About Public Humanities Exchange
In 2005, the Center for the Humanities began supporting a select number of graduate student projects, convened outside the boundaries of academia. Each one features a collaboration with a community partner. Now known as the Public Humanities Exchange, the program goes beyond volunteerism and the pure research model, to offer graduate students and partners the chance to form mutually rewarding relationships with surprising outcomes. Partners are as diverse as the community itself, including Oakhill Correctional Institute, Veterans for Peace, Madison’s public high schools, Madison Public Library, the Aids Network, community gardens, hospitals, nursing homes, and many more.
The success of the reading and writing groups at Oakhill Correctional Institute (first started in 2009) has led to an ongoing relationship with the prison, with one or two Public Humanities projects running there every year.
"I would never in my wildest dreams have imagined that I would be passionate about Russian literature," wrote one participant in a fiction reading group at Oakhill Correctional Institute.
For his part, graduate student Jose Vergara (Slavic Languages and Literature), who ran an Oakhill Correctional Institute reading and writing group, found what he called unexpected insights through his joint project with Jesse Stavis, Literature and Life.
"In academia we fall into patterns of thought on how to approach literature, which can be restricting. At Oakhill, I enjoy being able to talk more openly about these stories with people from different backgrounds. The texts have rich and different meanings, in that kind of environment."
The Center believes such endeavors are a two-way street. Public humanities scholars aren’t just teaching—they’re learning: how to listen, communicate, and work in a variety of settings, some of them difficult.