T he Institute of the Humanities and Global Cultures offers a vision at once local and global, and a mission both academic and socially engaged. Bringing together researchers, teachers and students, the Institute will sponsor scholarly and public initiatives, while attracting distinguished figures from around the nation and the world. Workshops, conferences, seminars and reading groups will generate innovative thinking in the humanities, and serve as laboratories for the creation of new common courses.

At the center of our initial ambitions stands a Global Humanities Initiative. In partnership with faculty around the world, the Institute will assemble leading scholars to discuss the present state and future prospects of the humanities: methods of research and circumstances of teaching, institutional openings and constraints, self-assessments and proposals for new engagements. The initiative will unfold over a period of two years in a series of colloquia held on six continents.

The international reach of the Institute will complement its work within the immediate circle of the university. Drawing upon the diversities of our community, the Institute will coordinate the existing work of many programs and centers, even as it sponsors new initiatives of its own. The humanities comprise not only a set of traditional disciplines, but also the values and methods found within the sciences. The relation between the sciences, social sciences and the humanities will be a subject pursued as urgently as questions emerging within the traditional fields themselves.

Through a generous grant from the Mellon Foundation and the support of the College of Arts and Sciences, the Institute will lead a process of appointments that will bring ten faculty to the University within the emerging fields of Environmental Humanities and Comparative Cultures of the Pre-Modern World. In so doing, we will strengthen the core research mission of the humanities while moving in new directions of inquiry and scholarship. The newly appointed faculty will serve as affiliated fellows of the Institute for their first three years, while they integrate their work with other members of their research clusters as well as scholars in these fields already working on grounds.

The humanities serve to define our world in myriad ways: its intellectual and cultural aspirations, its aesthetic values, its comprehension of the past that formed it, and its central ethical, moral, and theological dilemmas. With an enduring commitment to the humanities as both a domain of research innovation and an idiom of institutional self-scrutiny, the Institute seeks to play a leading role in the shaping of higher education on the global stage. Jefferson famously imagined the University of Virginia as “the future bulwark of the human mind in this hemisphere,” a strangely defensive image that casts the work of the University as the preservation of tradition against the roiling seas of the outside world. As our institution grows and transforms in the years ahead, it is time to re-imagine its relation to the world in terms more befitting our global century: as an engine of collaborative innovation and institutional transformation driven in great part by a culture of excellence in the humanities.