Humanities Futures: A Retrospective

April 18, 2019

In Fall 2014, the Franklin Humanities Institute at Duke University embarked on Humanities Futures (HF), a multi-year exploration of the current states and future directions of the humanities disciplines, in light of the interdisciplinary developments of recent decades. Originally titled Seminars in Historic, Global, and Emerging Humanities, the grant sought to examine the shifting terrain of humanistic knowledge as it comes into accelerated contact with the sciences and quantitative fields in the current moment, even as that terrain continues to be re-shaped by preceding and ongoing conceptual turns (towards language, theory, political economy, race/gender/sexuality, postcoloniality, among others). Humanities Futures was made possible by a generous grant from the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation.

The centerpiece of Humanities Futures is a set of program partnerships with Duke’s 18 humanities, arts, and interpretive social sciences departments, which sought to center academic departments – as distinct from cross-cutting units such as the FHI and Duke’s other University Institutes – as sites of disciplinary and interdisciplinary vitality. Outside the departmental framework, the grant funded 12 interdisciplinary working groups that engaged directly with global and/or emerging areas of research (e.g. from Neuroarchaeology to Global Health Humanities). At the same time, HF made space for new work in the core historic disciplines, sponsoring 6 year-long seminars under the rubric of Concepts, Figures, and Art Forms (e.g. The Other, Kafka, Melodrama) with the Center for Philosophy, Art, and Literature. Over 4.5 years, these grant partners generated over 200 public events as well as a range of special projects such as performances, exhibits, and courses. >>> Click here to view all HF partner departments, working groups, and seminars – click on each to explore further

Beyond the Duke campus, HF launched a digital humanities partnership with the FHI’s long-standing HBCU partner North Carolina Central University. The FHI-NCCU DH Fellowship Program provided 15 NCCU faculty members with training in digital pedagogy and professional development opportunities in DH and related areas, as well as an annual symposium that connected the fellows with leading DH scholars. As a happy result of this collaboration, NCCU faculty have become a part of the vibrant Triangle area digital humanities network and a new DH Lab was established at NCCU in November 2018. >>> Visit the FHI-NCCU Fellows Program website (opens new window)

In November 2017 we convened a capstone conference, Health Humanities and Social Justice: Breath, Body, Voice, that focused a key question from the original proposal: how have the humanities rearticulated their core disciplinary paradigms by engaging with new fields of exchange such as genetics, neuroscience, the law, the environment, and digital media? HF took up aspects of this question through an additional set of “at large” programs. Bringing the humanities into conversation with the arts, sciences, medicine, law, and policy, these programs include a conference on Neurodiversities and another on interdisciplinary approaches to the corpse; events in the FHI’s 2018-19 Annual Theme series on Water, including a conversation on climate and literature with the novelist Amitav Ghosh; and a video documentary on the philosopher of science Bruno Latour’s 2015 visit to Duke geologist Dan Richter’s NSF environmental research observatory in South Carolina. In November 2019 we also sponsored Afro-Asian Connections in the Local/Global South, a conference marking the establishment of Duke’s Asian American Studies Program, under the Global and Emerging Humanities rubric. HF also brought a series of distinguished speakers to Duke, including Latour, Donna Haraway, Brian Massumi, and Achille Mbembe. >>> See HF at large conferences/other events and speakers here

This website is the repository of the rich and heterogeneous activities generated by the grant. We want to draw your attention, in particular, to the over 70 papers or "think pieces" published here. Our contributors, including guest speakers from around the world as well as scholars right here at Duke, were asked to address the future of their disciplinary or interdisciplinary areas, or of the humanities more broadly, from the specific scholarly and pedagogical vantage points. This site is also home to over 80 videos documenting the events and projects generated by the grant, including recordings of two concerts and, as mentioned above, a unique science-meets-humanities “road trip” into the Anthropocene. 

As you explore the site (and we urge you to be patient, as it does load slowly at times), we invite you to contemplate the historical strengths of the humanities, its global reach, and its emergent futures on either side of the disciplinary/interdisciplinary divide.