April 19 – 20, 2019
Renaissance Hotel Midtown | Atlanta, GA

Hosts: John Browning, Karen Head, Richard Utz 

Format: Keynotes 25min; Responses 10min

Friday, April 19

Jacqueline Jones Royster, Georgia Tech

Letting Tech into the Humanities and the Humanities into Tech

Paula Krebs, MLA
Respondent: Anna Stenport, Georgia Tech

Commentators on Silicon Valley culture, from the Wall Street Journal to the Atlantic, point out what a relatively small percentage of computer tech leaders actually have degrees in engineering and how valuable the humanities perspective is for tech companies that want to break out of their siloed worlds.

Worcester Polytechnic and Olin College of Engineering, in Massachusetts, feature problem-based learning as central to their engineering curricula. They ask students to approach social and material problems from a number of perspectives, using the humanities and the social sciences.

Increasing numbers of medical schools are taking their cues from this year’s National Endowment for the Humanities Jefferson Lecturer Rita Charon, who leads the Columbia University program in Narrative Medicine. Charon and her colleagues in medicine and in humanities bring the humanities and social sciences to health professionals and scholars in order to ”imbue patient care and professional education with the skills and values of narrative understanding.” Narrative understanding, as Charon indicates, enables a practitioner to listen and recount, to truly hear a patient–the better to recognize, value, and treat that patient.

Silicon Valley and entrepreneurial engineering programs and medical education programs are recognizing the advantage of embracing humanities skills, perspectives, and values in what they do. If science and tech and medical disciplines are more successful when they incorporate perspectives from the study of the humanities, then why doesn’t all technical education partner with the humanities? Many of the barriers come from the humanities themselves–this presentation will lay out some of the ways the humanities themselves can understand the benefits of partnering with STEM field and as well as the ways we can all make more progress if we work against some of the limits imposed by the structures of disciplines in our universities.

Rhyming the Human, Reading the Signs

Lucinda Roy, Virginia Tech
Respondent: Nettrice Gaskins, Fab Foundation

To borrow from the opening lines from Austen’s Pride and Prejudice: It is a truth universally acknowledged that humanities scholars and artists (sans possession of good fortune and working at technological universities) must be the victims of strife. The dizzying cost of education has resulted in an understandable desire to convert student learning into six-figure salaries, if only to enable them to pay off the onerous debt they’ve incurred. But viewing education as the accumulation of relevant data presupposes that we can always predict relevance. We cannot. The world our students will face may not even include careers as we have known them, but it will certainly require of them adaptability, curiosity, and a strong moral compass. The humanities and the arts aren’t peripheral; they are necessary antidotes to apathy and anxiety. They engender passion and catalyze expression. In our writing classrooms, engineers are exploring the potential of narrative; mathematicians are composing sestinas with the precision the form demands; ag students are seeing the forest and the trees; business majors are writing down their lives, using words, as Huxley said, “like x-rays.” All disciplines, when taught well, awaken the imagination, but it’s the human-centered disciplines that teach us why imagination is to the mind what DNA is to the body—the carrier of essential information, the very stuff of life, which enables and complements research in all disciplines, including STEM. How can we ensure our university curricula are flexible enough to permit a more holistic approach to learning? How can we highlight humanities research and creative scholarship so that, as Justin Stover has written, we nurture those “who read stuff and think about it”? Drawing upon observations in her memoir-critique No Right to Remain Silent: What We’ve Learned from the Tragedy at Virginia Tech and her time in administration, novelist and poet Lucinda Roy will explore the urgent, life-or-death challenges we face in higher education as she suggests ways to ensure that our voices, in all their wondrous diversity, are heard.

The Dream of an Integral Plan at MIT

Rosalind Williams, MIT
Respondent: Jay Bolter, Georgia Tech

Much professional education is organized around a stratified plan where a general undergraduate education is followed by concentrated professional training. This is the typical pattern in law and medicine, and in Europe it has generally been true also of engineering education. MIT was founded instead on an integral plan for engineering education, which proposes that it is possible and desirable to combine a sound general education and a sound foundation for professional practice in one undergraduate program. But how is it possible to do this without offering only “the mere smattering of humanities,” which would be “wholly inadequate for future leaders of technology and business, who will have to grapple with social problems more important than strictly technical problems?”

