New Theme: Humanities Respond to Crisis

Susan Davis

How could the theme for this year’s blog be anything other than crisis?

In a respite from the turbulent events of the spring, I was lucky enough to take nearly the whole summer away from headlines.   I lost myself in a manuscript, telling a life story that begins in the late 1910s and develops into adulthood in the 1930s: these were years of crisis, from the 1918 world influenza epidemic to the Great Depression.   My feeling of away-ness was punctuated by the giant rolling clouds of smoke from New Mexico wildfires, but it was only when the air became hard to breathe that I began checking the fire websites. Then I had the uncomfortable experience of moving quickly, even seamlessly, from crisis considered historically to the crisis of packing to leave.

A month later, coming back to the world of morning newspapers, Twitter and email, it’s hard not to feel a pervasive sense of turmoil.  If it is not a world economic slump we are in – perhaps that was last week – it could be we’re seeing our environmental undoing ;  if it is strange meteorology this week, it might be the weird political weather next.    Certainly, in the state universities, the realization  that we are still reeling from the effects of national and state economic problems is amplified by sharp rhetorical attacks on our teaching and research missions.

I find the headlines and Sunday  morning talk shows mostly  flat, unhelpful and ahistorical. It is as if everything is happening for the first time – today! –  and through no human action, but rather because of some cosmic force.  And yet the present situation has been gathering, in my view at least, for more than three decades.

As someone who lives too much in headlines, I find I  also have to rely on the work of writers and scholars, often in alternative media sources, to provide different versions and interpretations of reality – more accurate understandings of where we are now  – than the same old stories circulated in so much of the supposedly new news media.

So how could the theme for this year’s IPRH blog be anything other than “Humanities Respond to Crisis”?  As is appropriate to the current situation, we will define crisis very broadly, allowing that it has natural as well as man-made dimensions, acknowledging that it is local as well as national and global, and underscoring that it is unruly, in many ways irrational and certainly unpredictable.   And we’ll define humanities broadly, too.

I invite you to send me your blog posts and short articles that will help our readers see the dimensions of the crisis as it is being experienced.   In no particular order, we want to hear from artists, poets, labor journalists,  urbanists,  documentarists, historians, ethnographers, experimental educators  and others who would be willing to share with their work ways to listen to voices that aren’t often heard, to see beyond facile descriptions of this very tense world, in historical and comparative context.

Susan Davis, Professor of Communication at UIUC, is the IPRH blog editor for AY 2011-12.

About Susan Davis

I teach in the Department of Communication at the University of Illinois.
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