Civic Humanists

With support from the Andrew W. Foundation, the Humanities Research Center's Public Humanities initiative hosted a series of lectures, discussions, and exploratory lessons for local Houston high schoolers on the topics of medical humanities and cultural heritage.

The Civic Humanists program works with eight to ten local city schools in collaborative programming that brings high school students to Rice and sends Rice faculty to high schools.  At Rice, students experience undergraduate-led tours of the Rice Gallery’s installations and lectures by Rice graduate students, outlining their personal journeys to college and providing some intellectual context for discussion of the installations.  By pairing the gallery tour with a lecture, the program gives high school students a chance to participate in the pedagogy that happens in a university-level humanities course.  In the spring, faculty speak at high schools on their individual research and expose students to topics in higher education. 

If you are a local high school teacher or administrator interested in becoming involved with Civic Humanists, please email Mark Schmanko at

You can read about some of the student visits to Rice on the public humanities news & media page, or in the Rice at Large magazine (Summer 2016).


2017-2018 (Current)

Hannah Biggs, a PhD candidate in the Department of English with research interests in the practices and methodologies of cultural heritage, (modernist) farming literature, and urban/sustainable farming practices. Hannah has developed Civic Humanist programming in cultural heritage.

Erin Prophet, a PhD candidate in the Department of Religion, with medical humanities research interests in whole person health approaches, the interaction between contemporary and traditional medicine, and medical ethics. Erin has developed Civic Humanist programming in medical humanities.



This year's civic humanist fellows, Rachel Bracken and Mark DeYoung, teach students about cultural heritage and the medical humanities through the lenses of populations, public health, and even the history of zombies!

Public Humanities Fellows:

Mark DeYoung, a PhD student in the Department of Religion, helps students to grapple with the ways in which culture makes us—how the media we consume every day can both play on and subtly reinforce various assumptions about ourselves and others. Who or what are we most afraid of? How might these fears shape our responses to others in the midst of real-life crises? We will discuss how staple features of many zombie films—preserving social order in the wake of an invasion of infected ‘others’—both arise from and provide vivid ways of thinking critically about historical events such as the Haitian Revolution, race riots, global pandemics, and Hurricane Katrina. By recognizing connections between cultural narratives and real-world events, students can begin to understand and appreciate one of the critical roles of the artist: creating new meanings out of existing materials. Whether by actually becoming artists, or by simply thinking critically about the media we consume everyday, we can begin to make culture—in ways that can help us to think creatively about the problems we face now and in the future.

Rachel Bracken, a PhD Candidate in the Department of English, challenges students’ understandings of health and illness by looking to the ways in which these concepts are defined as opposites and as relative to a culturally constructed notion of “normal”. What does it mean that we equate “normal” and “healthy,” “different” and “diseased”? How does our idea of “normal” account for differences in race, gender, sexuality, and ability/disability? Taking the nineteenth-century science of phrenology and physiognomy as a case study, we will explore how cultural understandings of race and gender biased medical diagnoses and popular perceptions of “ideal” facial features. By learning to recognize the flaws in outdated models of medicine and anatomy, students begin to see how contemporary medicine, too, is shaped by the diagnostic technologies and scientific knowledge available to us—knowledge always mediated by our culture and subject to change.

Mark Schmanko (Program Manager)
Mark is a PhD Candidate at Rice in the Department of Religion and attained an MTS from Harvard Divinity School. Mark passionately explores the contemporary relevance of religion and spirituality, especially in its existential, artistic and moral dimensions. His current research focuses on American religious history and philosophy of religion in twentieth-century America.



In our 2015-16 Civic Humanists program, Houston high school students visited Rice University to learn about medical archives and how researchers in the history of medicine explore those archives; and discussed how and why culture is preserved and disseminated, while visiting the Rice Gallery to view contemporary, experimental installations.

Public Humanities Fellows:

Jessica Davenport (Cultural Heritage)
Jessica is a PhD Candidate in the Department of Religion. Her research is in the areas of African American religion, literary studies and aesthetic theory.

