Humanities Institute

Directors Note: August 2017

Tue, August 1, 2017
Directors Note: August 2017
Dr. Pauline Strong, Director of the Humanities Institute

As the 2016-17 year draws to a close, I am delighted to report that the Humanities Institute is going strong in its work promoting intellectual engagement across the campus and community, with a particular emphasis this year on the medical humanities. During the first year of our two-year focus on Health, Well-Being, and Healing, we brought together twelve Faculty Fellows from across campus (representing Liberal Arts, Natural Sciences, Social Work, Communication and Law), for weekly meetings to share research and perspectives. We sponsored (or co-sponsored) visits by leading figures in the medical humanities, including physician/literary scholar Rita Charon, physician/poet Rafael Campo, literary scholar Priscilla Wald, and Native American psychologist Joseph Gone. We partnered with Landmarks to offer a conversation with artist Ann Hamilton, who created O N E E V E R Y O N E, a series of larger-than-life photographs, for the Dell Medical School. (I am honored to be the subject of one of the photographs.) We established a strong relationship with the new Dell Medical School, and initiated an informal workshop on close reading and expressive writing for medical students (led by Dr. Phillip Barrish of the Department of English, with the assistance of Dr. Clare Callahan). We were delighted to receive funding from the Vice President for Research and the College of Liberal Arts to sponsor a Pop-Up Institute in the summer of 2018 on "Health and Humanities: Narrative Medicine, Equity and Diversity, and Community Practice." Do keep tuned for our upcoming public programs in the medical humanities.

In other developments, we hosted Evan Osnos, staff writer at the New Yorker and author of the award-winning Age of Ambition: Truth, Faith, and Fortune in China, as our Paul and Mary Ho Lecturer in China Studies. Our Difficult Dialogues Program, a partnership with the School of Undergraduate Studies, continues to introduce undergraduates to the skills and knowledge necessary to carry on productive dialogues about controversial issues. Difficult Dialogues also offered a workshop for faculty and graduate students on teaching through dialogue, and sponsored two Public Forums, including one featuring a dialogue between young peacemakers from Israel and Palestine. Our Difficult Dialogues program is recognized nationwide, and I was proud to give a presentation at the national Difficult Dialogues conference at the University of Michigan.

This year we named two new Community Sabbatical grantees, Cameron Allen, Executive Director of the SEED Adult and Family Learning Community, and Sera Bonds, the Founder and CEO of Circle of Health International. Allen and Bonds are conducting community-based research with faculty members Angela Valenzuela (Department of Education) and Theodore Held (Dell School of Medicine), respectively. We continued our Controversy and Conversation partnership with the Austin Public Library, offering monthly documentary films at the Terrazas Branch Library in East Austin. And we launched an official blog, “Thinking in Community.” This blog allows us to communicate research and perspectives by our faculty fellows and affiliates, as well as by students, community grantees, campus visitors, and others. I invite you to peruse it regularly!

Our public and campus activities rely on the generous support of the College of Liberal Arts, the Office of the Provost, and the members of our Director’s Circle and Advisory Council. We also benefited from partnerships with the Bob Bullock Texas State History Museum, Texas Performing Arts, Texas Institute for Literary and Textual Studies, the School of Journalism, and the Rapoport Center for Human Rights and Justice, in addition to those already mentioned. 

As Director of the Humanities Institute I have the opportunity to work with a skilled and passionate staff. This year we said farewell to program coordinator Melissa Biggs, who left us to conduct research on Mexican food culture as a Fulbright Scholar, and student workers Peter Khalil and Alejandra Martinez, who graduated from the University after working for the Institute for several years. Graduate intern Saralyn McKinnon-Crowley and undergraduate interns Annie Daubert and Wendy Fernandez joined our staff, as well as our new program coordinator Clare Callahan. Clare, a recent PhD from Duke University, brings to the Institute a special interest in the public humanities.

In closing I wish to express, on behalf of the Faculty Fellows, our sorrow at the recent death of our friend and colleague John Robertson, a renowned bioethicist who participated in our Faculty Fellows Seminar on Health, Well-Being, and Healing this spring. John taught in the School of Law for over thirty-five years, and published two important books on bioethics, The Rights of the Critically Ill and Children of Choice: Freedom and the New Reproductive Technologies, among many other publications. John was a lover of art, literature, and poetry, and enlivened our seminar with his passion and curiosity as well as the breadth of his knowledge. We were fortunate to know John, and will miss him deeply.

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