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Note from the Director, 2018-2019

Every challenge—whether overtly concerning global health, biomedical engineering, financial modelling, or design technologies—requires critical thought about its human, cultural, and social vectors. We know this well in the Kaplan Institute for the Humanities, the hub to which I return after a year away. I have enjoyed discovering the fascinating programs underway for 2018-19, which were superbly created by interim director Jessica Winegar last year. 

Kaplan’s Humanities Council selected SECURITY as the theme for our 2018-19 Dialogue, a program designed to showcase ways that humanistic perspectives enrich and advance debates about the crucial issues we face today. In this time of political, economic, and environmental insecurity, we recognize how imperative it is to examine what “security” can mean in different domains—whether a crucial ethical goal, a rationale for forms of social injustice, or something else altogether. In gathering participants across disciplines and fields, Kaplan encourages audiences to think expansively about how a topic resonates differently in cultures around the world and in the past. What, we also ask, are the lenses through which “security” takes on meaning in a given discussion?

The SECURITY Dialogues will convene one large-scale keynote event per quarter in addition to other film screenings, exhibits, readings, and lectures. In the fall, Andrew Lakoff, known for his extensive work on the sociology of science, bio-security, and the global circulation of drugs, will invite us to think about “national resilience.” In winter, Patrice Cullors—activist, artist, educator, and co-founder of Black Lives Matter Global Network—will join E. Patrick Johnson in a conversation, “When They Call You a Terrorist.” Performance artist Jill Magid turns our attention, this spring, to ways that performance-based practice can investigate “protective” institutions, such as the police and intelligence agencies. From contagion, to racial injustice, to surveillance: we invite you to our Dialogue events, which are all open to the public.

One of Kaplan’s core missions is to nurture research in the humanities. Our research cohort in residence this year includes Undergraduate Franke Fellows, Graduate Franke Fellows, postdocs, and Faculty Fellows, all of whom meet regularly to discuss ongoing humanities projects in an interdisciplinary setting. Andrew Britt (History and Latin American Studies) joins our cohort this year as Mellon Postdoctoral Fellow in the Digital Humanities.

The Institute orchestrates, in many ways, a set of learning environments, where innovative research converts into pedagogy and spirited debate shapes research. The intellectually-curious first-year students in our Kaplan Humanities Scholars Program will tackle interdisciplinary courses that involve engagement beyond the classroom (“Alternative Americas: Science Fiction and Speculative Futures” and “Civilization”). Having returned from a trip to Mexico City, students in our fall Global Humanities Lab are now folding that experience into a quarter-long comparative study of modern revolutions. Five faculty members developed new skills for research and teaching in our Digital Humanities Summer Faculty Workshop this August. Kaplan explorations work at all levels and across many sites.

Kaplan is also deeply committed to the exchange of humanistic ideas beyond the boundaries of the university: from partnerships with the Chicago Humanities Festival and the Evanston Public Library, to the faculty and graduate students that we sponsor to teach in the Odyssey Project (which provides humanities education for low income adults) or in two prison education programs (PNAP: The Prison Neighborhood + Arts Program and the brand new NPEP: Northwestern Prison Education Program). In fact, while on leave last year, I learned how transformative the public humanities could be when I taught a PNAP course on “Shakespeare: Justice and Politics” at Stateville Maximum Security prison. Thanks  to the work of our amazing Kaplan staff, we are able to create programs that expand Northwestern’s dialogues beyond the walls of the university; these interchanges benefit our community and enriches our inquiries.

As we navigate tumultuous and somewhat insecure times, we invite you to programs and courses in the Kaplan Institute, where we collaboratively pose and debate the fundamental humanistic questions that help us shape our knowledge and our worlds.

Wendy Wall
Director, Alice Kaplan Institute for the Humanities
Avalon Professor of the Humanities
Charles Deering McCormick Professor of Teaching Excellence

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