Trajectory [a welcome to the new class of public humanities students] 2015]

Trajectory [a welcome to the new class of public humanities students] 2015]

Robyn asked me to give “something like a trajectory of how we’ve come to understand ‘public humanities’ within the program’s history,” connected to the work you’ll be doing with this semester.

That’s a fair assignment for me, as someone who’s been part of that trajectory.

I know Robyn won’t mind if I question her assignment a bit, consider her assumptions. (That’s what you’re supposed to do in graduate school, especially at Brown!) There are two questions to consider.

First Question: As Tonto famously said, “What do you mean… ‘WE’?”[1]

E. Nelson Bridwell, writer, Joe Orlando, artist, “TV Scenes We’d Like to See,” Mad Magazine #38, 1958,
E. Nelson Bridwell, writer, Joe Orlando, artist, “TV Scenes We’d Like to See,” Mad Magazine #38, 1958

That turns out to be a major question in the public humanities, maybe the major question. What is our relationship to the subject matter and to the audience of our work? We use the word “community” a lot, and it’s a word that we should always question.

Who is the public humanities community? Who gets to define public humanities? The first exercise in Intro class each year is to consider that definition. After all, for at least the next two years, when you announce that you’re in a public humanities program most people will respond, “what’s that?”

I don’t want to give away the ways that we’ll do that in class , but I will give you one hint: You can prepare for the first class by thinking about what you think the public humanities is, and contrast that with what other people think the public humanities is.

The second part of Robyn’s prompt was about a trajectory. I like the work—better than, say, progress, or evolution, or even change over time. It suggests a considered path, something in motion, forces coming to bear on it. Robyn asked me to connect to the work you’ll be doing, so I thought I would talk about the trajectory of AMST2650.

This is where I get to define the public humanities. I went back through the syllabi for the past ten years – you’re the tenth class taking this course! and looked at the headings. I’m going to read them to you without comment, by way of defining the field, and suggesting the trajectory of what I (and Annie Valk, who taught the course for a few years) have come to understand as public humanities.

2005

History and Memory

Culture and Community

Preservation and Representation

 

2006

History and Memory

Culture and Community

Interpretation and Representation

 

2008

Remembering and Saving

Curating community

Interpreting

 

2009

Memory

The Other

Wonder

Community

Display

 

2010

Us

Them

You

 

2011

Whose past?

Who owns culture?

How to connect?

 

2012

Who Owns Culture?

Who Owns the Past?

Who Owns Community?

 

2013

Identity

Community

Memory

Place

 

2014

Connecting to Community

Who owns culture?

Remembering and Memorializing

 

Which brings us to this year’s tripartite headings for public humanities. It’s been a very public humanities-rich summer, and that’s shaped the syllabus this year. There’s a lot here from the news, from what I call “public humanities twitter”—and I seriously considered just focusing directly on hot issues, with sections on memorialization, gentrification, and appropriation, which also had the appeal of alliteration—but I pulled back a bit from the headlines to look at some of the theoretical issues behind them.

Here’s my four headings for this year:

2015

The Public

The Other

The Past

Experts

I thought about putting a question mark after each of them – but I think it’s the very nature of a syllabus that it implies a question mark.

Looking forward to seeing you in class on Wednesday.

 

[1] E. Nelson Bridwell, writer, Joe Orlando, artist, “TV Scenes We’d Like to See,” Mad Magazine #38, 1958, as cited in Brian Cronin, Comic Book Legends Revealed #329, http://goodcomics.comicbookresources.com/2011/08/26/comic-book-legends-revealed-329/ accessed 9/2/215

 

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