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Program for Public Humanities

Public Humanities Images

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 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. Beginning in the fall of 2018, Tufts is offering a new major in Civic Studies—the first of its kind at any academic institution—and will give 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, will work on its curricular development, with both new and cross-listed course offerings, and facilitate opportunities for students to work on community-based projects. Scholarly work by public humanists requires engagement with organizations outside of academia, and the skills and practices that such engagement requires; Tisch College has the advantage of exceptionally rich networks, extending from local neighborhoods to international partners.

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 an outstanding graduate program in this field, is one of our academic partners and members of its faculty will advise on curriculum development in public humanities for the Civic Studies major.


In 2019, our annual spring series focused on the theme of "Notational Cries: Resistance to Invisibility in Mapping and Music,” with two of its events co-sponsored by the Department t of Music. The program for 2020 will be detailed here in the fall. 

History and 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.

Tisch Exhibition Model

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.

Humanities for All and the National Humanities Alliance

National Humanities AllianceHumanities 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

Consortium of Public Humanities logoAs 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 will host NEPH’s annual symposium in late April of this year.

Tisch Exhibition Receives National Recognition

“These Words,” created in partnership with the Chinese Historical Society of New England, has been recognized in a study funded by the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation among the leading public humanities projects of the past decade.

Learn more

Exhibition in Providence, RI

The work of the Program in Public Humanities, particularly its "These Words" exhibition in Boston's Chinatown, served as inspiration for a new exhibition in Rhode Island: "Providence's Chinatown." Like "These Words," it utilizes the Tisch Exhibition Model, centered primarily on the use of large window displays.

Learn more about the Providence exhibition