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How can we work together to promote better cultural understanding worldwide?

Qais Akbar Omar (GRS’16), a graduate student in the Creative Writing Program, has published a much-praised memoir, A Fort of Nine Towers: An Afghan Family Story. He recalls how the violence and tumult of civil war jolted his family, who, despite losing relatives, their home, and possessions, continued to nurture his wish to attend a university.

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Investing in the Humanities

February 6th, 2014

By Jeremy Schwab

Over the past decade, the Boston University Center for the Humanities (BUCH) has become a meeting point for humanities scholars and a key reason why humanities scholarship remains vibrant at BU’s College of Arts & Sciences. In recent years, Director James Winn has steadily increased the center’s efforts to foster interdisciplinary research and dialogue among humanities scholars, while also sponsoring lecture series, seminars, and performances. Now, for the first time in its history, the center will include graduate students among the ranks of its research fellows. The BUCH has offered fellowships for junior faculty since its founding, and for senior faculty since 2005 (next year’s group will include twelve faculty members from seven different departments). To that group, the BUCH Executive Committee now plans to add Ph.D. students, who will be able to use the support to complete their dissertations.

Winn—a noted scholar of English literature and concert flutist—emphasizes the importance of humanities scholars reaching outside the bounds of their sometimes-narrow fields of study. “One of the things about graduate research is that you get marinated in your own discipline,” he says. “When we promote interdisciplinary discourse, normally through a Fellows’ Seminar attended by the resident faculty fellows and now graduate student fellows, participants learn to describe their work to colleagues not necessarily members of their own disciplines. We are actually teaching our colleagues and students how to address a wider public.”

Winn sees such interdisciplinary bridge-building as important for the sustenance and growth of the humanities in general. “Participation in such seminars may encourage some colleagues to write books designed to reach an audience beyond their immediate disciplinary peers,” he says. “In the long run, such books may help us build a stronger connection to the public, and thus put us in a stronger position when the time comes to seek support, both public and private.”

The expanded support for dissertation research will boost aspiring humanities scholars at a critical phase of their careers—when many are hoping to build their experience and resumes with an eye to becoming professors in the near future. Each of the new fellowships will provide an $11,000 stipend for a semester in residence at the center.

“BU’s humanities departments have some of the finest graduate students in the country,” says Professor Erin Murphy, Director of Graduate Studies in the English Department and a member of the BUCH Executive Committee. “These new fellowships will help them to realize their full intellectual potential, allowing them to produce cutting-edge research and preparing them for today’s competitive job market.”

Interested students will soon find information about eligibility and application forms on the BUCH website (www.bu.edu/humanities/awards/application-deadlines). Graduate Student Fellows will participate with faculty in the meetings of the Fellows’ Seminar.

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