Beginnings

The Center, originally called the Boston University Humanities Foundation, was established in 1981 following the award of a one million dollar National Endowment for the Humanities (NEH) Challenge Grant to the College and Graduate School of Arts & Sciences. These funds created an endowment that has grown steadily over the decades and now enables us to support a wide range of awards and fellowships, as well as programs and events.

The Foundation was renamed the Boston University Center for the Humanities in 2011. The Center is led by a faculty director and governed by a faculty Executive Committee composed of representatives from humanities (and related) departments.

Development of Fellows Program

In its first decades, the Foundation granted fellowships exclusively to junior faculty in the humanities. These fellowships provided junior faculty with valuable leaves to finish publication projects in time for tenure review, a program that continues today.

Graduate Dissertation Fellows Joseph Saravo, Mary Clarke, and Katheryn Viens at our 2019 Student Awards Ceremony

Beginning in 2005, the Foundation began to award fellowships to senior faculty, enabling awardees to secure a semester for critical research or writing. The BU faculty who hold our semester-long fellowships are chosen by the Executive Committee. Now, the Center awards fellowships to graduate students in the final stages of dissertation writing. We offer offices to all current fellows at the Center, which, together with our Fellows Seminar, fosters intellectual community.

Supporting the BU Community

The Center awards prizes at the end of each academic year to graduate and undergraduate students who have distinguished themselves in humanities fields. The prizes are supported by specific, named funds established for this purpose.

For faculty, the Center funds Project Awards, which support conferences, lectures, seminars, longstanding symposia, and performances with a strong scholarly component. Funded projects frequently involve multiple departments and address constituencies both within the University and beyond it. Some of the programs we fund, such as the Institute for Philosophy & Religion, provide opportunities for BU faculty and students across disciplines to engage with each other’s work, while others, such as Lectures in Criticism and the annual Sedgwick Lecture, promote exchange between our faculty and scholars from other universities.

In addition, the Center furnishes Publication Awards to individual faculty members for bringing monographs into print, and the Center designates funds for Library Acquisitions that help faculty secure rare books and crucial databases. These acquisitions are made accessible to everyone in the BU community. Increasingly, our funds are used for digital humanities project.

Engaging the Public

Since 2016, the Center has pursued ambitious programming designed to establish the centrality of the humanities in the College of Arts & Sciences, the University at large, and in the world. To this end we have initiated forums, which focus on a subject of public importance. Forum 2017, Libraries and Archives in the Digital Age, cosponsored by the Boston Public Library and the Boston Athenæum, featured speakers from across the world. Forum 2018, Humanities Approaches to the Opioid Crisis, cosponsored by BU’s School of Public Health, included scholars, medical practitioners, municipal leaders, and innovators from New England and drew a varied public audience.

Participants and audience mingle at Forum 2019

Forum 2019, Can We Talk? Dialogue and Debate in the Contemporary Academy, focused on the problem of honest discussion within our own institutional borders and was held at the new WBUR CitySpace, an auditorium whose structure minimizes the distance between panelists and audience. In addition to the forums, the Center has added smaller-scale public programs that also address urgent issues.

External Affiliations

The Center is a member of the National Humanities Alliance in Washington, DC, which lobbies to secure humanities funding at the federal level, the Consortium of Humanities Centers and Institutes in Madison, WI, which includes over 300 similar centers at other institutions, and the Folger Institute also in Washington, DC, a center for advanced research in early modern humanities.