Wellesley College recently joined the New England Humanities Consortium in an effort to promote the study of humanities on college campuses.
Spearheaded by two professors at the University of Connecticut, Dr. Michael Lynch, professor of philosophy, and Dr. Alexis Boylan, associate professor in the Department of Art/Art History and the Department of Women’s, Gender and Sexuality program, the consortium was created to foster academic collaboration between several universities in the New England area. This includes collaborating on humanities-related research projects, sharing prominent speakers and organizing joint conferences to promote the study of the humanities. The program will focus on promoting research in several humanities fields, including philosophy, language, literature, history and art. The consortium includes Amherst College, Colby College, Dartmouth College, Northeastern University, Tufts University, University of New Hampshire, University of Rhode Island, University of Vermont and Wheaton College.
When asked about the decision to create a consortium, Dr. Boylan says, “I am not from New England and when I moved here I was shocked by one, how many amazing schools were so close and two, how little we all collaborated! Some of it is in the humanities, we often get into our own projects or department and get a bit myopic. But I also think there is not a tradition of working together and an unfortunate a habit of competing. That said, we all face the same issues, want the same things for our students and want to be locations that encourage the humanities. It makes more sense to join forces, share resources, trade ideas and work together.”
The consortium is funded by a $100,000 grant from the Andrew M. Mellon Foundation, an organization with a six billion dollar endowment to support the humanities. This grant is meant to pay for pilot projects related to the study of humanities. Though the consortium’s schools receive money from the grant, they have complete control over how to spend the money. Boylan mentions that two pilot programs will be developed this year. One is a lecture series entitled, “Time’s Up? What Now?” The goal of this series is to explore the intersection between humanities and the individual. Members of the consortium will share speakers. According to Boylan, potential lecture topics include the causes of misogyny in contemporary American culture and the effects of imperialism on Native American sovereignty in the United States. The second pilot program will focus on recruiting and supporting faculty members from diverse backgrounds. According to Boylan, “All colleges and universities are trying to build and sustain a diverse faculty. This working group seeks to create and build on regional networks to encourage dialogue and collaboration.”
Professor Eve Zimmerman, associate professor of Japanese and director of the Suzy Newhouse Center for the Humanities, agrees. Zimmerman is the program’s faculty representative for Wellesley College. Zimmerman is excited for the potential of the program and is eager to begin collaborating with other professors in the consortium. “The study of humanities should not take place in a vacuum,” says Zimmerman. “My goal in the coming year is to connect the study of humanities to the real world.”
Zimmerman hopes that the New England Humanities Consortium will begin further collaboration between Wellesley humanities faculty and students, particularly student organizations. Though plans for the current school year will focus on exposing students to humanities research, Zimmerman hopes that the program will be able to focus on pedagogical approaches in the future.
Students hope this program will expand the college’s reputation as a humanities hub in the New England area. “Often research in the humanities is seen as less rigorous and quantitative as research in the hard sciences” says Sophie Barowsky ’21. “Hopefully this new program will allow the humanities to be viewed in equal esteem to STEM subjects.”