Humanities international: The Institute welcomes CHCI to Hyde Hall
July 11, 2022 | Kristen Chavez
The international Consortium of Humanities Centers and Institutes held its annual meeting May 19-22, 2022, on the campuses of UNC-Chapel Hill, Duke University, and the National Humanities Center, with Duke’s Franklin Humanities Institute serving as the primary host. The UNC-Chapel Hill Institute for the Arts and Humanities welcomed attendees to Hyde Hall for the opening academic panel presentation organized by Director Patricia Parker.
A beautiful spring morning greeted CHCI attendees as they arrived, and were soon led by IAH staff to Hyde Hall. Before the presentation, many of the conference goers enjoyed breakfast and conversation in the lawns surrounding the building. When the time came for the panel presentation to begin, Parker seized the opportunity to ring the Fellows’ Bell to gather participants, a tradition begun by founding IAH director Ruel Tyson. It was the first ringing of the bell since the 2020 health pandemic had shifted most of the Institute’s activities to online formats.
After FHI Director Ranjana Khanna’s opening remarks, Parker officially welcomed attendees to Hyde Hall and introduced the panelists. Building on the conference theme, “Face to Face: Forms of the Humanities,” the panel was titled “South-South Interfaces of Intellectual Traditions and Everyday Activism.” It featured Thozama April, the senior curator at the National Heritage and Cultural Studies Centre at the University of Fort Hare in South Africa, and Chérie Rivers Ndaliko, a Carolina geography professor and IAH Faculty Fellow (2014 and 2022). Both speakers challenged the notion that intellectual traditions are siloed from everyday activism and demonstrated through their research the many interfaces of everyday activism and intellectualism in the global south and beyond.
Charlotte Maxeke: activist and intellectual
Participating in a video call from Eastern Cape, South Africa, April discussed the work and impact of Charlotte Maxeke, an activist, educator and key figure in early 20th century pan-African activism in South Africa and the United States. April’s research demonstrates how Maxeke was both praised as an iconic figure in the country’s history of women-led resistance, and unacknowledged as a great thinker or intellectual, with a the lack of research surrounding her work.
April noted that Maxeke’s work was rooted in the traditions of the Black Atlantic, working with fellow Black thinkers like W.E.B. DuBois and Ella White. “It’s when the two kinds of Black experiences on both sides of the Atlantic meet, that we begin to see a form of interaction that would lead to some form of intellectual formation,” April said.
In her own work – both at the National Heritage and Cultural Studies Centre and her previous work at as a Next General Scholar at the Centre for Humanities Research, April seeks to trace those connections and interfaces of scholarship on the Black experience.
Maxeke’s work was not limited to her writing, but exemplified what April describes as “the concept of care”: Maxeke also devoted time to educating children who were arrested in Johannesburg’s business district, and advocated for safe places for women in cities.
“Activism informs a kind of intellectual formation that does not restrict itself to bookish knowledge but actively involved in advocating for change in society,” said April.
Gardens as everyday activism
In her talk, Ndaliko offered stories about two gardens: one in the Democratic Republic of Congo and one in Chapel Hill. “I see everyday activism as a matter of transforming systems of violence by planting and tending that which sustains life,” she said.
Ndaliko cited Sylvia Wynter’s essay, “Novel and History, Plot and Plantation,” where Wynter outlined the differences between exchange value systems, where a product is determined by profitability, and use value systems, where a product is determined by human need.
But what are human needs and how do we meet them? Ndaliko evoked the words of Manfred Max-Neef, who identified nine human needs: subsistence, protection, affection, understanding, participation, leisure, creation, identity, and freedom.
In Max-Neef’s writing, Ndaliko found “a precious blueprint for possibilities of everyday activism that sustain life.”
She pointed to Yolé farm, which is affiliated with the organization of the same name that Ndaliko co-founded, that was cared for by 50 families in the wake of a volcano eruption near Congo’s Mr. Nyiragongo. The garden met all of those needs, growing beyond the need for subsistence, but also demonstrated an act of creation. “Like other gardens, it is an act of liberation, which extends beyond the body,” said Ndaliko.
This garden wasn’t just merely a response to a disaster, Ndaliko said, but a reflection of response to compounded crises. Ndaliko sees it as an act of rebellion “because it is not just a testament of possibility in the face of crisis, it is also a consecration of another worldview.”
The presentation conluded with an engaging Q&A forum building on the themes of everyday activism, intellectual traditions, and interfaces of south-south relations. CHCI attendees then headed back to Duke’s campus for the rest of the conference.
The UNC-Chapel Hill Institute for the Arts and Humanities is a longtime member of the CHCI, which is a global collective that strengthens the work of humanities centers and institutes through advocacy, grant-making, and inclusive collaboration. The annual meeting provides a forum for center directors and staff members to advance cross-institutional partnerships, recognize regional humanities cultures, and mobilize the collective capacity of the humanities to engage the most pressing issues in society today.
Duke’s Franklin Humanities Institute has other presentations from the CHCI annual meeting on their YouTube channel.