Program for Public Humanities
As part of our comprehensive vision of civic life that touches on multiple disciplines and academic endeavors, Tisch College is committed to fostering civic engagement in the humanities and the arts. To that end, we support public humanities, a field of scholarship and an advocacy movement with particular importance in our political and cultural moment. Its work involves such collaborative practices as historical inquiry, recovery, and acknowledgment, as well as innovative uses of narrative and artistic expression to produce civically minded, creative, and just mutual engagements among a broad range of constituencies. Tisch College contributes its expertise to the development of public humanities by supporting teaching, projects, and programming at Tufts, in our host communities, nationally, and internationally.
Tisch College has particular strengths and perspectives that allow us to make distinctive contributions to the field of Public Humanities. We are at the forefront of building the new discipline of Civic Studies, a field that draws extensively on the humanities and involves explicit consideration of ethical issues. Since the fall of 2018, Tufts has offered a new major in Civic Studies—the first of its kind at any academic institution—which gives students the opportunity to examine the significance of critical reflection, ethical thinking, and action for social change, within and between societies, from a variety of disciplinary perspectives. Public humanities and arts are very much involved in these forms of civic engagement and advocacy, and in the future will become one of the paths through which students can pursue this new major. The Program for Public Humanities, as part of Civic Studies, is currently developing a curricular track that will include new and cross-listed course offerings that will be known as “Civic Humanities.”
The Program for Public Humanities is directed by Diane O’Donoghue, Senior Fellow for the Humanities since 2015. An art historian, she first came to Tisch College as a Faculty Fellow in 2013—working on a Nazi-era restitution project in Vienna—after chairing the Department of Visual and Critical Studies at the School of the Museum of Fine Arts at Tufts. She also holds an ongoing appointment as Visiting Professor of Public Humanities at the John Nicholas Brown Center for Public Humanities and Cultural Heritage at Brown University. The Center, home to a graduate program in this field, is one of our academic partners as we create our Civic Humanities curriculum.
Current Project Focus - In Their Presence: Debates on the Dignity, Display, and Ownership of Human Remains
In the 2020-2021 academic year, with the support of a Tufts Collaborates Seed Grant Program/Tufts Springboard, The Diversity Fund, and the World Peace Foundation, the Program’s Director Diane O’Donoghue with Bridget Conley, Associate Professor for Research and Research Director of the World Peace Foundation at Tufts University's Fletcher School of Law and Diplomacy, have organized a series of five panels over the academic year that will bring together leading international voices in areas of forensic ethics to address the materiality of post-life. All events are virtual, free, and open to the public. Registration information and details about the speakers and panels can be found here. You can watch the video recording of the first session ("De-colonizing 'objects'" with Ciraj Rassool and Vernelda Grant) here and the second session (with Professors Sarah Wagner and Adam Rosenblatt) here.
Transnational in scope, “In Their Presence” will focus on museum practices that extend from advocacy involving the restitution of remains long held in storerooms, as is the case in Vienna, to efforts to keep human remains on view, often the only evidence of the murder of specific persons by genocidal regimes. In this latter case, our inquiries will include museums in Ethiopia and Cambodia.
Spring 2020 Lecture Series
Last spring marked the fifth anniversary of this series at Tisch College, and we planned to celebrate with programs that introduce projects embodying the work of civic humanities in art, theater, and education. Due to cancellation of all in-person events in mid-March resulting from the coronavirus pandemic, only the first event took place:
- "Civil Rights Movement Initiative: Strengthening Students through History" - Monday, February 10 with Maiyah Gamble-Rivers (L) from Brown University’s Center for the Study of Slavery & Justice, where she is a curator and educator. This presentation discussed how one of CSSJ's programs, the Civil Rights Movement Initiative (CRMI), has created space for local high school students in the city of Providence to learn about the movement, shift their perception of self, and provide an opportunity for them to wrestle with the feelings of inferiority that are often learned in schools. CSSJ is working to expand the program to serve more schools and their students.
Spring 2021 Lecture Series
Originally scheduled for last March, this event will be reschuled for the spring, date TBA.
