October 28, 2008

Humanities Day showcases University faculty

University of Chicago students walking through Harper Quadrangle last week may have noticed a large rectangular sign in the center of the Quad. A closer examination would reveal that it was covered with more than 8,000 small, colorful buttons with words such as “provocative,” “engaging,” and “edifying.”

As passersby snagged the buttons, the sign finally revealed another message—a reminder, perhaps: “Humanities Day ’08.”

The Division of Humanities held its 30th annual Humanities Day this past Saturday, conceived as an outreach event and as a way for the University to showcase its faculty members and their interests.

In her remarks printed in the schedule of events, Martha T. Roth, the dean of the Division of Humanities and a professor of Assyriology, noted that Humanities Day is an opportunity to listen to, engage, and learn from the University’s world-class faculty.

“Through these endeavors—literature, language, religion, philosophy, history, music, art, and drama—we explore what it means to be human,” she wrote.

This year’s event featured 30 faculty speakers on a variety of subjects over the course of three sessions. Each year, every faculty member in the division is invited to give a talk or presentation on a topic of their own choosing.

This year’s offerings were typically eclectic, including a discussion on the University’s community connection initiative by members of the Civic Knowledge Project, a screening of two silent films with introductory remarks by Jennifer Wild, an assistant professor of cinema and media studies, and a talk on “Beowulf and Its World” given by Christina von Nolcken, a professor of English and the chair of the medieval studies program.

Humanities Day also featured tours of the Smart Museum and the Oriental Institute.

Jacqueline Goldsby, Associate Professor in English Language and Literature, was invited by Dean Roth to give the keynote address for the day. In introducing Goldsby, Dean Roth noted Goldsby’s academic achievements were part of the “foundational research” in her area of interest, 19th- and early 20th– century American literature, and more specifically, black literature.

Held in Mandel Hall, Professor Goldsby’s lecture was attended by a large and varied audience, including University students and members of the community. Titled “A Salon for the Masses: Black Chicago’s Book Review and Lecture Forum, 1933–53,” Goldsby’s talk explored the black literary culture that sprung up in Bronzeville.

Describing the movement as Chicago’s counterpart to the Harlem Renaissance, Goldsby nevertheless noted that the Chicago Renaissance has been somewhat overshadowed by the Harlem Renaissance in part because no single archive existed for researchers. Goldsby herself and a team of graduate students across history, English, and cinema and media studies began work in 2005 to remove that barrier by compiling an archive. Their project, “Mapping the Stacks,” located, collected, and organized previously hidden collections.

Goldsby also said that the flowering of black literary culture in Chicago differed from Harlem’s by being far more egalitarian and democratic, recruiting members from the general public. Harlem’s literary events, on the other hand, were generally closed to the public, aimed only at “a narrow band of writers,” Goldsby said.

Goldsby’s lecture will be published in the Spring edition of the Division of Humanities magazine Tableau.