Message from Humanities Dean

January 20, 2021

Dear Faculty, Staff, Students, and Friends of Rutgers Humanities,

Welcome to a new semester.  To mark the inauguration of our new U.S. President,  I am writing to you today about the recent contributions of Rutgers Humanities to civic repair and civic knowledge.

In the days and weeks to come, we are likely to see very substantial changes to policies that directly affect our community, such as paths to citizenship for undocumented students, expansion of immigration, unemployment assistance, accelerated vaccine distribution, and increased funding for programs that support equity and racial justice.  The Humanities help us understand these changes.   They help us think about how we arrived at this moment and who brought us here.  They help us analyze the words and images that persuade and incite.  And they help us use words and images to defend and create. 

The Humanities cultivate the skills essential to active citizenship: careful reading, informed argument, an awareness of our place in a complex world at a critical moment in time.  We need the Humanities to help us establish models of civic leadership and to help us educate ourselves and our community so that we can be the leaders we want to see.

At Rutgers, we are educating on campus and off.  Three of our contributions to the project of civic knowledge are especially notable in light of today’s events.  An article in last week’s Washington Post by Louis Masur, distinguished professor of American Studies and History, explains the history of defeated presidents who skipped their successor’s inauguration, and why that matters.  A new podcast launched by Derrick Darby, professor of Philosophy, with a colleague from the University of Michigan, offers listeners serious but accessible conversations about racial justice, culture, and the long-term stability of our democracy.  The latest episode addresses last week’s assault on the Capitol building. And this morning at 10:00 am, Erica Armstrong Dunbar, distinguished professor of History, will participate with Dr. Jill Biden and other educators in "Our White House: An Inaugural Celebration for Young Americans," the first ever livestream educational program about the Inauguration. 

Three new initiatives showcase our collaborations with public institutions throughout the state and the region.  A new Graduate Public Humanities Internship program, launching this summer, will support up to seven graduate students in partnerships with the Rikers Public Memory Project in New York City, coLAB Arts in Central New Jersey, several university presses, and other organizations.  This initiative has been designed by Kristin O’Brassill-Kulfan, assistant teaching professor in History and coordinator of Public History, with support from SAS and the Rutgers Initiative for the Book.  

Throughout this year, Humanities undergraduates in SAS, Mason Gross, and SCI will be designing a 6-episode podcast and a series of visual artistic responses and interventions based on the theme of “Shelter” in the context of this extended pandemic moment.  This project has been made possible by a $50,000 grant from the Henry Luce Foundation, which was awarded to the Center for Cultural Analysis, in partnership with members of the History and Religion Departments.  The podcast initiative builds on a $150,000 grant that the Luce Foundation awarded to a collaboration among Rutgers-New Brunswick, the New Brunswick Theological Seminary, coLAB Arts New Brunswick, and the Affordable Housing Corporation in Summer 2020, which provided direct aid to key community organizations serving our region's most vulnerable communities and included public humanities projects to document that work.

Finally, I would like to acknowledge the ongoing success and growing impact of “Marking Time: Art in the Age of Mass Incarceration,” an exhibition curated by Nicole Fleetwood, professor of American Studies and Art History, which is appearing at MOMA PS1 in Queens, New York through April 4 and has been recognized by the New York Times as one of “the most important moments in art in 2020.”

Responding to calls for scholarship that speaks to urgent concerns, faculty from Humanities departments have sought and received many of the most prestigious grants and fellowship in their fields.  In 2020-2021 alone, Rutgers Humanities faculty were awarded fellowships from the National Endowment for the Humanities (3), the American Council of Learned Societies (3), the Lannan Foundation, the New York Public Library, the Huntington Library, the Woodrow Wilson National Fellowship Foundation, the McNeil Center for Early American Studies, the Library Company of Philadelphia, the William P. Clements Center, the Institute for Advanced Study, and the Freie University in Berlin.  Congratulations on these achievements to Nicole Burrowes (History), Sylvia Chan-Malik (American Studies), Lynn Festa (English), Marisa Fuentes (History), Olabode Ibironke (English), Chie Ikeya (History), Samantha Kelly (History), Martin Lin(Philosophy), Jennifer Mittelstadt (History), Jawid Mojaddedi (Religion), Trinidad Rico (Art History), Tatiana Seijas(History), Samah Selim (AMESALL), and Evie Shockley (English).

We are entering our third semester of pandemic teaching and research.  I remain grateful to all of you for the patience, fortitude, generosity, and ingenuity you have shown during this crisis.  I am enormously proud of the work we are doing together.  

Rebecca Walkowitz

Dean of Humanities

Distinguished Professor