All posts by Francesca Borrione

Public Threads in the Humanities: A Panel Discussion

The English Department joined the Center for the Humanities in its annual festival, held at URI on April 6th, which was dedicated to the topic of Public Humanities. The Festival was opened by Annu Palakunathu Matthew, director of the Center for the Humanities, who awarded the Student Excellence Award Winners 2017: undergraduate students Kristina Canton (History Department), Charles Santos (Philosophy Department), graduate student Michelle M. Drummey (History Department), and PhD student Beth Leonardo Silvia, from the English Department, who not only has two articles accepted for publication but also serves as Administrative Assistant to the Center for the Humanities.

Kathleen Davis, Professor of English at URI and director of the NEH Planning Grant “Humanities at Large,” introduced the topic of Public Humanities and the “culture of yes!”, and highlighted the importance of a productive dialogue between academia and the Public.

The panel discussion was moderated by Christina Bevilacqua, a cultural curator who currently serves as Conversationalist-in residence at Trinity Repertory Company. The three main panelists—who come from different experiences, background, and education—confronted and debated the idea of Public Humanities. Each panelist defined their own approach.

What is Humanities? That question opened the discussion, as Christina Bevilacqua highlighted the way practitioners go into the world of humanities. Interdisciplinarity seemed to be the thread that bound the intervention of the panelists Shereen Marisol Meraji, co-host of NPR’s Code Switch podcast focused on race and culture in America, Ry, Cordell–Assistant Professor of English and core founding faculty member in the NULab for Texts, Maps, and Network at Northeastern University, and Loren M. Spears, Tomaquag Museum Executive Director and URI alumni.

Cordell pointed out the importance of interdisciplinarity, and gave as an example the way computational and humanist method are combined in his work. Technology is present, Cordell stated, we use it. History and literature, or the history of literature may become a history of technology. In labs, students learn about codes. Technology has become a part of the history of humanities, as digital archive is replicating a traditional archive. Technology should be interrogated, and used to perpetuate culture. Social media put people in conversation and used to spread and reinforce messages of diversity and humanity.

Shereen Marisol Meraji, with her NPR podcast that discusses the idea of race in America, proves that humanists can become activists, and that technology can have a positive impact on society. Her podcast, in her own definition, “is an archive about race and identity in America.” It is a radio archive that collects and retells oral stories, providing a virtual but important space to raise questions about memories, stories, race, and background. These are “humanities” questions. How to give the invisible a voice? That is what the Humanities do. They make those stories public. That is one of the values of the Humanities.

Christina Bevilacqua moved the discussion to Digital Humanities and the relationship between history and technology. How to combine, then, archival work in 19th, 18th century history and literature, with technology?

Loren M. Spears jumped in the conversation. She illustrated how her work in Tomaquag Museum is using different types of media such as videos and podcast to enlarge the interested audience and involve more young people in the museum’s life, which is based on connections. Connections between communities and families. Between past and present. Archival research and digital archive. The humanists’ job, after all, is to tell stories. And the question is, how do we tell stories? How do we recollect them? How do we make them available for future generations? How to involve the community members, students, and the public, in the life of a museum?

Loren Spears shares her cultural knowledge and traditional arts with the Public through museum programs. A museum brings new knowledge and awareness about history and the history of the community.

English majors are in demand, but there is an existing stereotype about the uselessness of humanities. In her speech, Spears sounded encouraging and supportive towards the students and the humanists who are now going into the job market. Spears reported about one of her internships, a young student who was trained during her experience in the Tomaquag Museum to write grant proposals, share her knowledge with the public, and to make her skills crucial and necessary to the success of the museum’s projects.

The Public seems to ask the university system to engage in a conversation about the practical society’s needs. The Humanities are becoming the ideal bridge that makes the encounter between the academia and the outside world finally possible.

Photos of the event can be found here: http://web.uri.edu/humanities/

 

URI GradCon 2016. Trans(forming) Directions

gradcon3

On April, 9th, 2016 the Department of English hosted the 10th Annual URI Graduate Conference. This year’s theme was “Trans(form): New Insights and New Directions,” a topic chosen by the Conference Committee with the intent to highlight interdisciplinarity and encourage students from every research field to contribute. According to the co-chairs, PhD students Jenna Guitar and Serap Hidir, transdisciplinarity was utilized “to help us think beyond the borders of disciplines while also allowing graduate students from any discipline to participate.” That is exactly what happened this year, with the theme of transdiciplinarity explored through the lens of chemistry, engineering, sociology, geosciences, psychology, literature, philosophy, and media. Transcultural. Transect. Transition. Transcend. Translation. Transportation. Transfuse. Transplant. Transformation.

With more than 100 participants, over 30 panel sessions, 3 roundtables, and 15 posters presented, GradCon2016 can be defined as a huge success. Graduate students not only from Rhode Island but from the east coast to Canada reached URI to participate and present their research: 16 different universities were represented, Salve Regina University, University of New Hampshire, Hofstra University, Southern Connecticut State University, University of Pennsylvania, University of Toronto, and many others.

gradcon2

Paul Bueno de Mesquita, professor of psychology at the University of Rhode Island and director of the URI Center for Nonviolence & Peace, was the plenary speaker. His inspiring lecture titled “Eclectic Visionary Synthesis: The Transformative Power of Kingian Thinking,” opened the proceedings.

Paisley Currah, professor of political sciences and women’s & gender studies at Brooklyn College and the Graduate Center at CUNY, concluded this year’s GradCon with a lecture titled “Transgender Beside Itself: Paradigms, Paradoxes, and Other Exemplary Subjects.” His lecture was the perfect conclusion for such an intense one-day conference. Professor Currah, who is also a co-founding editor of Transgender Studies Quarterly, discussed the notion of gender as a social, political construct, and described how apparent contradictions in sex classification policies reflect fragmented state projects.

gradcon1

 

The poster sessions – with their “inventiveness and possibilities” according to the Director of Graduate Studies, Professor Jean Walton – highlighted the idea of transdisciplinary research, as presenters from humanities and sciences shared the same space and time, and used the same medium -the poster- to show the results of their academic work.

Participants reframed and reshaped the notion of transdisciplinarity by interacting, discussing, debating, and creating a vibrant exchange of ideas across disciplines in the spirit of what a graduate conference means. The presence of professors Stephen Barber, Peter Covino, and Jean Walton from URI’s Department of English strengthened the idea that URI GradCon is more than an occasion for presenting your work; it is the place for establishing an intellectual connection, and creating a positive, inspiring environment for the future of our research. Any research. In Biocultures Manifesto Davis and Morris made clear how interdisciplinarity has become a rule in academic research: sciences and humanities, biology and culture, have always interacted, interweaving their paths in many ways, but now –according to Davis and Morris – they are not considered as distant fields anymore. URI GradCon translated this concept into reality by creating an interdisciplinary

gradcon4

Thinking, inspiring and being inspired, reflecting, dialoguing. Brainstorming around a prefix. Trans(forming). Moving into new directions. Moving forward. GradCon 2017.and transdisciplinary space and place for scholars.