UM extends emphasis on humanities

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The humanities department at UM spread its wings in the year-long event, “Taking Flight: The Year of the Humanities and the Arts at the University of Miami.”

A member of the congressionally-appointed American Academy Commission on the Humanities and Social Sciences, UM President Donna E. Shalala announced that the 2012-2013 academic year be marked by a continued emphasis on the humanities through special guest scholars and performers.

“The humanities and the arts are an integral component of life at UM, creating a vibrant mosaic of perspectives that enriches our students’ educational experience in countless ways,” she said in a press release.

The Center for the Humanities, a division of the College of Arts & Sciences, coordinated the year’s events. Mihoko Suzuki, director of the center, and a faculty board helped choose speakers that relate to the humanities but are also relevant to a variety of disciplines.

“All of the speakers are very much interdisciplinary,” she said.

The first major category of events was the annual Stanford Distinguished Professors lecture series. “Taking Flight” included five professors instead of the usual three to four, according to Suzuki.

The first of this series highlighted Mark Juergensmeyer, a sociology professor at the University of California Santa Barbara, on Sept. 20. His research focuses on the role of religious violence and how the 21st century has been influenced by religious rebellion.

Juergensmeyer also held seminars for UM students and faculty in the Department of Religious Studies in the days leading up to the public event.

In January, Temple Grandin, professor of animal science at Colorado State University, discussed her experiences with autism. She is a recognized individual with autism, having written and published four books,  appeared in countless news outlets such as Forbes and the Today Show, and featured in a 2010 HBO movie, starring Claire Danes.

Given Grandin’s wide appeal, Suzuki hoped that anyone interested in attending this event and others throughout the year registered in advance online. The process secured each ticket with a unique confirmation number. (Should we remove this?)

Suzuki said that Grandin agreed to meet with a select group of students in addition to the large public event. The details of this more private session have not yet been finalized. (Did we find out the details?)

“She is very interested in engaging with her audiences,” Suzuki said.

Grandin also showed how “Taking Flight” bridged the humanities with other disciplines, including the sciences. Though she is an animal science professor, Grandin attracted a varied audience including students in education and psychology, parents with autistic children and medical students.

Junior Adriana Morell, a neuroscience major, was excited for Grandin and the general focus on the humanities.

“As a science major, it helps to be more open-minded and have other interests,” she said. “Having different kinds of likes and dislikes helps you relate to others.”

Suzuki agreed with Morell.

“Humanities is not separate from the sciences,” Suzuki said. “The two are very much connected.”

Another major component of “Taking Flight” was attributed to Shakespeare and his literary legacy. Titled “Shakespeare in Miami,” February was centered around the Ring Theatre’s performance of “King Lear” and encompassed other spheres of Shakespeare scholarship like a visit from the former director of the Folger Shakespeare Library with a Caribbean twist on Shakespeare’s language and themes.

Sophomore Jorge Cartaya, an English major, looked forward to the post performance talks that occurred after two select performances of “King Lear.”

“I think it would be great to experience the production and discuss it afterward,” he said. “That doesn’t happen often.”

Shakespeare, however, was not the only recognized author. “Taking Flight” also included an annual discussion series called BookTalk, which featured the work of a UM faculty member. The readings were held at the Books & Books in Coral Gables and are currently welcoming reservations for these presentations.(Remove?)

The BookTalk lineup included associate professor of political science Casey Klofstad, assistant professor of English Joel Nickels, professor of history Michael Miller and associate professor of English Brenna Munro.

Klofstad argued how “civic talk,” discussing politics and current events with friends and relatives, incites actions such as voting and civic volunteering. Nickels explored modern literature and modernism’s connection to the political realms. Miller delved into a new perspective on 20th century globalization, while Munro provided an outlook on South Africa’s post-apartheid world and the inclusion of the gay community.

Two events included Klofstad and Nickels. Klofstad gave his presentation on Friday, while Nickels was scheduled for Oct. 3. Nickels’s first published book explores how spontaneity shaped early 20th century poetry. (Remove?)

“BookTalk is a great example of the way the community and the university are in dialogue with each other,” Nickels said.

For Suzuki, “Taking Flight” stands as an exciting precursor of the events that the center hopes to accomplish in the future.

“This is a special year, and I hope this is the beginning of something great,” she said.

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