The University of Rhode Island held its sixth annual Center for the Humanities Festival to discuss “Public Treads in the Humanities,” as well as future options for the fields of study.
The festival included a panel discussion between four diverse presenters in the public humanities. Moderating the event was Trinity Repertory’s Conversationalist-In-Residence Christina Bevilacqua. The other panelists included Northeastern English professor, Ryan Cordell, NPR reporter, Shereen Marisol Meraji, and Tomaquag Museum Executive Director, Lorén M. Spears.
On NPR’s “Code Switch” podcast, Meraji explores race, ethnicity, identity and culture in America. As someone with a mixed background, being half Puerto Rican and half Iranian, Meraji admits that “there is no way to spate that” in her reporting. Listed by The New York Times as one of the best new podcasts of 2016, Meraji said “Code Switch” is very self-aware.
When Meraji began pursuing an education within the humanities, her parents would ask her things like “what is this?” and “how are you going to feed yourself?” Merahji was able to prove that her degree wasn’t a waste, however, and she still believes there is value in receiving an education in the humanities.
“What I do now with “Code Switch,” every single day I lean on what I learned in my undergraduate work in the humanities,” Meraji said.
In light of recent events, however, many parents are worried for their children studying within the humanities. President Donald J. Trump released his first federal budget plan last month proposing the elimination of both the National Endowment for the Arts and the National Endowment for the Humanities. Similarly, he also proposed withdrawing all funding for the Corporation for National Broadcasting, which PBS and National Public Radio stations depend on.
These programs make up $300 million of the annual budget, which in comparison to the $1.1 trillion annual budget,only accounts for 0.027 percent. The National Endowment for the Humanities is safe for the time being, since Congress writes the federal budget, but the financial liveliness of many artists, musicians, writers and scholars are dependent upon this.
Provost Donald H. DeHayes said that at times like these, the humanities are more important now than ever.
“The humanities interconnect with many other fields of study around the university,” DeHayes said. Part of this is because the university works towards creating collaborations between the humanities and other fields of study like health.
“When you look at health and look at education, we need the humanities to help us understand the fundamental integrity and ethics of the decisions that are being made in society, in our states and in our cities on a regular basis,” DeHayes said.
Both Cordell and Spears’s work is dependent upon collaborations between the sciences and the humanities. Cordell encourages his students to embrace technology as a means to their understanding and findings in the field. Using advanced data mining, Cordell is able to discover reprinted content across large-scale archives of 19th Century newspapers, magazines and literature.
“Humanities students shouldn’t feel like technology is this alien thing,” Cordell said.
For Spears, her work with others helps to create interactive exhibit experiences for museumgoers. The use of technology is what helps to “perpetuate culture” in Spears’s opinion.
The festival also honored current undergraduate, graduate and doctoral students in the humanities for academic excellence. Senior history major and award winner Kristina Canton said despite the current outlook, she still feels that an education in the humanities still has value and purpose.
“I know it doesn’t appeal to everybody and I know a lot of my friends aren’t interested in history or the humanities, but you’re studying yourself,” Canton said. “It’s a necessity.”
Junior philosophy major and award winner Charlie Santos said his time studying within the humanities had had a beneficial impact of his education. The tools he’s gathered have helped him find meaning in his studies and his actions.
“The arts and humanities, for me, has been largely about increasing my own ability through philosophy to think critically and engage critically with people and the world around me,” Santos said.
While the endowments remain under the knife in a time when the government is actively looking for places to slash the budget, Santos believes that everyone within the field can do more to promote the importance of the humanities.