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The IAH Celebrates 25 Years

The Institute commemorated 25 years in 2012 with a lecture series examining the past, present and future of the arts and humanities, as well as a large celebratory dinner, bringing together UNC faculty and students, IAH Fellows, friends and alumni throughout the year.

Harpham 2.JPG“Finding Ourselves: The Humanities as a Discipline”

On January 19, we kicked off our 25th Anniversary Series with a lecture by Geoffrey Harpham, president and director of the National Humanities Center, the only institute for advanced study in the world dedicated exclusively to the humanities. His talk, “Finding Ourselves: The Humanities as a Discipline,” explored the current state and role of the humanities in higher education and how we got to where we are today. By addressing the humanities as a single discipline, Harpham examined the nature of humanistic inquiry in the setting of the American university, suggesting that while the humanities take all of humanity as their subject, they flourish only in certain cultural and political circumstances.

“Students at Large - Humanities at Work in the World”Students at Large 1.JPG

The next event in our series was a forum on “Humanities at Work in the World” involving UNC undergraduate students, faculty and members of the community. This conversation took place on February 9 and addressed a constant question for those within the academy: how are the humanities working to make the world a better place? By virtue of the evolving nature of humanities studies and work, it is a question that does not have a definitive answer, but rather a range of possibilities and opportunities, reflected in the various groups that participated in this colloquium.

Attendees were split up into multiple small discussion groups, with each group giving a short “TED talk” or report at various times throughout the afternoon. Following the break-out sessions, all 20 participants gathered together for a group discussion, which was perhaps the most illuminating part of the afternoon. By creating an environment for students and faculty to come together as peers, everyone felt empowered to have an honest conversation, and each person left with a new perspective as well as renewed sense of commitment to their work.

State of Theater-5.jpg“The Theater Today”

We delved into the arts on March 21 with a panel on “The Theater Today” featuring Athol Fugard, this year’s Morgan Writer-in-Residence; Ed Strong, producer of Broadway hit Jersey Boys; and Joseph Haj, producing artistic director of Playmakers Repertory Company. All three guests come from different parts of the theater world, which led to a varied and entertaining conversation.

Strong spoke to the financial difficulties of producing a show on Broadway, explaining that the rise in ticket costs doesn’t begin to keep up with rising production costs, but the “power of words and magic” is what keeps theater sustainable. Fugard, best known for his political and socially conscious plays, emphasized that playwrights need not be afraid of the word entertainment, saying that theater engages audiences on many levels in real time, which makes them most receptive to a message. Haj discussed the variety and breadth of programming that is necessary for regional and local theater in order to make it meaningful for the community. He said that in trying times, people in the theater world are still committed to creating art, and it is that desire that forces them to find a balance of resources and creativity.

When asked what they are excited by in theater today, all three were in agreement that even in a money-conscious world, there is still a plurality of voices and artistic pieces finding their way to the stage. Or, as Haj described it, “More people are being invited to the party,” and there is still intrinsic value to the arts.

“The Humanistic Condition”JC-IAH-10.JPG

The series culminated in a convocation on April 20 featuring guest speaker Louis Menand, Pulitzer Prize-winning author of The Metaphysical Club and a writer for The New Yorker. Menand delivered a talk entitled “The Humanistic Condition,” during which he discussed the role of the academic humanities in today’s world as well as the challenges they face in the future.

Menand acknowledged the current state of the humanities as “depressing,” and attributed it to many problems with the current higher education system, particularly noting that the value of the liberal arts continues to shrink as the university continues to expand. He further explained that the overproduction of highly specialized PhD’s is contributing to isolation of arts and humanities scholars within the academy.

Menand argued that humanists need to broaden the scope of inquiry and make adjustments to philosophy and style based on intellectual reasons rather than economic constraints, saying that if we can change the reward structure, we will change the future of the humanities. He believes that we have the opportunity to shape the future as opposed to having it shape us, and he charged the audience to uphold the task of humanists to ask the questions that nobody else will ask; it was a fitting way to close the 25th anniversary series and offer a challenge for the next 25 years.

Click HERE to view more pictures from the 25th anniversary lecture series.

Celebrating 25 Years

The grand celebration of our 25th anniversary came on the evening of April 20. Over 130 people greeted each other and relished years of friendship over cocktails in Hyde Hall, with a string quartet and a beautiful Carolina blue sky providing the backdrop for a truly special night. Dinner was held in Graham Memorial, where guests were treated to entertainment from some talented IAH Fellows and friends, ranging from musical performances, to recitations of Shakespeare and Tennyson’s Ulysses (with a UNC twist!), to a puppet show. IAH Director John McGowan served as master of ceremonies, introducing the evening’s theme of “honor the past, savor the present, and imagine the future,” represented in speeches from Ruel Tyson (IAH Founder and Director Emeritus), Julia Grumbles (IAH Advisory Board Chair), and Chancellor Holden Thorp.

Celebrating all that the IAH has accomplished in 25 years is certainly impressive – 526 Faculty Fellows, 89 Academic Leadership Fellows, 47 Departmental Chairs, a 20 million dollar endowment and 10 years in Hyde Hall – but it only tells part of the story. As McGowan pointed out, “Much more important are the friendships made; the transforming conversations around the fellowship table or in a living room in Atlanta or New York City; the books written, read, and taught; and the ideas spawned, debated, revamped, and put into practice.” This was never more apparent than when many longtime friends of the IAH, including Barbara Hyde, Robert Hackney and Lloyd Kramer, among others, gave toasts to close the evening; they offered fond memories, were grateful for the deep connections and friendships made, and reaffirmed a devotion to continuing the inspiring scholarship, teaching and conversations that are at the heart of the Institute.

As our 25th anniversary year comes to a close, all of us at the IAH wish to express our deep appreciation to our board members, donors, faculty, friends, staff and UNC administrators for helping to make the IAH everything it is today. Thank you for celebrating with us.

Click HERE to view more pictures from the 25th anniversary lecture series.

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