- "Dislocation & Ambiguous Loss" with Daniela Rivera (R), a graduate of the SMFA and recent winner of the prestigious Rappaport Prize, who is an Associate Professor of Art at Wellesley College and Director of its Studio Art Program. Read more about her work. Daniela will discuss examples of her recent work and its attempts to represent her own dislocation (she came to the US from Chile in 2002) recognizing it as “an iterative experience of loss that is unutterable, relentlessly experienced, hard to locate, practically invisible."
History and Previous Projects
The Program for Public Humanities began in 2017, expanding on the work of Tisch College’s Initiatives in the Public Humanities, which ran from 2014-2016 and organized a series of panels on various topics that brought together faculty members from across Tufts with colleagues from other universities. (Learn about the panels offered in Spring 2015 and Spring 2016.) The Program continued to organize such events, beginning with a series of presentations this past spring.
The Initiatives also inaugurated innovative projects with community partners. In the summer of 2016, we joined with the Chinese Historical Society of New England (CHSNE) to create “These Words,” an exhibition that celebrated a century of printing within Boston’s Chinese community. This bilingual exhibition, drawing on archival material, demonstrated the neighborhood’s long-standing involvement with books, printing, and reading. In addition to its scholarly and cultural purposes, the exhibition drew attention to the need for a public library in Chinatown and in January 2017, Boston Mayor Martin Walsh announced that library services would finally be restored to the neighborhood. The new Chinatown branch of the Boston Public Library officially opened on February 3, 2018. From that opening to the beginning of August, the branch recorded just under 30,000 visits.
The impact of this exhibition has continued, fostered additional cooperative partnerships and garnering national recognition for Tisch’s work in public humanities. A presentation on “These Words” was selected as part of the closing plenary of the 2017 National Humanities Conference and, in the spring of 2018, an installation on the Chinese communities in Providence, Rhode Island, used the Tisch Exhibition Model (TEM), originating with “ These Words” and featuring the use of large-scale digital imagery, commercial fabrications, and bilingual content, located in the public square. That project is organized by graduate students and faculty of the Center for Public Humanities at Brown.
The "These Words" project is the subject of a chapter in a recently published collection, Doing Public Humanities (ed. Susan Smulyan; Routledge, 2020). Read the chapter here. The cover of the book shows an image from our exhibition (below).
Humanities for All, a project of the National Humanities Alliance, presents the results of a survey of the state of the publicly engaged humanities over the last 10 years, conducted in 2017-2018 and highlighting 1,400 publicly engaged projects. The findings from this work, supported by the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation, were published on a website that describes each entry and features 50 exemplary cases selected to be represented in more detail. We are honored that Tisch College’s "These Words" exhibition was selected to be among these 50 distinguished projects.
Our partnership with the Chinese Historical Society of New England will continue with a new exhibition project focused on food, labor, and immigration, as documented by the the Society’s and the Chinese community’s extensive archives.
North Eastern Public Humanities Consortium
As part of our commitment to public humanities, we are honored to serve on the Steering Committee of the North Eastern Public Humanities Consortium (NEPH), based at Yale University and its public humanities program. The Consortium fosters public projects animated by humanistic inquiry in support of art, culture, history, and education for a more democratic society. Through Tisch College, Tufts University joins eleven other member institutions—Bard Graduate Center, Brown, Columbia, CUNY Grad Center, Harvard, Lehigh, New York University, Rutgers University-Newark, University of Delaware, University of Massachusetts Boston, and Yale—that are engaged in developing public humanities in various ways.
NEPH provides opportunities for faculty, students, professionals, and community members to build partnerships and enhance the relationship between liberal arts and the public through humanities practices like historical preservation, oral history, material culture, curation and exhibition, documentary work, digital humanities, public art, cultural heritage, and more. The Consortium provides an innovative structure for sharing ideas, determining best practices, and strategizing funding and resources. It aims to serve as a powerful advocate for the importance of public humanities both within the member institutions and across the region. Along with the two other area members, Harvard and UMass Boston, Tufts and Tisch College hosted NEPH’s annual symposium in April 2019.