For several months a group of faculty has led discussions regarding efforts to enrich the scholarship and learning environment for the humanities at Georgetown. Georgetown routinely produces large numbers of works from our faculty in theology, philosophy, history, classics, literature, languages and linguistics, anthropology, and cultural studies. Having faculty at the cutting edge of their fields enhances the learning of our students. While the faculty who collectively constitute the humanities at the university are one of its great strengths, there currently is no university-level organization that continuously nurtures this strength.
We wondered whether we could enhance the scholarship of our faculty by becoming more intentional in designing an environment supportive of these activities. We saw this as an opportunity to unify more fully the scholarly lives of faculty and the learning lives of students. While students in the humanities are exposed to critical thinking, creative writing, and construction of critical argumentation, these activities most often occur within classrooms and offices of faculty mentors. In contrast to the natural sciences, where students can work hand-in-hand with faculty in laboratories doing science, humanities students get fewer opportunities to witness the doing of the humanities – the presentation by scholars of their work to other scholars, the live critique of text-based scholarship, the explanation of how the work was crafted by the author, the description of technique employed to create an object by an artist, the story of how a play evolved over its writing. We could use more structured opportunities for such gatherings of students and the scholars who are their instructors and mentors.
As I have written in the past, the future of liberal education depends on a renewed sense of the contribution of the humanities to the world. As a Jesuit university, understanding of alternative approaches to the human experience is key to building a better world through service to others. Identifying solutions to the remaining world problems needs values, creative skills, and life principles honed in the disciplines of the humanities. “Out-of-the-box” thinking propels the humanities forward; debate about alternative interpretations is essential to all the fields.
Working over several months the faculty group produced a draft document that describes their ideas. It’s being used both to seek more input and to inquire whether there might be external financial support to achieve some of its vision. For example, this past academic year we’ve invited many leaders of humanities centers throughout the country to visit us, give us advice, and forward suggestions on how a university-based humanities organization could be uniquely valuable in the nation’s capital.
The report sketches some of the ideas that might be part of a humanities center — faculty and student fellowships, research and curricular support, interdisciplinary workshops and public symposiums, as well as exhibitions, performances, and visual culture programming. Given our location in Washington, D.C., partnerships between such a center and other cultural organizations seem especially promising. The report notes the opportunity for Georgetown to take a global and interdisciplinary approach to the humanities that situates the traditions and histories of human expression in an international and connected context, valuing the humanities contribution to complex problems facing society. It could develop leadership in the digital humanities, using digital media and computing to advance the ways that we research, teach and understand human expression. Finally, it could play a signature role in the public humanities that seeks new ways to preserve and advance the value of humanities and the arts through cultural institutions and creative public expression and education.
Through the work of the faculty group, we are convinced that Georgetown needs a Humanities Center to achieve its rightful place among the great universities of the world. For that reason, the Office of the Provost has accepted the proposal and during the next academic year will form the Georgetown Humanities Initiative. The purpose of the Initiative is to construct the vision, concept, structure and early activities for a humanities center. The goal will be to maintain the great momentum of the faculty group, as we simultaneously seek philanthropy and research funding support for the center. We will seek to fund collaborations across the humanities and between humanities and other fields in order to create proofs of concept on the work that a humanities center could do at Georgetown.