide programming that energizes the Wesleyan campus as a whole and research support to promote innovative scholarship by our faculty in particular. These are achieved through our public Monday night lecture series and our Faculty Fellows program. But as we go forward, I imagine a Center for the Humanities where this core mission is aided and supplemented by a robust internet presence that expands our reach beyond the immediate Wesleyan community and out to a wider global audience. This will be done through webcasts, social and traditional media, interviews, and discussion networks. We will make the Center for the Humanities lectures available to stream or download and we hope to do the same with the faculty seminars that follow the lecture as well. Beyond this, we look forward to partnering with other Humanities Centers throughout the Northeast to take advantage of the wealth of scholarly and artistic talent that surrounds us as well as to create a community of students with shared interest from theses varied and diverse institutions.
I also look to increased student participation at the Center for the Humanities through the Certificate for Social, Cultural and Critical Theory (which is housed at the Center), and also through the creation of a student run Humanities journal that we will launch next year. The “standing room only” attendance to last year’s “In Theory” lecture series points to a confluence between the creative energy of the Theory Certifcate directors and the passionate interest of our students. Both the journal and the Certificate for Social, Cultural and Critical Theory run on the energy and eagerness of the Wesleyan student body and I’m very excited to tap into this resource.
Finally, I am keenly interested in the possibilities of the “digital humanities” and the role it can play in relation to what we consider to be the “traditional” humanities. To tell the truth, the lines between the two have long been blurred and while the possibilities offered by new media seems almost endless the very newness of the form raises many pedagogical and epistemological questions. Thus the Center for the Humanities will be a major player in the practical implementation of digital strategies for teaching and research but also in the critical investigation of those strategies and their effects on the production of knowledge. What’s more we plan to implement undergraduate courses that will bring our students into this vibrant and vital conversation.
So this is all to say that there is a lot going at the Center for the Humanities…actually more than I’ve outlines in this not so brief message from the director. Its an exciting time for the Humanities at Wesleyan University, and an exciting time to be at the Center of them.
I look forward to hearing thoughts and feedback and I’ll keep posting updates as the semester gets underway!