Letter from 2021

Dear Colleagues and Friends of the Center,

The pandemic and other recent crises have made this year as challenging a time for the Center for the Humanities as for everyone else. Due to social distancing and financial restraints, we had to postpone many of the events we had planned for this year or move them to online platforms. Because of the budgetary crisis the University faced, staff had to spend part of the year on furlough. Across campuses, faculty and staff transitioned to working remotely, juggling work and home responsibilities in an effort to keep our community safe. I am proud to say that despite these challenges, we managed not only to carry out a full complement of regular programming, albeit virtually, but even introduced some new types of events, ultimately engaging over 1,500 event attendees.

Many of our headline speakers directly or indirectly addressed the current crises, though often in a historical context. Antoni Trilla, a leading medical researcher in Barcelona, compared the pandemic of a century ago with today’s pandemic, and Kyle Harper, a noted classicist, discussed the impact of early pandemics on history. Martha Jones, an influential historian of African American history, discussed the longstanding importance of black women in the push for voting rights, and Nelson Maldonado-Torres, an important scholar of Caribbean Studies, asked if decolonial humanities are possible. Mary Beth Norton, a former president of the American Historical Association, spoke on her important new book on the origins of the American Revolution, 1774: The Long Year of Revolution.

The Center's fellows meetings and Interdisciplinary Research Groups moved smoothly to an online format, as did our workshops on grant writing, publishing with academic presses, and careers in secondary education for PhDs. We had even more faculty book talks than usual, a sign of the growing productivity of our humanities faculty. Our Inquiring Minds program, designed to introduce undergraduates to humanities research and professional opportunities, having been canceled last year, returned this year in virtual form. More adventurously, we introduced or expanded a couple of new initiatives, designed for people stuck at home during the pandemic, namely a Virtual Book Club and a Humanities at Home section of our webpage, which allowed people to find virtual humanities resources at UM and elsewhere. We also introduced a permanent new program, the Humanities Hour series, featuring talks by faculty able to convey the wealth of humanities research being done at the university to a broader audience. Finally, we also participated in many collaborative events and projects: we are proudest of the role we played in this year’s One Book, One U program, chaired by our assistant director, Meghan Homer, which was focused on Ijeoma Oluo’s So You Want to Talk About Race.

Like everyone else, we hope for a return to normalcy next year, with a resumption of face to face events we have so missed, though some events may have to remain online, at least for the fall, and our new series, Humanities Hour, will remain in a virtual format. We have a very exciting set of speakers, seminars, and workshops lined up for next year, some of them postponed from this past year. Our Henry King Stanford Distinguished Professors include Stephanie Burt of Harvard, a poet and literary critic; the noted author, Valeria Luiselli; Daphne Brooks of Yale University, a noted scholar of African American Studies; and John McNeill, a leader in the field of environmental history.

As always, we greatly appreciate the ongoing support of Dean Bachas and the leadership of the College of Arts & Sciences, especially Senior Associate Deans Maria Stampino, Jennifer Ferriss-Hill, and Kenneth Voss. We are grateful to Provost Duerk for the funding his office provides. Our faculty board has been particularly helpful in giving useful advice in this difficult year. Our staff members, Dr. Meghan Homer and Ms. Ony Dunnam, have pulled off miracles despite being furloughed at times. Our graduate UGrow Fellow, Nadiyah Aamer, not only did the normal range of tasks we needed but also led an engaging book club discussion. Our undergraduate student assistant, Gaby Gillard, helped keep the Center running.

Resilience is something that we in the Center, in the University, and in the broader community, have had to develop more than we would wish. Resilience will continue to be necessary for going forward, and it is for that reason that we have decided to adopt resilience as a unifying theme for our events and activities for the next two years. We look forward to sharing news of upcoming events and programs for the 2021-22 academic year and we hope that you will join us in exploring how resilience is at the heart of every humanist endeavor.

With best wishes,


Hugh Thomas
Director, Center for the Humanities