Humanities Center hosts inaugural event

by Kathleen McDermott | 10/26/00 5:00am

Dartmouth's new Humanities Center held its inaugural event -- a Symposium on The Global Humanities -- this past weekend. The symposium brought to campus new points of view on the humanities and a commitment to undergraduate involvement in the Center.

Although the Humanities Center has been open for over a year, this symposium was the biggest event yet undertaken, Center Coordinator and Professor of English and comparative literature Jonathan Crewe said.

The symposium was also the first event held under the center's new name -- the Fannie and Alan Leslie Center for the Humanities, named in honor of Alan Leslie '30, a major supporter of the new institution.

Attended primarily by Dartmouth professors in the humanities, the symposium also drew faculty from other institutions and Dartmouth faculty in other disciplines, Crewe said.

Many students attended the keynote addresses, presented by two very well-known authors, Crewe said.

The symposium opened with presentations by science-fiction writer and cultural critic Samuel Delany and novelist and Booker Prize-winner J.M. Coetzee.

Currently at the University of Chicago, Coetzee spoke on "The Humanities in Africa," and read from a work-in-process discussing the role of humanities in Africa.

Both keynote addresses were incredibly successful, Crewe said adding that Coetzee's talk was described by one faculty member as the best conference presentation he had ever heard.

The discussion of current problems and opportunities in the humanities continued with humanities center directors from all over the nation and world speaking on the work their centers carry out.To see what the experience of different humanities centers in different contexts was very helpful for the new and still-developing Dartmouth center, Crewe said.

In addition, participants got a sense of the humanities situation in other countries, as "part of the whole trend of thinking of global situations and global opportunities," Crewe said.

A participant from an Australian university on the outskirts of Sydney shared her center's activities, which are geared much more toward communal collaboration and work with people in the community involved in art or political work.

"So far our center hasn't had the opportunity to think much about connections within the community," Crewe said, yet he is now very interested in the resources of the community and "how we can tap into them and they can tap into us."

Overall the symposium "showed that there's a wide variety of different understanding of what the humanities are and what they should be doing," Crewe said.

Although "there's a certain amount of anxiety about the role and place in culture" of the humanities, the symposium gave participants an optimistic outlook on the state of the humanities, Crewe said.

"All these speakers are engaging themselves in work they find interesting and productive."

As the conference winded down, undergraduate involvement remained one of the central questions for the Dartmouth humanities center.

Although few other humanities centers at the symposium have successfully involved undergraduates, "we regard involving undergraduates as part of our mandate," Crewe said.

The center currently co-sponsors student publications and a student-initiated lecture series, but hopes to expand their offerings and make students more aware of the center.

Advertise your student group in The Dartmouth for free!