Humanities in action: Building community and relationships
The Colorado Center for Public Humanities (CCPH), run by Director Philip Joseph, is an interdisciplinary unit of the University of Colorado Denver. As an institute based in the humanities (English, History, Philosophy, Religious Studies, Art History, Musicology), the Center works to enrich public discussions about art, ideas, the historical past, and the diverse cultures of the world. One of its core beliefs is that scholars can only accomplish this mission by continuously reassessing the interests and needs of the wider public and by forging connections with groups and institutions outside the university’s walls.
As a think-tank, the Center investigates the public value of the humanities disciplines in relation to historical change, sponsoring programs that highlight the relevance and timeliness of humanities-based scholarship. These programs serve as the basis for published documents and videos that extend the dialogue initiated in the Center’s programming.
In addition, the Center directs the engagements of humanities scholars toward extra-academic communities, supporting scholars whose research programs are designed to reach civic groups outside the university walls and to benefit from the involvement of these groups in intellectual inquiry. The Center encourages interaction between the scholar and the wider public by working to match scholars with particular communities, to fund appropriate research activities, and to support the production of books, film, and web-based conversation that are aimed at extra-academic groups.
These goals determine how the Center develops its speaking series each year. The focus for each series is a broadly relevant topic that will be exciting to students, faculty and to community groups as well. The larger aim is to include community groups and local high school students in the debate and discussion of a university.
The Fall 2008 series explored religious experience in America. The focus was on religious experiences that aren't covered in the media too often -- unusual and even uncharacteristic displays of religion were emphasized. The 2009 series addressed Islam and American culture, identifying quintessential American artists, such as Frank Lloyd Wright, and forms, such as blues music, that reveal the influence of Islam. The discussion centered around the interconnectedness of both cultures, offering an alternative to the common belief that the two are polarized. Plans for upcoming programs include the Spring 2011 “Global Cities” program, which will bring to campus 33 Montbello High School students who are taking a course on urban education. These students will participate in a speaker series focusing on the lives of urban youth in places like Rio de Janeiro, Monrovia, and New Orleans. Director Philip Joseph emphasizes the alignment between the goals of the Center and the civic mission of CLAS and the University: "CLAS and the university in general play an important part in the life of Denver. The institution works to share important ideas, to provide crucial services, and to enhance and revitalize the culture of the city. The excitement of contributing to the public life of the city is exactly what the Center is all about."
The Center hopes that its presence on campus will help give value to scholarly activity that benefits community groups. Joseph explains, "Ultimately, we want to give community groups exciting knowledge that our university and others are producing."