Project Humanities explores ways we connect and make meaning


Celebration kicks off Feb. 7 with noted author and screenwriter Sherman Alexie

Arizona State University will shine the spotlight on the humanities in a yearlong celebration filled with public events, programs and activities that highlight faculty and student scholarship, research and creative activity.

ASU’s Project Humanities, a universitywide initiative involving all four campuses, in its inaugural year will focus on “Humanities at the Crossroads: Perspective on Place.”

“The idea of place holds many meanings,” said Neal A. Lester, dean of humanities in ASU’s College of Liberal Arts and Sciences who is leading the project. “Within higher education the humanities, particularly foreign languages and cultural studies, have increasingly fallen victim to budget cuts. There is the perception that they just aren’t important. That is not the case at ASU, where the humanities continue to grow and prosper under the leadership of President Crow and Provost Capaldi. They serve a core purpose at our university and we want to tell that story.”

Secondly, said Lester, place is integral to the humanities because it encompasses so much of how people define themselves and their relationships to and with each other. Project Humanities will examine the way place allows people to create, share and organize, as well as practice inclusion and exclusion and foster unity and alienation.

Project Humanities will explore the “humanities in action.” Examples include how studying a foreign language helps one learn about other people and cultures, how critical discussion of literature leads to self-discovery and self-reflection, or how humanities determine the significance of digital media such as Facebook.

Some of the broad topical areas to be addressed during the calendar year will include: What makes us human? How are humans more alike than unalike? How can civil discourse be used to address conflict? What is the role of social media in creating community? Is technology the liberator or the oppressor?

“The humanities – the study of languages, literatures, cultures, philosophy, religions and history – are vital to creating a literate citizen,” said ASU President Michael Crow. “They inform our sense of who we are and our place in relationship to each other. They enhance our lives, give meaning to our professions, and provide us with the tools to think critically about society and transform it in positive and meaningful ways.”

ASU Provost Elizabeth D. Capaldi said, “The humanities expose us to the cultural artifacts of other times and places, developing in us the skills of understanding and giving us distance on our place and thinking. They are critical in developing cultural creativity, and important thus not just for the university but for society.”

Project Humanities kicks off with a week of activities Feb. 7-11. Keynote speakers include noted author and screenwriter Sherman Alexie; Rosemary Feal, executive director of the Modern Language Association of America; and Jim Leach, chairman of the National Endowment for the Humanities.

Other upcoming public events include blues concerts, scholarly lectures, art exhibitions with conversation, conversations with artists, and the multimedia event, The Langston Hughes Project featuring the Ron McCurdy Quartet.

At the end of this year, ASU will produce a publication of original faculty, student and community work relating to the project.

For more information on Project Humanities events, as well as stories on humanities scholarship and research, visit the website