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Mason creates new center to support research in the humanities

October 1, 2020   /   by Colleen Kearney Rich

Photo by Getty Images

George Mason University announced the establishment of a new university-wide Center for Humanities Research, which will support and showcase humanities research, foster interdisciplinary research partnerships, enhance intellectual life on campus, and engage the public in dialogue over the importance of the humanities in the contemporary landscape.

“The humanities are more important now than ever as they provide a navigational tool for us to make sense of what’s going on in the world and imagine a better future,” said Mason President Gregory Washington. “This center makes humanities research visible and accessible to the campus and the broader community.”

“This new center will offer faculty and students across the university the freedom to grow in ways they never imagined,” said Provost Mark Ginsberg. “This is truly an exciting opportunity that will no doubt impact the Mason community for years to come.”

The College of Humanities and Social Sciences (CHSS), home to many of the humanities fields, is partnering with the Provost’s Office in supporting the establishment of the new center.

“This center offers the promise of engagement with the humanities for the entire Mason community,” said CHSS Dean Ann Ardis. “We are deeply grateful for the inclusion of a Center for Humanities Research among Mason’s university research centers, denoting the university’s recognition of these disciplines’ contributions to the vibrancy of George Mason University’s intellectual community and community engagement activities.”

The center, which will physically reside in Horizon Hall when it opens in January 2021, takes its place alongside Mason’s other transdisciplinary research centers: the Center for Adaptive Systems of Brain-Body Interactions, Criminal Investigations and Network Analysis Center (CINA), Quantum Science and Engineering Center, Center for Advancing Human-Machine Partnership, and the Center for Resilient and Sustainable Communities.

Mason has long been a powerhouse in the humanities. In 2018, the Chronicle of Higher Education recognized Mason as the eighth highest recipient of National Endowment for the Humanities (NEH) funding in the past decade.

“Humanities research is also critical to the mission of the university and helped Mason attain its Carnegie R1 status,” said Alison Landsberg, the inaugural director of the new center.

Planning for the center has been in the works for two years. Landsberg said each time planning committee members met with the university administration, the administrators encouraged them to “think bigger.”

The center’s agenda is a big one. Not only will it serve as a research incubator, providing scholarly support and funding for faculty and graduate students, the center will also serve as an intellectual hub, encouraging research partnerships and collaborations and hosting conferences, lectures, workshops, and working groups.

“This type of research is normally solitary work,” said Landsberg, who teaches in the Department of History and Art History and the Cultural Studies PhD program, “and yet there is so much to be gained when we engage in intellectual exchange.”

Landsberg said that the center’s conferences and lectures will be organized around annual themes and that the center’s leaders hope to encourage participation not only from across the university but among scholars at the regional and national levels. The center will also be a home for Public Humanities, establishing partnerships and engaging in projects with communities and constituencies in Virginia and the Washington, D.C., metropolitan area more broadly.

Working with Landsberg is the center’s planning committee, which includes Denise Albanese, Cultural Studies; Maria Dakake, Religious Studies; Rachel Jones, Philosophy; Rachel Lewis, Women and Gender Studies; Matt Karush, History and Art History; Kristina Olson, Modern and Classical Languages; and Debra Lattanzi Shutika, English.

A virtual panel discussion will be held from 4-5:30 p.m. on Thursday, Oct. 1, to formally introduce the Center for Humanities Research and its planned activities, answer questions, and solicit ideas for themes and topics for future center activities and programs. The center also plans to survey the faculty about their research to find subjects where there is a high level of activity. RSVP for this free event here.