National “Humanities for All” initiative features innovative work by UMBC scholars

How are scholars across the country creating humanities-centered solutions for our communities’ most pressing challenges? The National Humanities Alliance (NHA) is working to answer this question through Humanities for All, a new website connecting researchers, students, and community members with a database of over 1,400 public humanities projects across all fifty states, Washington, D.C., and Puerto Rico. Over fifteen UMBC projects are included in the site, half of them from UMBC’s Baltimore Traces initiative.

Jessica Berman, director of the UMBC Dresher Center for the Humanities, is proud of the work the center supports, and how it is featured through Humanities for All. “Word is getting out that UMBC is a powerhouse school for humanities teaching and research,” she says. Our faculty are showing how exciting publicly-engaged humanities work can be, and how crucial the humanities are to the way we live and imagine our future now.”

Jessica Berman (l) and Denise Meringolo (r) in the UMBC Dresher Center. Photo by Marlayna Demond ’11 for UMBC.

Daniel Fisher, project director at the NHA, notes that the goal was not to define “publicly-engaged humanities,” but to provide an active resource. “First, we want to encourage humanities faculty members and students to engage with the public in their research, teaching, and programming. Second, we want to help humanities advocates tell a broader story about the value of the humanities in higher education and in communities across the U.S.,” shares Fisher.

The site is also intended to grow and change over time. “We have built into the website a submissions portal so the database will always be reflective of the evolution of the field as it engages diverse audiences in the creation of knowledge and solutions,” Fisher explains. “UMBC’s humanities projects are reflective of this. We want to provide support for the kind of work Baltimore Traces produces.”

Bill Shewbridge, professor of practice in media and communication studies, has multiple collaborative projects represented under the broader Baltimore Traces initiative. He appreciates being included in Humanities for All, with its potential to connect his work to new audiences.

L-R: Najla Nadeem ’19, media and communications; E. Keith Colton, administrative director of the Maryland Commission on Indian Affairs; Bill Shewbridge; and Tyler Roseberry ’19, media and communications.

“A site like Humanities for All is an opportunity to have these stories heard beyond our immediate community,” says Shewbridge. “Seeing Baltimore Traces included in this showcase of publicly-engaged humanities work reinforces that these stories resonate beyond Baltimore and should be a part of a wider conversation.”

Through Humanities for All, the NHA has also sought to show how these kinds of projects are advancing teaching and learning at universities and enriching communities through partnership. “These projects highlight what is possible in the humanities and focus not on the transfer of knowledge but the creation of an experience and the strengthening of communities,” says Fisher. “Projects like Baltimore Traces are creating innovative and practical learning experiences for undergraduates and are creating forums for dialogue to talk about what is happening in the community.”

Several projects by Nicole King, associate professor and chair of American studies, are featured on the NHA site, particularly under the Baltimore Traces feature. King’s work is representative of the variety of multimedia projects included in the database, incorporating not just written materials but also apps, podcasts, websites, and photography, to effectively facilitate and enhance conversations about identity, history, self-expression, culture, political agency, and power.

King’s 2017 Learning from Lexington students hosted their Zine Launch + Open Mic at Lexington Market. Image by Kimberly Zerfas.

“Public-engaged humanities are essential to UMBC’s vision, specifically its commitment to civic engagement and social justice,” she says. “It is essential for our students to show up and to listen to the neighborhoods and communities that surround the university in ways that are honest, respectful, and ethical.”

Shewbridge and King’s work includes collaborations with several essential partners, including Kate Drabinski, senior lecturer in gender and women’s studies; Dustin Roddy ’14, manager of New Media Studio; Steve Bradley, associate professor of visual arts; Michelle Stefano, Library of Congress folklife specialist; Stefanie Mavronis ’12, political science and media and communication studies; and Marc Steiner, radio host.

The Humanities for All database also includes “Revolution of the Eye: Modern Art and the Birth of American Television” and “For All the World to See: Visual Culture and the Struggle for Civil Rights,” led by Maurice Berger, research professor of visual arts. Additionally, it features Preserve the Baltimore Uprising, led by Denise Meringolo, associate professor of history, and Joe Tropea ‘06, history, M.A. ‘08, historical studies, and the Breaking Ground civic engagement movement initiated by David Hoffman and collaborators.

Banner image: Discover Baltimore group tour of historic Lexington Market, UMBC summer session 2017, by Marylana Demond ’11 for UMBC.