Connecting campus, community and state through the humanities

CPH Staff 09.2017
Carolina Public Humanities staff. Photo courtesy of Paul Bonnici

Communities, conversation, creativity: these are the three legs of Carolina Public Humanities’ mission. Then there’s connection and collaboration, which is how the organization achieves that mission. 

Located within the College of Arts and Sciences, Carolina Public Humanities serves as the public outreach of the college, serving both the University and state of North Carolina through programs in the humanities since 1979.

The program was founded by late philosophy professor Dr. E. Maynard Adams, who believed there needed to be a program that connected faculty in the humanities and the arts with the people of North Carolina, said Lloyd Kramer, Director of Carolina Public Humanities. 

Originally called “Program in the Humanities and Human Values,” Adams wanted to create an extension between the University and the community — an extension that would provide a conversation about humanities, as well as historical and philosophical context for controversial issues of the day.

“He believed that the humanities are as important to a good society as science and technology,” Kramer said. “He believed that our social and political and cultural life depends on a knowledge of history and philosophy and ideas."

"So that’s always been our mission – to serve the people of N.C. through public programs that feature the humanities,” he said.

Carolina Public Humanities is continuing to carry out Adams’ initial mission through various events on campus, in the community and in the state.

Rachel Schaevitz, who serves as the postdoctoral fellow for Carolina Public Humanities, helps to plan the different events for the program. She said she applies the organization’s themes of creativity, community and collaboration to the program.

“I try to think how can I help try to foster collaboration and foster civil conversation and all those things," she said. "They are huge big picture ideas, but you can get at that with programs, with bringing people together and talking about history and talking about art and finding common ground and celebrating differences."

Carolina Public Humanities’ multitude of programs is vast and varied, ranging from weekend seminars, book lecture series, foreign language lunches, humanities happy hours, as well as workshops and curriculum resources for public schools in the community.

Executive Director Max Owre said the one thing they are looking to add this year is student engagement in those programs.

Every lecture and event offered by Carolina Public Humanities, with the exception of events that are already sold out, are free for students. Owre wants more students to participate in these events so that the full community is engaged in a dialogue on the issues presented, and students to see what the public humanities are all about — continuing to learn.

Owre said its satisfying for him, both as a professor and public humanist, to see students at the programs along with their main audience of lifelong learners, who are mostly retirees. 

“I think students often take for granted what they learn in their classes," he said. "So to see people who are retired hungry to go back and learn that stuff, it’s important for students to see that this stuff is important, this stuff has value.”

Owre, who is also a lecturer in the history department, said he has begun to implement this student involvement by requiring students in his History 140 class to attend these events and complete assignments on them.

He said faculty and administrators are floating many ideas around to increase involvement and to implement programs like Owre’s. These include making attendance part of a point system, or even worth course credit.

He is also looking to create interest within undergraduates to start a public humanities club, in which they can plan and create events in the humanities.

Along with Adams’ original philosophy, Owre, Kramer and Schaevitz each stressed the importance of the public humanities for building a good campus, good citizens and good communities, especially in today’s political climate.

“We really believe so much that the way forward is through civic dialogue and listening to other people, and working together to face our challenges that we share, but also through doing good together," Schaevitz said. “And how can we help to bring that kind of spirit back into our communities, because it’s the only way to survive and build a strong robust society.”

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