Humanistic Commons

Crossing disciplines, cultures, and barriers of space and time to foster conversations, community, and collaborative innovation and problem solving.

Humanistic Commons is a new research and teaching initiative of the College of Liberal Arts. Its aim is to foster a kind of rich intellectual alchemy among artists and critics, theorists and activists, scholars and practitioners, scientists and artists and humanists. It will cross disciplinary, intellectual, cultural, and political boundaries as an inclusive forum for discussion and debate around urgent issues of our times, including the future of the humanities in the academy.

Our project is ambitious. Our goal is nothing less than a transformation in how we “do” humanities. In harnessing the best and most imaginative thinking of disparate communities of scholars, we will renew, redefine, and repurpose humanistic thinking to drive new research agendas that inform, and transform, graduate and undergraduate teaching and learning. And we will reaffirm the salience of the humanities at the heart of the academic enterprise for the 21st century and beyond.

As we come together around critical issues, we will create an integrative space where ideas and perspectives old and new, Western and multicultural/global, theoretical and practical, scientific and humanistic collide to take us in new directions. We will ask new questions, test conventional wisdom, interrogate knowledge systems, and critique and transform established structures. And we will find new ways to bring our new thinking into the world to address grand challenges.

We already have interdisciplinary centers. Why this? And why now?

We recognize that existing research centers, workshops, and scholarly and creative collaboratives at the University of Minnesota already embody and manifest the “commons” spirit. Indeed, this is where much of the creative and intellectual energy of our institution resides. The goal of the Humanistic Commons is to recognize, support, and catalyze this kind of work in a way that will bring it from the margins of University life to the center, where it will become integral to graduate and undergraduate education.

The Humanistic Commons is founded on the following convictions:

  • Humanistic inquiry (work in language, literature, culture, art, philosophy, history, media, and communications, for example) is central to the intellectual and socio-historical project of the university into the 21st century and beyond.
  • Given the increasing fluidity and cross-fertilization of knowledge fields, careers, genres, and cultural perspectives and practices, the humanities are especially called upon to address the challenges of a globalized world, through a process of deep self-reflection and critique and broadening of perspectives.
  • Given the structural conflict between market-driven preoccupations with “deliverables” and the intellectual fascination with “discoverables,” we have no choice but to posit and explore (and perhaps resolve) this conflicted relationship in both research and teaching. The humanities are uniquely positioned to address these questions across disciplines and cultures; and the outcome of our work will have implications for the academy as a whole.

What particular questions will be addressed?

The question in play will cut to the heart of what we're about in the academy , and more broadly, who we are and how we live, and should live, in this world—both individually and collectively, as participants in the ongoing human experiment that we call society, or culture, or “civilization.”

  • How do we work together to solve problems and deliver the best possible outcomes at the intersection of scientific and humanistic inquiry and cultural values?
  • What kinds of scientific and scholarly investigation and creative activity will help us evaluate what we know and create the knowledge we need?
  • What kinds of technologies, investments, research paths, and public policies can move us forward toward innovative solutions?
  • How do we reach out to ensure that talented students from all walks of life and from all cultural backgrounds can take advantage of what we have to offer?

What's in it for undergraduate students?

Fall semester 2014, the Humanistic Commons is offering an undergraduate program of resesarch-based interdisciplinary coursework, team-taught by HC faculty, with opportunities for students' direct participation in research projects. As ideas coalesce around research and scholarly and creative activity in the commons, those ideas will in turn inform undergraduate and graduate research, teaching, and learning even beyond the HC curriculum.

The Humanistic Commons Undergraduate Program is organized into four thematic clusters:

  • Cultures in Contact and Globalization: Pursuing, from a variety of disciplimary and topical perspectives, the fundamental human dynamic of contact, encounter, and global interaction.
  • Media Text, Artifact, Performance: Introducing students to the contemporary practice of humanistic inquiry that amplifies the text-centered basis of humanistic inquiry and explores the analysis of non-textual objects or events as well.
  • Boundaries of the Human: Posing the question, "What is a human being, and what are the boundaries that mark out the terrain and the limits of humanity?" How do humans differ from other life forms and relate to other entities such as historical events or technologies?
  • Foundations of Knowledge and Meaning: Using humanistic methods to explore the entire gamut of human knowing, including the arts and the sciences and their interrelationships.

For more information or to get involved with the Humanistic Commons, contact Associate Dean for Faculty Ana Paula Ferreira.