Keynote speaker Michael Witmore
John Lehoczky & Michael Witmore
Over the past decade, Carnegie Mellon University — known for its excellence in technology and the arts — has bolstered its standing in the humanities thanks to distinguished faculty and support from numerous foundations, corporations and individuals.
To highlight recent achievements, the Dietrich College of Humanities and Social Sciences and the Center for the Arts in Society (CAS) held "A Celebration of the Humanities with Michael Witmore."
Faculty, students and alumni from the four humanities departments — English, History, Modern Languages and Philosophy — joined Dietrich College Dean John Lehoczky, CAS Director Paul Eiss and other members of the campus community for a look at the past, present and future of the humanities at CMU.
"When I became dean in 2000, I believed that strengthening the humanities departments was vital not only to the success of the college, but essential for Carnegie Mellon as a whole to realize its full potential," Lehoczky said. "Our faculty and students have adopted CMU's interdisciplinary ideals and are making incredible contributions to their fields and leading the humanities into the future."
Dietrich College's award-winning humanities faculty include two philosophy professors who have been elected to the American Academy of Arts and Sciences and winners of many prestigious prizes and honors, such as the DaVinci Award, Guggenheim Fellowships and the National Book Award.
Faculty members help students follow their interests regardless of traditional disciplinary boundaries and work to solve central problems facing society. Philosophers are working to improve medical ethics practices and food marketing tactics geared toward children. Historians are creating policy recommendations for forensic DNA profiling and drug prevention. And an English professor created a social networking tool to improve education, which tens of thousands of students all over the world are now using.
"Our humanities emphasis in the Dietrich College is more connected to the real world than any other program that I know," said Richard Scheines, head of the Department of Philosophy.
Shortly after becoming dean, Lehoczky launched the Humanities Initiative, which served as a blueprint for improving the college's standings in the humanities while complementing and advancing efforts within humanities departments.
The initiative has been a collaborative endeavor to produce alumni equipped with the skills to solve real world problems, the flexibility to adapt to changing technology and markets and a respect for intellectual and cultural diversity.
The three programs under the initiative have been the driving forces behind the college's climb to overall success: the Humanities Scholars Program, a four-year interdisciplinary program for Dietrich College undergraduates; the Humanities Center, a research center designed to improve research and training in the humanities; and CAS, a research and education center sponsored jointly with the College of Fine Arts that investigates the role of arts in societies.
All three recently secured permanent endowments.
To keynote the celebration, CAS and the Department of English invited Witmore, the director of the Folger Shakespeare Library and former CMU English faculty member, to talk on the changing perspectives on archives.
He discussed how many believe that the widespread digitization of cultural heritage materials has led to the verge of a golden age of digital access and what that truly means for scholars of the humanities.
Eiss, associate professor of history and anthropology, called the talk "a stimulating and brilliant discussion of how the Folger Library and the works of Shakespeare serve as a meeting point for textual, material and digital modes of inquiry analysis."
A reception followed Witmore's lecture and featured 10 humanities students showcasing their current work.