The Center for the Humanities at The Graduate Center of The City University of New York (CUNY) received a $546,000 grant from The Andrew W. Mellon Foundation to promote and expand public humanities practices at CUNY through the Seminar on Public Engagement and Collaborative Research.  

The Seminar on Public Engagement and Collaborative Research expands the ways that the humanities function in public life and as a public good. The initiative brings together more than 40 faculty, students, and, unlike most such programs, civic, cultural, and community partners to produce and circulate research through public projects, scholarship, and interdisciplinary activities at CUNY and throughout New York City.   

“We are enormously grateful to the Mellon Foundation for its generosity in supporting this vital initiative,” said Graduate Center Interim President Joy Connolly. “The Graduate Center has a history of deep commitment to scholarship that addresses pressing social needs and advances public understanding. The Seminar on Public Engagement and Collaborative Research is an incubator of collaborative projects that bring scholarship into the conversation about the wicked problems that call for creative, inclusive solutions.”  

GC doctoral student Gleneara E. Bates (Educational Psychology) works with a patient at Montefiore Hospital

Since its inception in 2015, the seminar has already funded dozens of collaborative projects, such as playwriting and performance, publications, websites, oral histories, and artworks that offer new ways of understanding and solving pressing social issues. One project provided pediatric patients with virtual reality and audiovisual technology prototyped in undergraduate classrooms as part of a more humanistic approach to medicine. In another, formerly incarcerated women addressed the significance of public education through a theatrical production. Others projects have taken on topics such as species extinction, climate change, environmental justice, racial justice, dance writing, and equitable housing.  

“The seminar brings CUNY faculty and students together with community partners across the city to develop creative, educational, and activist platforms,” said Kendra Sullivan, associate director of the Center for the Humanities and director of the initiative. “The alliances forged are as deep-rooted as they are far-reaching. They encourage collaboration between practitioners in diverse milieus to come together to solve problems that demand interdisciplinary analysis as well as immediate action. Each expansive project is authored collaboratively by participants and, in the process, changes minds and lives, builds community, models innovative scholarship and pedagogy, and deepens the meaning and relevance of humanistic inquiry to practical and intellectual challenges facing the university, the city, and the world.”

Students from IntegrateNYC sign a Constitution for Real Integration, January 2018.

The grant is the third one to come from Mellon Foundation for the initiative. It will support projects in three new areas: addressing the influence of the ocean and coastal ecologies on societies; fostering constructive public debate on contentious and polarizing civic issues, such as education, democratic practice, and inclusivity; and tackling issues important to urban neighborhoods, from preserving linguistic diversity to community control of green spaces. The grant will fund six faculty co-leaders, three teaching fellows, three digital public fellows, and one provost’s fellow in public humanities as well as adjunct teachers and researchers, independent study students at the graduate and undergraduate levels, and community partners.

Funding is also provided to launch Distributaries: New Writing in the Public Humanities, a digital platform for new media and writing seeded by the initiative. Named after the channels of a river that flow away from the mainstream, Distributaries will feature undergraduate and graduate student writers alongside established poets, journalists, scholars, and artists seeking to nurture new conversations, perspectives, and audiences for the public humanities.

The Center for the Humanities is hosting a Showcase and Information Session on its Seminar on Public Engagement and Collaborative Research on May 1, at which people can learn about the initiative’s projects and how to get involved.
Learn more about the Seminar on Public Engagement and how to apply for fellowships.