Defining the Public Humanities

Hub (/həb/)
“The effective center of an activity, region, or network.”
Oxford Languages

Public scholarship “joins serious intellectual endeavor with a commitment to public practice and public consequence.”
Timothy K. Eatman, Director of Research, Imagining America: Artists and Scholars in Public Life

UBC’s Public Humanities Hub

The humanities are sometimes defined as the disciplines or branches of knowledge that afford the study and interpretation of how human beings process, document, and learn from uniquely human experience. These include history, philosophy and religion, modern and ancient languages and literatures, fine and performing arts, media and cultural studies, and other fields. In other locations, the humanities are defined as scholarly usage of particular qualitative, interpretive, hermaneutic, exegetic methodologies, including narrative, memoir, genealogy, phenomenology, literary/visual/acoustic analysis, composition, theory, performance, ekphrasis, archivism, filmmaking, poesis and diverse others. Humanities methodologies in academic projects are primarily analytical, critical and speculative and are not typically deployed positivistically to produce empirical data. Humanities methodologies are not usually oriented towards determinative accounts of cause-effect. Today, humanities scholars are also concerned with the posthuman and varied materialities.  

Public humanities scholarship can refer to humanities work that prioritizes public engagement; research that aims to bring high-brow cultural artifacts within reach of a broader audience. Alternately, public humanities can refer to academic engagement that seeks to reimagine and collaboratively curate and in fact, redistribute, access to the capacity to create knowledge amongst a very broad set of publics, including most particularly, communities historically and persistently marginalized. 

The mandate of UBC’s Public Humanities Hub is to provide support for modes of doing humanities scholarship that are explicitly and deliberately interdisciplinary, in dialogue with multiple and diverse publics, and politically attuned to decolonization and human rights; commitments that might make some traditional humanists uncomfortable. A fundamental pillar of UBC’s Indigenous Strategic Plan is instructive here: “Truth before Reconciliation”. Indigenous scholarship in the humanities emphasizes the role of the Eurocentric humanities as a historical, and persistent tool of colonization.[1] We are committed, then, to looking very carefully and without idealization at whose version of the humanities is included and welcome in the university. And to ask, “For whom is the humanities most likely to be unwelcoming and non-inclusive?”. 

The Public Humanities Hub will continue to advocate for the most vulnerable and precarious scholars in respect of the public humanities; those faculty members routinely disenfranchised as a function of membership in one or more historically and persistently marginalized groups. We continue to learn how to design ways to bring attention to key indicators that can help us grasp the extent to which this is a problem, for whom, and to track the degree to which we are succeeding in our aims. 

Projects funded by the Public Humanities Hub program of grants and awards, or alternately, research trajectories that are featured in our Noted Scholars Lecture Series, or Public Scholarship Series and related Toolkits: 

  1. Are framed and designed through critical, public humanities methods and scholarship;  
  2. Identify a significant knowledge advance that represents a valuable academic contribution of this particular scholarly work; 
  3. Acknowledge that public scholarship of necessity attends to human rights and other minoritizing histories and processes that characterize public settings. 
  4. Represent scholarship that is purposively designed to address exclusions to access to knowledge; systemic exclusions that restrict the potential publicness of knowledge, reflect the colonial roots of humanities knowledge, and that impact particular publics, including but not limited to, historically, persistently and systemically marginalized groups. 

 

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[1] See for example, Battiste, M. (2005). Animating the Indigenous humanities and education. Australian Journal of Indigenous Education. 34(1):7-19; Justice, DH. (2010). Rhetorics of recognition. The Kenyon Review. 32(1): 336-361; Gaudry, A. & Lorenz, D. (2018). Indigenization as inclusion, reconciliation and decolonization: Navigating the different visions for indigenizing the Canadian Academy. AlterNative, 14(3), 218-227.