Inaugural Conference ‘Beyond Crisis: Visions for the New Humanities’

Inaugural Conference
Centre for Humanities Innovation (CHI), Durham University, UK

Beyond Crisis: Visions for the New Humanities
July 7-8, 2014
Call for Manifestos

Most people agree that the humanities are going through transition, even if they disagree over the details. At the more optimistic end of the scale, exemplified by the Digital_Humanities project, the collapse of the paradigm of classical humanism has coincided with the proliferation of visual and digital culture, creating unprecedented possibilities in a field that is already defined by constant intellectual renewal. More pessimistically, however, an ideological shift toward the sciences means, on one hand, that student numbers and funding for the humanities continue to fall, while, on the other, humanities research is increasingly assessed against inappropriate criteria designed for the sciences. Even among advocates of the humanities, debates on their future continue to be framed in economic terms, with critics caught in the contradictory position of heralding our contribution to the labour market, while valorising the unquantifiability, the irreducibility to exchange-value, of critical thought.

Have we no choice but to adapt to the culture of commodification, to pursue profit and output in a way that entails complicity in the very processes we are seeking to resist? How might we harness the creativity and intellectual resources of the humanities to envision and create alternative futures? Does the future of the humanities lie in becoming anti- or post-human, or in a renewal of the ‘human’, however defined? To what extent does the relentless growth of science and technology both constrain and liberate our possibilities of becoming-other?

The Durham Centre for Humanities Innovation (CHI) has been founded to contest the inevitability of acquiescence in the marginalisation of the humanities; to foster intellectual creativity in scholarship and research; and to encourage the creation of new ideas, concepts, mental schemes, and other products of intellectual imagination. Discussions of the humanities’ future, and of the future humanities, have recently appeared in the form of book-length manifestos (John Russo 2005; Martha Nussbaum 2010; Mikhail Epstein 2012). The modality of the manifesto reflects the urgent need for methodological breakthroughs in the humanities.

It is in this spirit that we are launching a call for manifestos – not traditional papers – for our inaugural conference. Submissions may take the form of an entire manifesto (of between 1,000 and 2,000 words); a series of points for address; or even a single item for inclusion on the new humanities agenda. In a bid to break with the established format of papers followed by questions, the conference will revolve around brief presentations on pre-circulated material, opening onto discussion and collective improvisation, with the aim of creating a programme for action. Topics for consideration include:

  • Creativity and imagination in the humanities
  • Paradigmatic and methodological innovation in the humanities; new genres and disciplines
  • Humanities scholarship as foundation for cultural practices
  • The humanities and the digital: modes of mutual transformation
  • The humanities confronting environmental challenges
  • ‘Third Cultures’: effective interactions between the humanities and sciences

Submit your proposals for what can and needs to be done, along with a brief biographical note, to humanities.innovation@durham.ac.uk. Manifestos will be considered until March 31, 2014. Please specify whether you would like your manifesto to be published and opened to comments on the CHI website, or pre-circulated to conference delegates only.

Confirmed plenary speakers include Prof. Thomas Docherty (Warwick) and Prof. Robert Eaglestone (Royal Holloway). For further queries please contact the organisers (Prof. Mikhail Epstein, Dr. Caitríona Ní Dhúill, Dr. Gerald Moore) at the dedicated conference email: humanities.innovation@durham.ac.uk.

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