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Rice University’s position in Houston offers a particular opportunity for humanists to play meaningful roles in the public sphere. The HRC's Public Humanities initiative consequently focuses on mutual relationships with agencies and institutions that not only serve the public but can also contribute to the education and eventual employment of Rice students. This requires linking academic theory with practical experience and encouraging both students and faculty to direct their knowledge toward human needs and a commitment to service. The goal of this strategy is ultimately to provide interested students and faculty with the means to have their research engage the public at large and to chart new futures for the humanities.

Health and the provision of medical care are clearly domains where the academic rigor of a scholar and a volunteer’s commitment to civic engagement easily unite. Such scholarship addresses why a society benefits from the humanities, be it in medical ethics, in the history of medicine in relation to religious values and notions of human dignity, in comparative cultural studies of medical practice, or in cultural interpretations of emergent medical imaging and communication technologies. Cultural heritage is an equally rich domain where faculty and students can intervene in practical and theoretical terms simultaneously. Partnerships with museums have, for instance, given faculty access to materials and audiences outside their usual academic reach and granted students the opportunity to incorporate rarely seen artifacts into their studies. Energy is an obvious third area of intervention where scholars need to better understand habits, beliefs, knowledge, ethics, values, practices and institutions to bring about sustainable change in the nation’s oil capital. Together these constitute principal areas where public engagement can develop at Rice by taking advantage of existing relationships between the university and the city.

The HRC is not only expanding upon existing relationships with neighboring institutions, but solidifying them into permanent multi-tiered programs with tangible and intangible benefits to both the university and the broader community. Such programs will predominantly target undergraduates who are interested in medical, curatorial, and public service careers; graduate students pursuing non-academic career options; and faculty whose research is situated in between departments and across the university’s hedges. To meet this goal of a sustainable multi-tiered public humanities initiative, the HRC now hosts a series of interconnected programs, all meant to act as bridges between the campus and nearby institutions. Programmatic activities consist of 1) Modular courses, taught by Rice faculty in conjunction with local partners such as medical clinicians or museum curators; 2) Fora and master classes for undergraduates, graduate students, Rice faculty, and external scholars/experts; 3) Support for graduate students pursuing “alt-ac” careers;  4) Incentives for graduate students to teach new courses;  5) Funding for faculty-led research and courses that specifically target public humanities; and 6) Practicum programs for undergraduates.

Farès el-Dahdah, Principal Lead Investigator
Melissa Bailar, Principal Investigator