12:15pm – 1:30pm
Lunch Break

Making Games to Make Change

Alexandrina Agloro, ASU
Respondent: Nassim Parvin, Georgia Tech

Why are games so compelling, and how can we harness the power of interactive media for social good? Alexandrina Agloro will discuss how participatory design and community-based methodologies can contribute to the ways we think about organizing and implementing activism using interactive media as a decolonial tool. This talk will discuss case studies of community-engaged game development and discuss two games, The Resisters, an alternate reality game about social movement history, and Vukuzenzele, a videogame about reblocking informal settlements in South Africa. These games are examples of the opportunities and challenges in applied game design and how game mechanics can be utilized as instruments for engagement and action.

Here’s Looking at You, Craft

Michael Nitsche, Georgia Tech
Respondent: Vernelle Noel, Georgia Tech

*Presentation details will be added soon.

The Perils and Rewards of Interdisciplinary Scholarship for the Humanities and Social Sciences

Laura Severin, NCSU
Respondents: Ruthie Yow, Georgia Tech

This presentation traces the history of North Carolina State University’s cluster hiring program (The Chancellor’s Faculty Excellence Program), begun in 2011, and particularly focuses on the challenges of Humanities and Social Sciences faculty, first to be included in the program and, once included, to establish effective partnerships with STEM faculty. Some of the difficulties have involved educating STEM faculty as to the value of Humanities and Social Sciences research, communicating across disciplinary languages, and organizing effective teams across different disciplinary cultures. Despite the challenges of working across truly disparate disciplines, the program has demonstrated, as have others nationally, that successful collaborations are possible and rewarding.

After an overview of the program, I examine the development of three clusters led by Humanities and Social Sciences faculty, Public Science, Visual Narrative, and Genetic Engineering and Society, in order to cull the lessons learned from their experiences about creating successful interdisciplinary partnerships. The faculty in these clusters reflect on both their successes and failures with the program and also provide an analysis of how institutions can better provide the support needed for successful interdisciplinary work. Their experiences suggest that institutions embarking upon large interdisciplinary initiatives are often unprepared for the needs of interdisciplinary faculty. This state of underpreparedness is perhaps most acute in the humanities and social sciences, since these disciplines are often underfunded and lack the traditions of team science. Yet these clusters have persisted because of the intellectual rewards of working with others who are similarly committed to the sustained effort needed to address important societal challenges or questions. Their experiences support that interdisciplinary culture continues to grow and expand in American institutions of higher learning, even though that culture change can seem maddeningly slow at times.

Guidance and Restoration: Some Timely Opportunities for Humanities Scholar-Educators and Students at Technological Institutions

Paul M. Goldbart, UT Austin
Respondent: Lisa Yaszek, Georgia Tech

For some 250 years after The Enlightenment, the arc of the societal universe generally bent towards an embracing of science as Carl Sagan’s Candle in the Dark, and did so, by and large, at an ever-increasing rate. In the present millennium, however, two societal challenges to this trend – neither of them broadly anticipated – have emerged, which humanists’ scholarship, instruction, and very presence as partners at technological institutions makes them well positioned and well armed to combat. What are these challenges? First, fueled by advances in science, new technologies are transforming core aspects of life and society in ways that are often unsettling and disruptive, frequently inducing change on timescales briefer than the duration of a typical a career. Second, there have arisen – with a new boldness and scope (and, ironically, powered by new technologies) – forces bent on fraying the bonds between science and society and, more generally, on undermining the value that society attaches to evidence and reason. What remedies can humanists engender when they are present as thoroughly woven-in threads of the intellectual fabric of the technological institution? First, imbued with a deep and wide-ranging understanding of history and philosophy, the technologically informed humanist scholar can guide the identification and analysis of important new concerns – ethical, moral and political – that technological advances catalyze and which can be overlooked by those deeply embedded in the process of making those advances. Second, the technological institution provides a rich, focused educational setting in which students of the humanities can also readily steep in the ideas and practices of science and technology. As future influencers of opinion in realms beyond science and technology, these students’ informed understanding can empower them to help restore and enhance society’s appreciation of the value of science, technology, evidence and reason over the full arc of their lives and careers.

