The humanities are disciplines focused on critical engagement with society and culture, representations of global experience in art and literature, constructions of meaning across space and time, and the demands of ethics and truth. These disciplines change constantly, keeping pace with rapid transformations in communication, mass culture, the arts, science, technology, and the economy. The Society for the Humanities fosters innovative humanities research at Cornell, providing a collisional, interdisciplinary space for dialogue and collaboration among undergraduates, graduate students, Cornell faculty, and scholars from around the world.

The Society for the Humanities, located in the A.D. White House on Cornell’s Ithaca campus, holds weekly seminars, offers regular lectures and conferences, hosts visiting scholars, and supports undergraduate, graduate, postdoctoral, and faculty research through grants, fellowships, workshops, and courses. Each year the Society chooses a theme to instigate creative approaches to matters of urgent concern.

Regarding the 2019–2020 theme, Energy, the Society writes, “our modes of dwelling on and sharing the planet (not only with fellow humans) require sustained reflections on energy: its history, uses, and abuses; its relation to progress and colonialism; its futures as well as its costs.”

Dominic Boyer, Brent Hayes Edwards, Cymene Howe, and Kathi Weeks—Invited Society Scholars for 2019–2020—join the Society’s faculty, graduate, and postdoctoral fellows. Courses for Energy include Zombies of the Anthropocene, Global Currents: (Im)mobility and Multi-Sited Ethnography, Atmospheric Pressures: Climate Imaginaries and Migration in the Caribbean, and The Energy Transition in the Nineteenth Century.

“As a multidisciplinary research hub with an international reach,” Paul Fleming, the Taylor Family Director, comments, “Cornell’s Society for the Humanities has a long, recognized history of experimenting with new ideas and paradigms, questioning established traditions, and charting new directions in humanities research and theory.” For example, the Society recently received a million-dollar grant from the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation to launch Rural Humanities, an experimental initiative in public and engaged humanities—ranging from public-facing research to collaborative projects co-created with community partners.

The mission of Rural Humanities is to revisit the urban-rural dynamic, which has re-emerged as one of the most contested dividing lines today, and to critically approach, learn from, and make visible contemporary rural America, particularly in central-western New York. As the sole land-grant Ivy League university with both a rural and an urban footprint, Cornell and the Society for the Humanities occupy a unique position geographically and historically to address this pressing issue with the emerging tools of public and engaged humanities.

Cornell’s Society for the Humanities was established in 1966 as one of the first humanities research institutes in North America.

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Society for the Humanities

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