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November 5, 2001

Center promotes humanities

By Eric Rangus



Martine Brownley understands the difficulties faced by the humanities in 21st century education.

“We are in a technological, scientific and professional society,” said Brownley, Goodrich C. White Professor of English and Winship Distinguished Research Professor. “The humanities often take a back seat. I don’t think they get the attention they deserve, either in the larger culture or at Emory.”

That may be true as far as the larger culture is concerned, but Emory has stepped up to address humanities education on campus with the creation this summer of the Center for Humanistic Inquiry (CHI), with Brownley as its first director.

“The arts and sciences are the core of a liberal arts education, and the humanities are central to those,” Brownley said.

Slated to become fully operational in fall 2002, CHI currently is in the organization and pre-planning phase. Once CHI fully gels, however, the campus will see a stark difference in humanities education.

The center will offer four senior fellowships to Emory professors and three junior and postdoctoral fellowships, which will be selected from candidates from both Emory and outside the University. Junior fellows cannot be more than 10 years beyond their doctorates. Brownley added that she hopes to offer “three or four” graduate fellowships as well, but they have not been finalized yet.

The residential fellows will be the core of the CHI, Brownley said. They will have their own research budgets, so they will be able to conduct individual research, but they also will be asked to help with CHI programming. According to Brownley, “We [will] expect them to contribute to the intellectual life of the humanities.”

Applications for the fellowships should be available by the end of November, and the fellows will be announced in the spring.

In addition to offering the fellowships, the center plans to organize humanities-themed programming (conferences, lectures, seminars and the like), beginning with a panel discussion this spring to address the difficulties humanities scholars face in a publishing world that is increasingly focusing on other disciplines.

Brownley also wants to coordinate humanities endeavors with other organizations inside the college (the Center for Teaching and Curriculum and the Institute for Comparative and International Studies, to name just two) as well as among the professional schools, which sometimes do not have particularly close ties to humanities education on campus.

“It’s not that Emory doesn’t have many wonderful programs,” Brownley said. “It’s just that they tend to pile on each other. We hope not only to be an intellectual clearinghouse but also a clearinghouse for coordination of programs.”

Brownley also plans to reach out to the Atlanta community with a series of public initiatives to promote the humanities.

Until the center is assigned space next year, it is being run out of Brownley’s office in the Callaway Center. Throughout its first few months of existence, the center has kept a very low profile. Its website, for instance (, consists of just one line announcing the page as the center’s future home. Eventually CHI will boast not only a comprehensive website, but its physical space will house the fellows’ offices, administrative offices and programming.

The creation of CHI has been a long time in the making. Last year, then-Dean Steve Sanderson, and his counterpart in the Graduate School of Arts and Sciences, Bobby Paul (now interim dean of Emory College), formed a committee to study humanistic inquiry in the arts and sciences at Emory. That committee of college professors produced a report that outlined the structure of CHI, and several of its members remain on CHI’s executive committee.

In early May, without a lot of fanfare (since the center was not far beyond the drawing board), Sanderson announced CHI’s creation. At the end of the month, Brownley, who was a member of the planning committee, was invited to take over as director. In addition to the executive committee, an advisory board of faculty members from across the University is being formed.

The idea of a humanities center is not a new one. Several universities have them and part of the planning behind Emory’s involves researching others as well as tracking trends in the field.

“What people are trying to figure out is where are the humanities going,” said CHI program assistant Keith Anthony. “We don’t believe they are in any sort of crisis, but there is a new atmosphere. The humanities are alive and well and we need to find out what our role is.”

Brownley has quite a bit of experience directing programs. For instance, she led the Institute for Women’s Studies from 1992 to 1996. CHI, though, represents the first time in her more than 25 years at Emory that she has led a program from the start.

“It takes a very different kind of creativity to originate something,” Brownley said. “You have to organize the programs in a different way and get people involved in a different way. In an ongoing program, you have most of the people already in place.”


Back to Emory Report November 5, 2001