6 – 7 pm
Reception and Visualization

saturday, April 20

Chaouki Abdallah, EVPR, Georgia Tech

‘Almost Unintelligible’: Practical Approaches to Interdisciplinary Education in STEM Contexts

Julia M. Williams, RHIT
Respondent: Colin Potts, Georgia Tech

In her recent opinion piece in the Prism magazine (published by the American Society for Engineering Education, January 2019), undergraduate student Alicia Dai, a junior at Duke University, succinctly described the problem of bridging the fields of humanities and engineering as she pursues a dual degree in English and electrical engineering:

“It’s an unconventional combination: the English majors are uninterested in completing endless problem sets, and my engineering friends steer away from courses requiring reading and writing. In between these two academic worlds, I’ve found myself a new sort of educational home . . . The prepackaged scripts of being an English major or an electrical engineer are digestible on their own, but stand almost unintelligible when presented together.”

Dai understands that her choice of degrees has landed her in an unclaimed space between two fields that do not understand each other and are separated by their mutual unintelligibility. Why then even bother to effect understanding between them? The authors of “The Integration of the Humanities and Arts with Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine in Higher Education: Branches from the Same Tree” suggest that, because “today’s challenges and opportunities are at once technical and human . . . the integration of the arts, humanities, and STEMM fields in higher education” offers a promising avenue to help create a better future for communities around the world (8).

Mutual unintelligibility in an analysis of interdisciplinarity in higher education puts language at the center of the work. In fact, mutual unintelligibility may serve as a controlling metaphor for this discussion of practical approaches to interdisciplinary education. In examples of how interdisciplinarity is constructed on my campus, I will highlight the importance of language, both as communication and as a structure for knowledge.

Grand Challenge Seminars: General Education that Integrates the Humanities Rather than Isolates Them

Richard Scheines, CMU
Respondent: Joycelyn Wilson, Georgia Tech

In revising our general education program at a college of humanities and social sciences that is embedded within a highly technological university, we eschewed requiring that Humanities be taken in isolation and instead designed a curriculum in which they are explicitly integrated into multi-disciplinary courses that focus on topics rather than subjects.   In the first year, faculty co-teach seminars on topics that are grand challenges to the world today: AI & Society; Climate Change; Politics and Propaganda; Food; etc.  Students learn that Aristotle’s Rhetoric is more useful in understanding the problem of climate change in 2019 than is atmospheric chemistry.  Students in AI & Society learn that ethics is utterly essential in trying to navigate the disruption that AI is about to make on society.  I will discuss this program and many other efforts along the same lines going on at Carnegie Mellon.

Rhetorical Studies Goes Tech: Working in the Archives with Digital Technologies

Jacqueline Jones Royster, Georgia Tech
Respondent: Rebecca Burnett, Georgia Tech

What happens when academic traditions meet technology?  In the case of those of us who do archival work in rhetorical studies, we rejoice.  This presentation will focus on one set of examples that illustrate ways in which digital technologies have energized what it means to work in archives.  Over the last two decades or so, we have evolved from using the internet to access materials to the use of an interesting range of tools and platforms that permit us to collect materials, manage our explorations of them, find pathways for negotiating various types of materials and drawing forth insights, organize and curate these data sets, and most recently for interpreting what we see as we find compelling ways to visualize the data and present our findings.  At this point, one might say that it is impossible to imagine doing archival work without digital assets. The case in point selected for this presentation to illustrate the values added when traditions meet technology is the rise of African American Clubwomen’s collective activism in the 1890s with an indication of some of the enduring legacies for socio-political action that this group set in motion.

Symposium Ends