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New center’s activities provide boost for the humanities

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    With an inaugural group of Faculty Fellows, a full slate of events throughout the academic year, and other dynamic programming, the UM College of Arts and Sciences’ new Center for the Humanities seeks to become a resource not only for the University but the entire South Florida community.

    Professor of English Mihoko Suzuki, the inaugural director of the College of Arts and Sciences' new Center for the Humanities, says that in addition to the initiative's existing program, she hopes to build collaborations with scholars in the sciences, medicine, and law.

    Professor of English Mihoko Suzuki, inaugural director of the College of Arts and Sciences' new Center for the Humanities, says that, in addition to the initiative's existing program, she hopes to build collaborations with scholars in the sciences, medicine, and law.

    While Miami Light Project’s The Closest Farthest Away won’t open until next March, an online video series features scholars of Latin American and American Studies discussing the significance and challenges of this collaborative performance project between Cuban and U.S. artists with two of its creators.

    Another online video series includes a segment by a philosopher discussing his latest book, a work that charts his decade-long relationship with a wolf.

    Until recently, academic endeavors of this kind were not common at the University of Miami’s College of Arts and Sciences. A new Center for the Humanities, however, has brought such programming to the forefront, helping to enrich UM’s intellectual culture.

    The innovative programs, along with events such as a symposium on John Milton’s 400th birthday, have shone a spotlight on the new endeavor.

    As its official dedication event on November 4 at Storer Auditorium (which will feature a lecture by renowned Harvard professor Marjorie Garber) draws near, Mihoko Suzuki, the center’s inaugural director, welcomes the spotlight and is gratified about the outpouring of interest in the initiative.

    “Everyone’s heeding the call, and I haven’t had to persuade anyone to do anything,” she says, referring to the large number of scholars from across the University who have contributed their time and talents to the center, taking part in everything from symposia to the online video discussions BookTalk and Insight Tracks.


    This academic year, the center will host or cohost more than 25 events, including two symposia next spring: Atlantic Narratives, in partnership with Florida International University, and Trans Global/Global Trans. Meanwhile, the center’s lecture series features a list of timely topics, including “The Rise of a Superpower China,” “Animal Passions and Wild Justice: The Emotional Lives of Animals and Why They Matter,” and “All in the Cuban-American Sit/Com Family: ‘Que Pasa USA’ (1975-80).”

    The center’s Interdisciplinary Research Groups—scholarly collaborations between faculty and graduate students in areas such as Atlantic, queer, early modern, hemispheric, and animal studies—are ramping up efforts to pursue joint projects.

    Its Henry King Stanford Distinguished Professors in the Humanities will lecture throughout this academic year, while a group of inaugural Faculty and Dissertation Fellows, scholars in disciplines ranging from anthropology and English to history and philosophy, will present work during a year-long research colloquium. And a collaboration with Books and Books Coral Gables will enable UM faculty members to present their recently published books to the Miami community.


    The center, the establishment of which had been identified as a key goal in the College of Arts and Sciences’ strategic plan, “was desperately needed,” Suzuki says. “Scholars here have long been interested in, and already had been, pushing the boundaries of different disciplines.”

    It is being hailed as the first of its kind for South Florida. “We’re filling a need not just for UM but for the entire area,” explains Suzuki, citing faculty and graduate students from Florida International, Florida Atlantic, and Florida Gulf Coast universities who are participating in the center’s research groups. “One of our goals,” she points out, “is to bring dialogue and inquiry to the South Florida community in order to enrich its public intellectual culture.”

    Faculty Fellow Gema Pérez-Sánchez, an associate professor of Spanish in the Department of Modern Languages and Literatures, agrees, saying the center will allow UM scholars “to act as public intellectuals, something that is a given elsewhere in the world, but not so much in the United States, where the myth of the unassailable ivory tower still persists.”

    For the community, she adds, the center “is a way to demystify academia and to have a chance to become acquainted with the very exciting, relevant research that scholars are conducting in the humanities. Humanities researchers should function as the repository of all past and current knowledge about what is best in human creativity and the way humans tell stories to each other through cultural production. They also can serve as a living conscience of how we can all become more ethical, communally engaged people.”

    Patricia Saunders, a Faculty Fellow and associate professor of English, says the center provides “a shared intellectual space,” bringing together faculty, students, and the greater Miami community “who might otherwise not have the time, the resources, or simply a reason to interact with one another. I think most humanities centers are built very much in the spirit of the ‘If you build it, they will come’ model.

    “In other words,” Saunders adds, “if you create a venue and bring together some of the best and brightest faculty that the university has to offer, a good bit of the leg work has been done for people outside the campus who may not necessarily know who is doing what, or even where to find out more about the kinds of research projects that are part of these departments and disciplines.”


    The center joins more than 200 similar endeavors around the world, many of them university-based and some of which Suzuki visited last year as part of a fact-finding mission to help launch the one at UM.

    UM’s center is not yet in the class of the older, more prestigious institutes, Suzuki says. But she and associate director Kyle Siebrecht are placing a significant amount of multimedia content—panel discussions and book presentations—on its Web site, initiating a strategy they hope will distinguish it from other centers.

    As examples of online content that will soon be available for viewers and listeners, Suzuki notes a dialogue between Associate Professor of Art and Art History Paula Harper and feminist artist Judy Chicago as well as Associate Professor of Italian Maria Galli Stampino’s commentary on an 18th-century Italian play, to be produced by The PlayGround Theatre. Harper’s conversation with Chicago will coincide with the artist’s exhibition at the Jewish Museum of Florida, and Carlo Gozzi’s The Love of Three Oranges will open in April.

    Suzuki also says she is exploring collaborations with UM scholars in the sciences, medicine, and law.

    Initial funding from the College of Arts and Sciences has helped get the center off the ground. To continue, however, it will need additional grants.

    “I’m hoping that because we’re already so much in demand, [the funding] will come,” Suzuki says. “We’re going to have a very active presence on campus.”

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