Humanities and the Human Condition

In July 2016, Obermann Center director Teresa Mangum wrote a column for IOWA NOW about the many exciting humanities research collaborations on the University of Iowa campus. We’d love to hear what kinds of disciplinary connections faculty and graduate students in the humanities are making at your university.


“If you follow news about higher education, you know that the value of humanities scholarship—the study of the arts, cultures, history, languages, literature, philosophy, and religion—is often called into question. Pummeled by busyness, technical challenges, health care costs, social injustices, employment insecurities, and environmental threats—who has time to explore the past or to delve into the art, languages, and literatures of the world?

But humanities research doesn’t exist in a vacuum. Twenty-first-century humanities scholarship intersects and contextualizes research across campus. Humanities scholars use unique interpretive tools to investigate topics from gerontology to genetics, criminology to cancer, women’s rights to war, race-related violence to utopian futures.

Humanities research asks how and why individuals, communities, and countries create meaning through the very human impulse to organize the chaos of life into stories. To find answers, scholars plumb archives, archaeological digs, museums, oral and official histories, poetry and novels, film, philosophical treatises, religious works, and more—the myriad documents and practices that structure societies over time and across world regions. Through hard study, rigorous questions and comparisons, deep reflection, and a willingness to question their own biases and limitations, humanities scholars ask us to confront where our histories are distorted or exclusive, when words and images become weapons, and how we can harness the imagination to move forward.

But let me share a few stories of our own University of Iowa faculty members and their research to show you what I mean. As director of the Obermann Center for Advanced Studies, I work every day with humanities faculty members and students whose research engages with new technologies, the so-called “wicked problems” our world faces, and even with policy makers.”

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