Defining the Public Humanities

“Public humanities is about finding both practical and conceptual locations, spaces, and translations between the various kinds of humanities work that people are doing.” – Evan Carton, Founder and Former Director of the University of Texas Humanities Institute

The Humanities can be described as the disciplines that study and interpret how human beings process, document, and learn from the human experience. For millennia, human beings have used language, literature, art, and religion to make sense of their world. Humanities disciplines–for example, linguistics and languages, literature, classics, archaeology, history, religion, philosophy, anthropology, and law, as well as creative and performing arts–study aspects of society and culture, using methods that are (typically) critical, speculative, and comparative.

But what exactly are the PUBLIC humanities?  The crowdsourced phenomenon Wikipedia–which is, one could argue, a public project in its own right–defines Public Humanities as “the work of engaging diverse publics in reflecting on heritage, traditions, and history, and the relevance of the humanities to the current conditions of civic and cultural life.”

For many Humanities scholars, Humanities scholarship has always been “public,” i.e. for the public good.

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

Society has never needed Humanities scholars’ guidance more. We live in a time of crisis: climate change threatens the planet, fake news and extreme populism have put democracy at risk, and racism, war, and wealth disparities have made millions of people around the world incredibly vulnerable. Humanities scholars are a largely untapped resource that can expand public discussions and enrich public understandings beyond our current moment in ways that spark the imagination of different kinds of futures.

The changing nature of journalism makes it easier for Humanities scholars to participate in broad cultural discussions. Media outlets like, which publishes only works by academics, are seeking out the expertise that Humanities scholars have. That said, it’s important to remember that Public Humanities scholarship is reciprocal: it is about sharing one’s research with the general public through op-eds, trade publications, lectures, exhibitions, open educational resources, and websites (i.e. “knowledge mobilization”) AND it is about learning from the general public. When done well, Public Humanities foster knowledge exchange. It presumes both that Humanities researchers have valuable knowledge to share with diverse publics AND that those diverse publics have valuable insights to share with Humanities researchers through conversations, crowdsourcing projects, policy deliberations, performances, festivals, etc.

“We should all want our ideas to find many audiences, not just the fewest, best, or supposedly smartest readers, viewers, or listeners.” – Devoney Looser, National Endowment for the Humanities Public Scholar.

The Public Humanities Hub is here to help scholars share with community partners and the general public.