About the Center

On Campus

Founded in 1999 by Steven Nadler, a member of the philosophy department, the Center has steadily expanded its programming and reach, while remaining true to its original vision: engagement across the wide spectrum of the humanities. The Center highlights humanities research, encourages interdisciplinary exchange, and supports faculty and students by:

Hosting Visiting Scholars

Jacques Ranciere on democracy. Jacqueline Rose on totalitarianism. Catherine Malabou on plasticity and the brain. Debjani Ganguly on the novel in a hypermediated era. The Center sponsors world-renowned visiting scholars whose work is on the cutting edge of humanities research, providing a welcoming, intellectually fertile environment with many opportunities for small discussion groups, shared meals, and one-on-one conversations with faculty and students, as well as evening talks that are open to the public.  

Showcasing Outstanding Faculty 

By promoting the university’s own distinguished humanities faculty, the Center helps to promote the humanities as essential to teaching, learning, and research. Through its Focus on the Humanities series (co-sponsored with the Institute for Research in the Humanities), the Center invites professors to deliver public lectures several times a year.  From English professor Rob Nixon on environmental “slow violence,” to French professor Aliko Songolo on African cinema, humanities faculty continue to prove, again and again, that they can draw a curious, engaged crowd of campus and community members together for stimulating discussions that cut through academic hierarchies, and across disciplinary boundaries. 

Offering Student Fellowships and Awards

Each year, the Center places Public Humanities Graduate Fellows in academic or full-year staff positions at established cultural institutions in Madison where they will have the opportunity to use their experience and expertise to develop new programs and expand existing ones. The Center’s Public Humanities Exchange program supports more than a dozen annual graduate research projects, convened outside the boundaries of academia, with partners as diverse as prisons, hospitals, and public schools. For undergraduates, there is the annual Iwanter Prize: a $2000 award to a graduating senior who has demonstrated outstanding humanities scholarship. Past initiatives include the Emerging Interfaces Award, offered to graduate students in partnership with the Wisconsin Institute for Discovery, to promote creative and engaging explorations at interfaces between science & technology and the arts, humanities, social sciences and education. 

Supporting Junior Faculty

The Center’s annual First Book Award, funded by a short-term humanities programming grant from the A.W. Mellon Foundation, provides both scholarly and collegial support for junior faculty members revising their dissertations into that all-important “first book.”  2009-2010 First Book Award recipient Jennifer Ratner-Rosenhagen saw her book, American Nietzsche, reviewed favorably in The New York Times, The Wall Street Journal, The Nation, and the Chronicle of Higher Education. Of the First Book program, Ratner-Rosenhagen said:  "As a junior faculty member, receiving an award to foster emerging scholarship at UW-Madison made me feel especially supported by my home institution.”

Nurturing Faculty Development and Interdisciplinary Work

Recognizing the value of inter-faculty exchange, the Center offers several opportunities for faculty to delve deeply into research, listen, and learn from one another. Faculty Development Seminars, sponsored by the Center and its sister organization, the UW Institute for Research in the Humanities (with major support from the Dean of the College of Letters & Science), are designed to enhance the quality of humanities research at UW-Madison and to promote sustained collaboration and dialogue across disciplinary lines. The Center’s Sawyer Seminar (funded by the A.W. Mellon Foundation) was a two-year-long program of  interdisciplinary inquiry into the mutually productive spheres of politics and the life sciences.  Fellowships and workshops, also funded by the A.W. Mellon Foundation, enable faculty and post-doctoral students to delve deeply into topics relating to the humanities and humanistic social sciences.

Building Partnerships with Libraries, Science, and More

The Center partners with the UW-Madison Libraries to develop the campus-wide Go Big Read program. In 2009, the Center brought best-selling author and journalism professor Michael Pollan to campus. Thousands turned out to hear Pollan's lecture at the Kohl Center, In Defense of Food

Exciting discussions are happening at the intersection of science and the humanities, most notably around urgent environmental issues, and the Center collaborates with other Centers and Institutes to explore these. Co-sponsorships with the Nelson Institute for Environmental Studies, the Robert F. and Jean E. Holz Center for Science and Technology, and the Department of the History of Science have led to rich programs such as Peter Galison's talk on "Wastelands and Wilderness," in which the Harvard professor discussed the political, ethical, moral, and aesthetic problems surrounding the displosal of nuclear waste for the long future. 

The Center partnered with the Wisconsin Institutes for Discovery on several initiatives, including the Humanities Hackathons, part of our Computational Humanities Lab, and with many partners across campus and the Madison community on the Emancipations Lab, marking the 150th anniversary of the Emancipation Proclamation. Broadly defining the laboratory model—as a space designed for the purposes of research, teaching, or analysis, Humanities Labs are short and long term projects built around a theme and a core group of faculty and students. The goal of our Workshops and Labs is to be interdisciplinary, innovative, experimental, and creative.

Graduate Certificate in the Public Humanities

The Center for the Humanities offers a Graduate Certificate in the Public Humanities to humanities graduate students intending to explore careers outside of academia and trains students who wish to remain within academia to articulate new horizons for their research. The certificate adds a curricular component to the robust public projects already supported through the Center’s Public Humanities Exchange and Public Humanities Fellowship programs.