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Steve Hinnefeld
University Communications

Last modified: Monday, March 3, 2008

IU Bloomington lecture series to explore “The Truth of the Humanities”

March 3, 2008

BlOOMINGTON, Ind. -- Leading advocates for and scholars of the humanities will speak at Indiana University Bloomington in March and April as part of a public lecture series titled "The Truth of the Humanities."

The series was arranged in connection with a graduate seminar of the same title, taught by Dror Wahrman, the Ruth N. Halls professor of history, and Michel Chaouli, associate professor of Germanic studies.

"Indiana University Bloomington is world renowned for its scholarship and teaching in the humanities," said Karen Hanson, the IU Bloomington provost and executive vice president. "This course was a brilliant idea, and the public lectures associated with the course should engender lively conversation and sustained reflection. The lectures will help to sharpen our focus on issues of the utmost importance to the campus and to the wider culture."

The schedule includes:

  • Geoffrey Harpham, director of the National Humanities Center. He will speak on "Returning to Philology: The Past and Future of Humanistic Scholarship" at 3 p.m. on March 5 in the Indiana Memorial Union Walnut Room.
  • Stanley Fish, University Professor at Florida International University and columnist for the New York Times blog Think Again. He will speak on "Save the World on Your Own Time" at 3:30 p.m. April 2 in the IMU Georgian Room.
  • Alan Liu, professor of English at the University of California, Santa Barbara. He will speak on "Knowledge 2.0: The Humanities and Public Knowledge in the Age of the Web 2.0" at 3 p.m. April 16 in the IMU Dogwood Room.
  • A roundtable discussion on "The Truth of the Humanities" with IU Bloomington Provost Hanson, College Arts & Humanities Institute Director Andrea Ciccarelli and others, 6 p.m. April 23 in the IMU Georgian Room.

Wahrman said the series will extend to the campus community a conversation that he and Chaouli have been having with students about the meaning and value of the humanities and what's involved in conducing rigorous scholarship. About a dozen doctoral students from several departments are taking the seminar.

The most amazing thing to me was how keen people were on coming, and on fairly short notice," he said of the guest lecturers. "This has become much more enthusiastically received than I would have anticipated."

"The most amazing thing to me was how keen people were on coming, and on fairly short notice," he said of the guest lecturers. "This has become much more enthusiastically received than I would have anticipated."

Geoffrey Harpham

Geoffrey Harpham (photo by Ron Jautz,

Print-Quality Photo

Wahrman said the lectures will be tightly integrated into the seminar, with students reading the works of the guest speakers and analyzing their lectures in follow-up class discussions.

The headliner is the often provocative Fish, who has been, Wahrman said, "the public face of the humanities in this country for many years." A leading scholar of the English poet John Milton, Fish has been a professor at the University of California, Berkeley, Johns Hopkins University and Duke University. He is dean emeritus of the College of Liberal Arts and Sciences at the University of Illinois at Chicago.

In a Think Again post in January, Fish wrote: "To the question 'of what use are the humanities?', the only honest answer is none whatsoever. And it is an answer that brings honor to its subject. Justification, after all, confers value on an activity from a perspective outside its performance. An activity that cannot be justified is an activity that refuses to regard itself as instrumental to some larger good. The humanities are their own good."

Harpham has been president and director since January 2003 of the National Humanities Center at Research Triangle Park, N.C., the nation's only independent institute for advanced study in the humanities. Before that, he held teaching appointments at the University of Pennsylvania, Brandeis University and Tulane University, where he was the Pierce Butler Professor of English. He is the author of several books, including Shadows of Ethics: Criticsm and the Just Society.

Alan Liu

Alan Liu

Liu, a faculty member at UC Santa Barbara since 1988, has published and lectured widely on literary studies and information technology. A central question in his work, Liu has written, is "what is the future of literature when all culture is increasingly the culture of information and when even literary scholars subordinate literature to an apparent clone of information: cultural context?"

Funding for "The Truth of the Humanities" is provided by the College Arts & Humanities Institute and the Multidisciplinary Ventures Fund, both at IU Bloomington.