New Humanities Network

New Humanities Network

The UC Humanities Network, a multi-campus research program funded by the UC Office of the President in fall 2009, provides support for faculty and graduate student research and facilitates collaborative efforts by linking the UC humanities centers.

David Marshall, UCSB dean of humanities and fine arts, in his capacity as chair of the UC President’s Advisory Committee on Research in the Humanities, serves as principal investigator for the five-year, $11.2 million project.

“The UC Humanities Network will support the individual and collaborative research of faculty, as well as the work of exceptional graduate students, in an interdisciplinary network of campus-based humanities centers, multi-campus research groups, and the UC Humanities Research Institute,” Marshall says. “Leveraging the collective and collaborative strengths of our 10 campuses, the Humanities Network will situate the humanities at the crossroads of important disciplinary and interdisciplinary debates, while promoting knowledge, discovery, and modes of understanding crucial to California and its local and global communities.”

In 1987, UC President David Gardner launched the UC Humanities Initiative as an effort to encourage collaboration among scholars in the humanities. While common among science faculty, collaborative research among humanists was at that time only just beginning, according to Ann Bermingham, acting director of UCSB’s Interdisciplinary Humanities Center (IHC).

The Gardner initiative set up humanities centers on each of the UC campuses together with a system-wide UC Humanities Research Institute, based at UC Irvine. The new Humanities Network supersedes the Gardner initiative, bringing together the campus centers and the UC Humanities Research Institute (UCHRI) in a multi-campus organization. A series of annual meetings of the 10 center directors and the UCHRI director will strengthen coordination, communication, and collaboration.

Traditionally, the campus humanities centers have been incubators, or labs, for humanities research, drawing scholars from multiple departments together to consider topics of common interest.

“When you’re in your own department it’s hard to see outside your field,” Bermingham says. “The humanities centers help scholars discover areas of common interest and encourage interdisciplinary research by creating opportunities for collaboration among humanities faculty.”

UCSB’s Interdisciplinary Humanities Center has been an important catalyst for examining critical questions and supporting emerging fields of study in the humanities. IHC supports research groups on such varied topics as African Studies, Evangelical Studies, and New Sexualities. In addition, IHC has created year-long public programs made up of lectures, films, and symposia on topics such as food (2008-09), oil and water in California and the world (2009-10), and the impact of California’s budget crisis on the university and its future (2009-10).

The new network of humanities centers expands these local campus initiatives into system-wide initiatives. As part of the mission to encourage system-wide research, the network will fund multi-campus research proposals.

The UC President’s faculty and graduate research fellowships in the humanities have resulted in important research initiatives as well as award-winning books and articles. Two recent examples are UCSB’s Catherine Albanese’s A Republic of Mind and Spirit: A Cultural History of American Metaphysical Religion (Yale University Press, 2007) and Stephanie Lemenager’s Manifest and Other Destinies: Territorial Fictions of the 19th-century United States (University of Nebraska Press, 2004). Support for faculty and graduate student research remains an important part of the new Network. A new UC President’s Society of Fellows in the Humanities will link faculty and graduate students on fellowship to their local campus centers and to the Network, which will serve as a forum for disseminating their research through lectures, seminars and workshops.

“The new Humanities Network takes interdisciplinary humanities research to another level,” Bermingham says, “making it system-wide and encouraging faculty to reach out beyond their campus. It really increases the possibilities of what we can do.”

The network plans to take advantage of digital technology. Through a common Web portal linked to campus and special project Web sites, the network will act as a clearing house for information about programs, fellowships, symposia, and research projects. It will also position humanities research at UC in the national and international arenas. Network members and multi-campus research groups will be able to utilize digital technology for Web and video collaboration, text sharing, and virtual meetings and conferences. Additionally, the network may establish an online annual digital publication or imprint to publish outstanding humanities research coming out of the UC system.

“The new Humanities Network award acknowledges the importance of the humanities to California’s intellectual and cultural life,” Marshall says, “and to the University of California’s mission as a premier teaching and research institution.