Many humanists seize on the “public humanities” to address the public relevance of the humanities in general. Public humanities programs offer students experiential learning that will lead to a deeper knowledge of both their world and their subject matter. For educators, public work promises to “make a difference,” by having humanities learning engage directly with public needs. For departments, the public humanities offer a justification for their fields in an era of declining resources and public interest.
“The Public Humanities” presents a number of conceptual and practical problems for the disciplines of literature and language not experienced by some other disciplines. History, for instance, has a well-recognized subfield in Public History with direct connections to Museum Studies, Oral History, and Documentary Studies. Large historical questions are engaged in locally meaningful ways as a common practice, and in some cases reach large general audiences. By comparison, the “public” status of Literary and language studies is more ambiguous. The audiences for literature have diminished with smaller percentages of people reading books. Audiences have also fractured, with no set of literary texts having a ready public audience. Literary inquiry rarely focuses on local literatures. And, to the degree that there are public literary practices—through book clubs, poetry slams, and similar projects—English departments do not usually see their role as preparing students to participate in or further these forms of practice. How, then, is a public humanities of literature possible?
This panel welcomes essays on the ways projects and programs focused on literature, language or writing have been or could be genuinely public in ways that make a difference to students, to the public, and to our work together in the study of literature. Theoretical critiques or manifestos concerning the “Public Humanities” or “Public Literary Studies” are welcome, as are concrete examples of courses or projects that have worked and made a difference.
Abstracts must be submitted online at https://www.cfplist.com/nemla/Home/S/16218 by 30 Septebmer 2016