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Ian Baucom: “The Humanities and Their Publics: Four Futures”

by Aimee Mepham, Program Coordinator, WFU Humanities Institute

015On Wednesday, February 26th, Ian Baucom delivered the talk “Humanities and Their Publics: Four Futures” in the ZSR Library Auditorium on WFU’s Reynolda campus. This talk was the first in a series that the Humanities Institute is hosting on the Humanities and Their Publics.

Baucom, a WFU alum, is Professor of English and Director of the John Hope Franklin Humanities Institute at Duke University. He is also author of the acclaimed Specters of the Atlantic: Finance Capital, Slavery, and the Philosophy of History and President of the international Consortium of Humanities Centers and Institutes.

Baucom addressed and invited the audience to discuss with him the future of public humanities for undergraduate students and for humanities disciplines, as well as national/civic and global contexts for public humanities work.020

The four audiences that Baucom identified in his remarks were 1) the disciplines of the humanities themselves (and the exchanges within), 2) college and university administrators (Deans, Provosts) as well as faculty in the sciences and social sciences, 3) the national civic/public sphere, and 4) the university as a transnational institution. Baucom then posed a series of questions related to each of these audiences or “futures.” For the first, he asked whether the humanities are truly in a moment of paradigm shift (and whether that was “good” or “bad”). Next, as the humanities continue interdisciplinary work with other fields, especially the sciences and social sciences, how will the humanities hold onto their fundamental methods/ethos? In terms of communicating the work of the humanities to the civic/public sphere, Baucom asked, “How can we articulate this translational work?” Finally, in negotiating the university as a transnational institution, he asked, “How can we balance thoughtful critique of globalization and digital revolution for pedagogy?”

After exploring each of these questions in detail, Baucom concluded his remarks by opening up the conversation to the audience, encouraging the audience members to address the questions he posed, not just with him but with each other. After a lively discussion, a reception followed for further, casual conversation.

Baucom’s lecture was a fitting and thought-provoking opening to the Humanities Institute’s series on the Humanities and Their Publics and provided a strong foundation for the future conversation and debate.

You can hear Baucom’s lecture in its entirety below.