The Public Humanities at UW-Madison
Public Humanities is the extension of humanistic work and research into spaces and conversations beyond the university, in a sharing of ideas that enriches both higher education and the broader community. It fosters ongoing projects that deepen the relationships between universities and wider publics, including those with the least access to or familiarity with higher education.
The public humanities builds upon what is already a longstanding tradition cultivated by the Wisconsin Idea, through which Wisconsin became the site of the first educational radio station in the country; some of the first extension programs for farmers, mechanics, and families around the state; and a campus whose boundaries became “the boundaries of the state.” Across Wisconsin and beyond, the public humanities participate in an emergent global conversation on the humanities, higher education, and the public.
Goals of the Public Humanities
The public humanities encourages graduate scholars to see public engagement as integral to their lives as intellectuals and teachers. It seeks to help them rethink and reimagine who, what, and where the public is, and what work public engagement can do, while drawing on the skills, practices, and questions that have long been essential to scholarship in the humanities. It recognizes that the increasingly dynamic and diverse population within institutions of higher education has transformed the scholarly paradigms of literary, philosophical, historical, aural, and visual studies, and seeks to build on this awareness to spark further creativity, reflection, and engagement.
Reflecting the trend towards university and non-university collaboration, public humanities-themed courses and workshops continue to be developed at UW-Madison to introduce graduate students to the changing vocabularies, methodologies, and approaches being defined by reciprocal models of higher education. Through their own departments and the Center for the Humanities' public programs, students can gain first hand awareness of the practices, ranging from digital studies to alternative research and to more traditional community service, by which the public humanities is increasing the visibility and relevance of textual, narrative, and creative inquiry through extensive partnerships. At the Center for the Humanities, public humanities events and programs allow students to transition and translate between various professional contexts, languages, and audiences.
Graduate students across the university should find the public humanities an exciting area of practice and theory to pursue. It should be of interest to students seeking an interdisciplinary approach for professions including those in academic, non-profit, public service, media, and fine arts sectors. Please contact Jeff Kollath at firstname.lastname@example.org for more information about how to get involved.
Fall 2014: Comparative Literature 770, Public Humanities: Theories, Methods, Cases taught by Sara Guyer, Associate Professor of English and the Director of the Center for the Humanities. The course will take a multidisciplinary and transhistorical approach to the emerging field, one designed to provide a scholarly framework for the public humanities. To do so, the course will introduce key theoretical and historical texts focused specifically on questions of the public, civic responsibility, communication, ideology, and engagement; provide an overview of relevant tools and methods; and culminate in a final assignment: a research‐driven prospectus for a project in the public humanities.
Spring 2014: Comparative Literature 770, Functions of Public Intellectuals: Why Take Sides? will be taught by Frederic Neyrat, Visiting Professor of Comparative Literature. A public intellectual is someone trained in a specific area of knowledge, and who decides to write and to speak to a "public" larger than a community of specialists. The goal of this class is to question the public intellectual's passage from the "inside" (the University, theoretical research, a peculiar discipline) to the "outside" (theoretical praxis in a broader public context). Rather than reject these oppositions, our analysis will complicate their location and their articulation. The main questions of the course will be: what is and where is intellectuality? What is political intellectuality?
In order to assist students who are interested in the public humanities, we produce a list of courses each semester that have public humanities themes or that require non-traditional academic projects. These course lists are not exhaustive, but are rather intended to give students an idea of how the public humanities can become a part of their program of study at UW-Madison. More information about how these courses have been selected can be located here, on our Course Criteria sheet.