Humanities for the Public Good

Humanities for the Public Good: An Integrative, Collaborative, Practice-Based Humanities PhD is a new program focused on creating practice-based, cross-disciplinary opportunities for humanities graduate students interested in diverse careers.

In fall 2018, the University of Iowa received a four-year, $1,341,000 grant from the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation to support the Obermann Center’s creation of a degree in the Graduate College in collaboration with humanities departments that choose to participate, such as African American studies, American studies, anthropology, the visual and performing arts, art history, cinematic arts, classics, communication studies, history, languages, literature, philosophy, religious studies, and rhetoric. Campus libraries and museums will also be likely partners.

Focus groups involving more than 60 UI faculty members, staff, and graduate students laid the groundwork for the proposal to explore balancing the strength of courses in these subject areas with experiential learning of skills and multimedia forms of communication along with mentoring by alumni and experts from a variety of workplaces. The goal is to prepare students for diverse careers, specifically in the non-profit sector, public policy, government, libraries, cultural administration, technology, publishing, and institutional education and research. The program will explore benefits of campus-community partnerships, team-taught courses, and funded summer internships and externships. The grant includes funding for postdoctoral fellows, graduate interns, faculty development opportunities, visiting scholars, travel to conferences, and co-learning opportunities for students, staff, faculty members, alumni, and community partners.

“While we often hear about the devaluing of the humanities," says Obermann Director Teresa Mangum, "I proposed this grant because I hold the opposite view. Our work these next few years presumes that humanities scholars can contribute much-needed commitment to culture, values, careful research, historically and culturally sensitive practices, and civic dialogue to every sector. Increasingly, businesses as well as political, nonprofit, and cultural organizations see the importance of humanistic values—commitment to equity, inclusion, justice, empathy, and compassion—and humanistic methods and emphases on interpretation, storytelling, and meaning-making.”

In preparing the grant, Mangum consulted with policymakers and leaders of museums and non-profits, finding interest on all sides. She also met with executives from several companies in Des Moines to gauge their interest in hiring—as interns or permanent employees—graduates earning humanities doctorates. She heard widespread appreciation for the cultural knowledge, research and analytical skills, and writing abilities graduates of humanities PhD programs could bring to a workplace. Her work was also influenced by the yearlong experiments with new forms of writing in the humanities supported by a National Endowment for the Humanities Next Generation Humanities PhD grant led by then UI Professor Judith Pascoe.

“‘Humanities for the Public Good’ asks instructional and tenured faculty, staff, alumni, and potential employers to forge alliances,” says Mangum. “We’re fortunate to have strong support for humanities graduate education from the College of Liberal Arts and Sciences, the UI Libraries’ Digital Studio, the Office of the Vice President for Research and Economic Development, the Graduate College, the cross-disciplinary Humanities Advisory Board, and, of course, the Obermann Center. Together, we can give students good reasons to pursue graduate humanities degrees and give employers good reasons to hire PhDs who integrate familiar research and writing with career skills gained through applied practice.”

On November 13 at 4:00 p.m. at the Iowa City Public Library, Mangum will share details of the program at a free, public event featuring opening remarks by John Keller, Dean of the Graduate College and Interim Vice President for Research & Economic Development; a talk titled “The Future of the Humanities at the University of Iowa—Possibilities,” by Teresa Mangum, PI and Director of the Obermann Center for Advanced Studies and Professor of Gender, Women’s, & Sexuality Studies; and a conversation with a panel of current and recent UI graduate students.