Dear Alumni and Friends,

Last spring, I described the weighty times in the Division of the Humanities due to COVID-19. Looking forward to a day when we can resume our normal activities, we are asking ourselves if some of the scholarly adaptations we made for COVID-19 might be absorbed into the University’s intellectual landscape. What did we learn and is it worth keeping?

I think Humanities Day 2020 can serve as a prototype for how to conduct an online signature event showcasing the important work of our faculty and making it available to a broad audience. We never seriously considered stopping this event during the pandemic; perhaps more so now than ever, the issues our presenters addressed are urgent and timely.

We were pleasantly surprised at the remarkable attendance for the online Humanities Day. With a virtual format, many people who would not otherwise have been able to attend could do so, doubling our typical registration. We welcomed visitors from 36 states and 30 countries. Alumni comprised 46 percent of our audience.

If the format of Humanities Day was unfamiliar—prerecorded lectures, text-based audience interaction—the presentations lived up to our high standard. There was even an opportunity to highlight an important national dialogue. We partnered with the American Academy of Arts and Sciences to present five panelists on “Reinventing Democracy for the 21st Century,” headed by Deputy Dean Eric Slauter, an associate professor in the Department of English Language and Literature. Drawn from multiple disciplines, the panelists discussed a recently released American Academy of Arts and Sciences report (“Our Common Purpose”), which anticipates the nation’s 250th anniversary in 2026 with ideas to fortify our institutions, mend our civic culture, and empower all citizens to improve their communities.

In her thought-provoking keynote address entitled “Animals: Expanding the Humanities,” Martha C. Nussbaum argued both for an ethical revolution and for creative legislation to protect animals. And Philip and Christine Bohlman’s performance of Viktor Ullmann’s “The Chronicle of Love and Death of the Flag Bearer Christoph Rilke” reminded us that a great work of art produced under barbaric concentration camp conditions stands as a powerful testament to its creator’s heroic perseverance. From these sessions, we learned that the online environment was fully capable of serving our audience for Humanities Day.

While we all look forward to the return of in-person Humanities Day, I believe that one aspect of our experience last fall—sessions that connect our speakers and in-person audiences with friends from all over the world—will remain in place. The amplified interest in Humanities Day 2020 brings to mind the expansive, humanistic tenor of the University’s motto of Crescat scientia, vita excolatur: “Let knowledge grow from more to more, and so be human life enriched.”

Our work is made possible by the generous support of our alumni and friends. Thank you for your commitment to the Division of the Humanities.

Anne Walters Robertson
Dean, Division of the Humanities
Claire Dux Swift Distinguished Service Professor, Department of Music

Photo Creds: 
Photography by John Zich