This article is from the archives of the UB Reporter.

UB to hold humanities meeting

Conference to look at how humanities emerged and defined Western culture

Published: October 12, 2006

Contributing Editor

The second annual national humanities conference presented by the UB Humanities Institute will explore the way in which the humanities emerged, the consequence of their foundation and the uses and implications of humanistic knowledge within the intersecting trajectories of the West and its global neighbors. Titled "How We Became Human: Genealogies of the Humanities," the conference will be held Oct. 27-28 in the Center for the Arts, North Campus.

"As humanities scholars, we want to understand the nature and historical importance of the humanities, both as disciplines and as critical practices," says Martha Malamud, professor of classics at UB, associate dean of the College of Arts and Sciences, and executive director of the institute.

The conference will look to formative "moments" in the humanities from the late 18th through the early 20th centuries. Early modern Europe emerged in the late 15th and early 16th centuries, and related to that was the later emergence of modern hierarchies of knowledge, among them the "human" sciences that include psychology, sociology, anthropology, political science and history.

"We also will examine how Westerners have deployed humanistic knowledge to establish boundaries around gender, race, religion and animality that privilege Western definitions of 'human,'" says Malamud, and look at them from the point of view of different cultures and knowledge traditions.

The conference will open at 10 a.m. on Oct. 27 with a presentation, "Racializing Subjects" by the distinguished cultural scholar and author Hazel V. Carby, who for 20 years has continually redefined the field of African-American scholarship by situating it in the larger context of the international black diaspora.

Kari J. Winter, UB associate professor of American studies, will moderate the discussion.

Carby is the Charles C. and Dorathea S. Dilley Professor of African American Studies and Professor of American Studies at Yale University, where she has taught since 1989, and directs the Initiative on Race, Gender and Globalization. She is distinguished by her wide-ranging essays, books and research into the history of radical and sexual politics, much of which was made manifest by the writing and activism of African-American women.

At 11:15 a.m., the subject will turn to "Globalization and the Inhuman," with a talk by continental philosophy and critical theorist Pheng Cheah, associate professor of rhetoric at the University of California-Berkeley.

Cheah is known in particular for his book "Spectral Nationality" (Columbia University Press, 2004), an elegantly argued reconsideration of the nation and nationalism that brings the profound problems of the postcolonial condition to bear on the philosophy of freedom. It has been widely lauded as "deeply insightful," "beautiful," "startling" and "original," and "a rare scholarly achievement."

The discussion will be moderated by Terry Rowden, assistant professor of English, the College of Wooster, who has a broad range of expertise in African-American literature and popular culture.

At 2 p.m., Suzanne Marchand, associate professor of history at Louisiana State University, will present a talk titled "Orientalism's Bid to Join the Humanities: A Mostly German, Mostly Nineteenth-Century Story."

Marchand, an expert in this field, is at work on a book about the study of the Orient in Germany, 1750-1945, and continues to teach and write about the history of the humanities, especially classical studies, art history, anthropology, history, and philosophy in modern Europe. She also is working on several projects on the history of theology.

Andreas Daum, UB professor of modern European history, will moderate the discussion.

At 3:15 p.m., the topic will be "What Is a 'Liberal Education' (for)?" Some 19th century answers will be offered by noted classicist Mary Beard, a fellow of Newnham College, Cambridge University, and classics editor of the TLS (Times Literary Supplement). Her books include "The Invention of Jane Ellen Harrison," a masterly and engaging biography of the most famous woman classicist in history, and "The Parthenon," a lively recounting of the construction, significance and historical uses of the 2,500-year-old Athenian landmark.

Malamud will moderate this discussion.

The conference will continue at 10 a.m. on Oct. 28 with a presentation, "Humanities and Animalities," by Hariet Ritvo, author of "The Platypus and the Mermaid, and Other Figments of the Classifying Imagination" (1997), which demonstrates how, as a society draws and redraws its own boundaries, it identifies itself. Ritvo is the Arthur J. Conner Professor of History at MIT.

The discussion will be moderated by Claire Schen, UB assistant professor of history and a specialist in early European history, culture and society.

At 11:15 a.m., Henry Sussman, Julian Park Professor of Comparative Literature at UB and visiting professor of Germanic languages and literatures at Yale University, will present a talk titled "Systems, Games and the Player: Did We Manage to Become Human?" moderated by Graham Hammill, Department of English, University of Notre Dame.

Sussman is a critical theorist and intellectual historian widely regarded as a pre-eminent interpreter of historical and critical aspects of modernity. He is the author of several books, notably "The Aesthetic Contract: Statutes of Art and Intellectual Work in Modernity" (Stanford University Press, 1997). He has edited or contributed to nine other books and has been a research fellow of the Camargo Foundation, the Rockefeller Foundation, the Fulbright Commission and the National Endowment for the Humanities (twice). In 1988, he was inducted into The Johns Hopkins Society of Scholars.

The discussion that follows will be moderated by Hammill of Notre Dame, a specialist in critical theory and aesthetics.

From 2-4 p.m., a closing roundtable discussion featuring all the conference speakers and moderators will be co-moderated by David Hunter, professor of philosophy, Ryerson University, and Steven Miller, UB assistant professor of English.

The 2006 Humanities Conference is sponsored by a number of UB entities: Arethusa (Department of Classics); the Asian Studies Program; Baldy Center for Law and Social Policy; Center for the Study of Psychoanalysis and Culture; Dean's Office, College of Arts and Sciences; departments of African American Studies, American Studies, Anthropology, English, History, Philosophy, Romance Languages and Literatures, and Women's Studies; Graduate Group for German and Austrian Studies; Institute for Research and Education on Women and Gender; Julian Park Chair (Department of Comparative Literature); Law School; Melodia Jones Chair (Department of Romance Languages and Literatures); and the Poetry Collection (University Libraries).