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Director’s Letter

WE OFTEN ASSUME—and rightly so—that times of economic and political crisis mean particular austerities for the humanities. Budget cuts are as expected as they are dismaying. But what is sometimes less clear in this narrative is that such circumstances actually cause the humanities to reinvent themselves. Rather than disappearing in response to pressure, humanist discourses and disciplines are instead changing fundamentally the ways that they perceive and define themselves. Some of these changes should be met with excitement and others with skepticism, but in all cases, it is the humanities center that can most effectively document, support and critically examine these changes. During my term as Interim Director of the UC Davis Humanities Institute, the institute’s main priority has been to examine from a variety of angles the changes we have seen in the practice of scholarship in the humanities and humanistic social sciences.

This mission manifested itself in part through the creation of institute-based programming, in particular the spring roundtable on Radical Interdisciplinarity. A panel of faculty, representing fields that included media studies, environmental studies, literature, cinema, cultural studies and history, met for a discussion before an audience of colleagues and graduate students. They considered the effect of changing grant initiatives on the humanities, the move toward more far-reaching forms of interdisciplinarity in our fields, and the positive and negative implications of this kind of work for the humanities. The event drew a large and lively audience from many sectors of the campus, generated a great deal of deeply engaged conversation, and made clear the urgent need for more such conversations on our campus.

The Humanities Institute also fostered a campus-wide investigation of the changing humanist landscape through its co-sponsorship of numerous events, its continuation of the research cluster program, and its support of and collaboration with the Mellon Research Initiatives. The institute has been privileged to watch

2012- 2013

the existing Mellon groups in Early Modern Studies and Environments and Societies flourish while tackling critical issues ranging from environmental justice to historical constructions of gender and queerness. And we are very excited about the two additional groups, in Social Justice and in Digital Cultures, whose programming will begin in 2013-2014. The institute played a major role in winter quarter’s “Worlds of Discovery and Loss: The Art of Migration Festival.” This event did important work not only by showcasing a broad variety of art forms—dance, music, theatre, visual art—but also by integrating its artistic programs with critical commentary by scholars from around the country, allowing the festival’s public audience to see firsthand the cultural and intellectual good that humanist scholarship does for a society. The institute also nurtured this scholarship internally by supporting a dynamic spectrum of research clusters in their interdisciplinary endeavors as well as co-sponsoring a broad variety of speakers, workshops and other events. And even in a time of austerity, its staff helped faculty obtain research funding from the National Endowment for the Humanities, the American Council of Learned Societies, the UC Humanities Research Institute and other sources.

I think it would be too simple a palliative to say that, by doing this work, the institute moves toward solving the considerable challenges facing the humanities. But I will say this: 2012-2013 asked us to see the humanities—indeed academia—as tied to rhetorics of big data and national security in ways that are new and potentially troubling to us. At these moments, the importance of the humanities center as a forum for critical examination becomes clear. I was very proud to be at its helm even for a short while, deeply privileged to work with its exceptional staff, and I eagerly look forward to seeing the new horizons the institute sets for itself.

Seeta Chaganti Interim Director

Davis Humanities Institute 4

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