International Humanities Summit at Dartmouth

On May 26, 2014 by Grad Forum
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Panelists from left to right: Amy Allen, Nancy Fraser, Pheng Cheah, Meaghan Morris, and Walter Mignolo

The Master of Arts in Liberal Studies (MALS) Program organized the International Humanities Summit at Dartmouth on Friday and Saturday, May 9 and 10. The conference (co-sponsored by the Leslie Center for the Humanities, the Office of the Associate Dean for the Arts and Humanities, the Office of the Faculty of Arts and Sciences, and the Office of the President) convened to examine the future of the humanities in a global context. The conference speakers were asked to reflect on two significant recently published reports: The Teaching of the Arts and Humanities at Harvard College: Mapping the Future by Harvard University, and The Heart of the Matter by the American Academy of Arts and Sciences.

Lindsay Whaley, interim vice provost and associate provost for International Initiatives, commenced the summit. Adrian Randolph, associate dean of the Faculty for the Arts and Humanities, offered further introductory remarks, and Professor Pease, Ted and Helen Geisel Third Century Professor in the Humanities and chair of MALS, served as the moderator for the discussion “The Humanities Now.” In engaging presentations, Robert Oden (Carleton College) delineated the key contributions of the humanities to American academia, and Pheng Cheah (University of California, Berkeley) dispelled myths surrounding the liberal arts such as its elitist inflection, and its timeless and universal validity.

Colleen Glenney Boggs, professor of English and Leslie Center director, moderated the next session on Saturday morning titled: “Re-Framing the Discussion: A Roundtable.” Meaghan Morris (University of Sydney) presented an innovative and provocative thesis that refused to acknowledge a contradiction between utilitarian and critique-oriented accounts of liberal arts education. Walter Mignolo (Duke University) argued for the decolonization of the humanities as an effective means to recast the contemporary discourse surrounding the discipline. Following these talks, Dartmouth professors Lawrence Kritzman and Ivy Schweitzer joined in a roundtable discussion where they responded to the aforementioned speakers.

Dartmouth’s Amy Allen, professor of philosophy and women’s and gender studies, moderated the final afternoon panel, which featured Nancy Fraser (The New School). Achille Mbembe (University of the Witwatersrand in Johannesburg) was also scheduled to participate on the panel but could not attend due to travel considerations. Discussing the challenges faced by the humanities today, Fraser urged academics to deconstruct the barriers between economy, polity, nature, and society within postsecondary institutions. She observed that opening up the humanities into an understanding that conforms to the notion of sozialforschung (social research) would benefit both its study and practice.

In the concluding roundtable talks, all the conference speakers joined in a lively discussion where they debated with one another and participated in a question-and-answer session with the audience. The International Humanities Summit put forth thought-provoking reflections on the place and value of the liberal arts in American and international education. Further, it served as an important avenue through which Dartmouth made a valuable contribution to this pertinent global debate.

by Meg Menon

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