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Connecting Globally

Mellon Foundation underwrite one-year humanities seminar

The Andrew W. Mellon Foundation is supporting an interdisciplinary humanities seminar that will forge significant connections between Tufts faculty and scholars from around the world. 

The Comparative Global Humanities seminar will encompass eight sessions that will explore new ideas about the study and teaching of literature, religion, anthropology, and other subjects in the humanities. It is funded with $175,000 from the foundation’s Sawyer Seminars series; Tufts was one of a small number of universities invited to apply for seminar support.

“Within a traditional university setting, we don’t always have the opportunity to think across fields of knowledge, but contemporary society encourages us to see multiple layers of any one issue, and that perspective can only enlarge our discussion in the humanities,” says Lisa Lowe, a professor of English and American Studies who is helping to organize the Tufts seminar. “We can be more innovative by both thinking globally and by looking at history through a wider lens that reveals interrelationships. Topics like colonialism, slavery, religion, and war can encourage us to think beyond nation-based studies—they are dynamic processes that don’t fit into fixed categories.”

Conceiving the humanities as emerging out of the longer history of global encounters, each session of the seminar will focus on a cross-cutting theme that brings together scholarship from comparative literature, world history, comparative religion, anthropology, and the arts. Topics may include the study of migration and labor across the Americas and Asia; creolization and cosmopolitanism; religion’s imperial pasts and global futures; cinema and war memory; and human rights and transitional justice.

The seminars will bring to Tufts visiting scholars from institutions in both the United States and abroad. Through online video conferencing, scholars from Bangladesh, Australia, Lebanon, South Africa, Canada, and Hong Kong will also participate.

Lowe, who is also a member of the Consortium of Studies in Race, Colonialism, and Diaspora, says the concept for the seminar grew out of brainstorming sessions with other Tufts faculty. Lowe wrote the proposal with Kris Manjapra, associate professor of history, and Kamran Rastegar, associate professor of Arabic in the Department of German, Russian and Asian Languages and Literatures.

“We see the seminar as a thought experiment that will create an innovative space for Tufts—and universities in general—to enrich the humanities, both in faculty research and in the curricula,” Lowe says. 

The one-year seminar, to be held at the Center for the Humanities at Tufts, builds on Tufts faculty expertise in issues such as slavery, feminism, colonialism, and immigration to and from Europe, Asia, Africa, and the Americas.

Tufts professors will organize the eight three-hour sessions for faculty and graduate students, which will be held once a month starting in September 2016. Each session will be led by an invited distinguished visiting scholar who will spend several days at Tufts, during which time he or she will also present a public lecture. Scholars and students at domestic and international partner universities will link to the eight sessions through videoconference. 

The seminar will culminate in a one-day conference in April 2017 that will be open to faculty, graduate and undergraduate students, and the entire scholarly community.

The Mellon funding allows Tufts to create one-year appointments for one Sawyer Seminar postdoctoral fellow and two dissertation fellows in the humanities. These outstanding young scholars will participate in the seminar and continue their research with the support of Tufts faculty and visiting scholars.