Abby Goode (Medical Humanities)
Abby Goode is a PhD Candidate in the Department of English and the Center for the Study of Women, Gender and Sexuality Studies at Rice University.

Mark Schmanko (Program Manager)
Mark is a PhDl student at Rice in the Department of Religion and has an MTS from Harvard. Mark researches spiritual and religious identity formation in contemporary America.



Imaginative Responses: Civic Humanists and Yusuke Asai


In Fall of 2014, six Houston-area high schools visited Rice University campus and the Rice Gallery for Yusuke Asai's yamatane (mountain seed) exhibit. This installation was commissioned alongside the Menil collection's exhibition, Experiments with Truth: Gandhi and Images of Nonviolence. Mark Schmanko, a Rice graduate student in the Department of Religion whose work focuses on the role of Asian thought and religious practice in America, provided context for the exhibit and linked Asai's work to Gandhi's teachings. The students spent time with Asai's large-scale mud mural and were given a number of writing prompts to encourage them to craft their own interpretation of the work. Students composed poems and short essays in response to the themes of Asai's work or Gandhi's ideas such as truthfulness, simplicity, and discipline. They were also prompted to connect these concepts to their own lives by writing about their role models, struggles with truthfulness, and sense of connection to what they learned about Asai and/or Gandhi. We have published some of these student responses below:

Kimberly Baltazar, Middle College HS: "Mahatma Gandhi"

Connor Burwell, Carnegie Vanguard HS: "Reconnecting to our Common Roots: Exploring the Beautiful Simplicity of Yusuke Asai"

Alexis Caradine, Reagan HS: "Different Perspective"

Irene Chavez, Middle College HS: "Discipline"

June Chee, Carnegie Vanguard HS: "28 October 2014"

Kat Doige, Carnegie Vanguard HS: "Simplicity and Complexity: Yusuke Asai"

Kathleen Dopkin, Carnegie Vanguard HS: "Gandhi and Yusuke Asai"

Juliana Dunn, Carnegie Vanguard HS: Untitled Poem 

Victoria Flores, Reagan HS: "The Ways of Life"

Abby Govindan, Carnegie Vanguard HS: "Malala Yousafzai"

Ashley Guidry, Reagan HS: "The Painting"

Ariel Hayes, Carnegie Vanguard HS: "Re: Mahatma Gandhi and Yusuke Asai"

Kiran Keneally, Carnegie Vanguard HS: "Mother Earth"

Claire Lauzon, Carnegie Vanguard HS: "Yusuke Asai: Poetic Response"

Nayely Martinez, Middle College HS: Untitled Essay

Daniela Mengesha, Carnegie Vanguard HS: "The ultimate truth is dirt"

Berenice Monsivais, Reagan HS: "Art made of dirt"

Gerardo Monsivais, Reagan HS: "Earth"

Kimberly Padilla, MIddle College HS: Untitled Essay

Kerrigan Quenemoen, Carnegie Vanguard HS: Untitled Poem

Kassandra Ragasa, Carnegie Vanguard HS: Untitled Poem

Daniella Ramos, Carnegia Vanguard HS: Untitled Poem

Johnathon Rodriguez, Reagan HS: "Dirt"

Fernando Salguero, Reagan HS: "Truth Finding"

Bonnie Sullivan, Carnegie Vanguard HS: "Simplicity"

Virgilia Michelle Tipaz, Reagan HS: Untitled Essay

Anastasia Vayner, Carnegie Vanguard HS: "Truthfulness and Process"

Sarah Waites, Carnegie Vanguard HS: "The Power of the Ephemeral"

Audrey Warren, Reagan HS: "Dirt is the Truth of the Earth"

Ryan Wilkinson, Reagan HS: "Truthfulness"

Crystal Williams, Middle College HS: "My Role Model"

Special thanks to Zoe Herring from Carnegie Vanguard HS for contributing photos.