Public Humanities Projects

So... what is public humanities? 

When I first began the Public Humanities Master's Program at Brown University, I would have defined “public humanities” as having to do with theories and practices of the management of cultural institutions. That definition has been useful to me in describing to people outside of Brown University what this degree program is about, roughly. However, after actually taking courses and doing some work in the field, I have to reassess my definition to include the types of knowledge and interventions that are not based in, or derived from, institutions or established centers of power and influence. 

Overall, I don’t have a precise definition yet that I like, but I know that it needs to take a more civic-minded approach than my previous definition, and needs to include memory and history and the dismantling of hierarchies. My public humanities projects reflect my shifting approach to the discipline.

Here, you can find information about a few of the projects that I've worked on since beginning this program.
Los Angeles is famous for being a city that does not particularly value its own history. In a relatively young American city that represented (and still represents) a yearning towards a sunny, golden future, there has not been sufficient attention paid to controversial aspects of Los Angeles’ past, particularly those aspects that do not reflect well on the politics and priorities of the city in the present moment. 

As the inaugural Director of Programs at the new Angels Flight/Bunker Hill Visitor/Community Center (final name to be determined), I propose turning the tourist attraction that is the historic Angels Flight funicular into a site that interrogates the past history of the Bunker Hill neighborhood—specifically, its previous life as a residential area that served a variety of populations, and its subsequent changes under urban renewal in the postwar period into a commercial district.

There is a pressing need for a way to address this history. This proposal outlines the creation of such a site located next to the Olive Street Angels Flight station—the presently unnamed Angels Flight/Bunker Hill Visitor/Community Center  This proposal also details a transformation of the current roster of programming—such that it is—into a site that confronts both Angelenos and tourists alike with the history of the Bunker Hill neighborhood and of urban renewal in Los Angeles. Lastly, it will discuss a potential commissioned public artwork that will complement the physical Angels Flight apparatus while also visually reflecting the lost history of the area. 

For one of the projects in the course "Public Art: History, Theory, Practice," I designed a proposal for a public art project that would be displayed in Providence, Rhode Island's central Kennedy Plaza Bus Terminal. 

According to Rhode Tour, 69,000 people pass through Kennedy Plaza every day. Kennedy Plaza does not have many areas where people can seek shelter from the elements while waiting for their buses to arrive. The Providence Journal writes that Providence Mayor Jorge O. Elorza wants to make Kennedy Plaza a “true civic heart for our city.” The heart of a city is its people and stories. 

Responding to the ways in which urban renewal, displacement, and other forces have divided Providence in ways both physical and societal, I would partner with community organizations to collect recorded oral histories from Providence locals in different neighborhoods across the city. In this hypothetical project, people waiting for their bus at Kennedy Plaza would be able to stand under lighted sound domes attached to heat lamp poles, and listen to their neighbors talking about their lives, giving them a window into life in the neighborhoods and communities outside of downtown Providence.
As the final project for my "Introduction to Public Humanities" course, I worked with Felicia Salinas-Moniz, Assistant Director of the Sarah Doyle Center for Women and Gender at Brown University, and with Bonnie Lilienthal of the Providence Public Library system, to create three reading lists related to the themes of Exposing Unseen Boundaries: Works by Consuelo Jimenez Underwood, on view in the Sarah Doyle Center Gallery through May 2020. Underwood’s installation in the Center tackles themes of migration, borders, family histories, and environmental concerns, among other concepts. 

These reading lists are resources for local educators. Each suggests relevant texts for one of three age groups—grades K-2, 3-5, 6-8—in a variety of genres and categories: fiction, nonfiction, poetry, picture books, graphic novels, and even several films. Going deeper into the themes of Underwood’s show, each reading list is divided into sub-themes that allow for a wider variety of texts about different groups and their immigration journeys in the United States.

Teaching only the classic self-made immigrant stories, usually based on European immigrants who arrived in the early twentieth century, presents a skewed view of the realities of immigration, and excludes more contemporary narratives that very well may affect students in today’s classrooms. It is important to teach the history of this country (and of the world) in ways that do not gloss over fundamental inequalities and continuing struggles, rather than presenting history as always marching towards progress and positive change. 


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