Global Humanities Initiative

Delhi University, SOAS, Nanjing, UVA

The most recent gathering of the Global Humanities Initiative was March 13-15, 2014 in Britain, at both SOAS (The School of Oriental and African Studies) in London and in Oxford at TORCH (The Oxford Research Centre in the Humanities). Our subject was Activist Humanities with representatives arriving from China, India, North Africa and the United States. Check back for details about the next installment of our initiative.

Humanities in the World: A Global Collaboration

Delhi University (MargHumanities)

School of Oriental and African Studies, University of London

The Oxford Research Centre in the Humanities (TORCH)

Nanjing University (Institute for Advanced Studies in Humanities and Social Sciences)

University of Virginia (Institute of the Humanities and Global Cultures)

The Global Humanities Initiative (GHI) assembles leading scholars from around the world to discuss the present state and future prospects of the humanities, their methods of research and circumstances of teaching, their institutional situations and budgetary constraints, their self-assessments and proposals for new engagements. The initiative will unfold in a series of conferences and colloquia held throughout the world. These two-day events will convene regional and international thinkers; they will include formal papers, as well as reports on the conditions of the humanities in specific institutions and regions.

Beginning with a small network of collaborations among universities in China, India, the United Kingdom and the United States, the Global Humanities Initiative aims to grow steadily over the next five years. By keeping its emphasis upon collaboration among groups of faculty, it will remain committed to the content of research and to the opportunities for trans-national collaboration. Shared research grants, engagement with policy makers, teaching partnerships through new media, and joint mentorship of advanced students, are some of the possibilities that are now maturing. Beyond a willingness to host conferences and symposia on a rotating basis, the institutions will bear costs only in supporting the participation of their faculty and students.

The GHI does not assume a 'crisis in the humanities'; it refuses a short-term perspective on the problems and prospects. Indeed by several important measures the humanities are in a flourishing state, especially in comparison to other fields of public discourse. Excellent students are pursuing advanced degrees; interdisciplinary research continues to refine its methods; young and established scholars publish work that is recognized as significant and sometimes ground-breaking. Whatever serious difficulties may confront distinct fields in different countries, the humanities are not likely to disappear; they are more likely to sustain themselves over the next generations, to continue to produce significant research, and to attract first-rate students. But on what terms? At what scale? Under what constraints?

The Initiative must address the reach of implication posed by such questions; it must also respect the specificity and variety of circumstances. These include differences of geography, but also differences of discipline and generation. The problems confronting philosophers in Kenya are distinct from those facing young musicologists in Japan or senior art historians in the Caribbean. Acknowledgment of the diverse settings is indispensable to the work of the Initiative. Equally indispensable, however, will be a trans-national and cross-disciplinary perspective on central questions recurrent around the world. Even as new research increasingly traverses national boundaries, and as scholars and students pursue international partnerships, the difficulties of the humanities have taken on a global character. The pervasive valorization of science and technology, the top-down rationalization of curriculum, the restrictions in budgets, the journalistic caricatures: these are shared problems that cross boundaries of discipline and nation. Any effort to appraise the current state must recognize the scale of the problem as requiring fully international collaboration.

Accordingly, the Global Humanities Initiative will assemble a range of thinkers spanning disciplines and nations in order to give the discussion its properly inclusive character. The meetings and publications will generate new information; they will define common problems and theoretical frameworks; they will give greater density to our historical moment; they will compare best practices and weigh new proposals. The self-understanding of the humanities is itself an event within the field, but also an event with bearing on global society. Among the questions that we will pursue are these:

What are the global contours of the problems faced by the academic humanities, conceptually, institutionally, politically?
How shall we conceive the practice of the humanities within the non-academic cultures that surround them?
To what extent do the separate disciplines of the humanities constitute a coherent and shared identity?
How shall we understand the place of the interpretative disciplines within the varied aims of the modern university?
What changes shall we expect and pursue in our pedagogy?
How can the historical fields affirm their role within rapidly modernizing societies?
What is the current state of trans-national collaboration in the humanities, and which projects are most likely to be sustained?


April 2012 – launch of the initiative in the Center for the Humanities, University of Virginia

August 2012 – Delhi University

May 2013 – Nanjing University

October 2013 – Conference on Cosmopolitanism, University of Virginia

March 2013 – Conference in London and Oxford