Humanities at Large

JHI Alumni Spotlight—Andrew Campana

Submitted by Sonja Johnston on January 27 2021.
JHI Alumni Spotlight features past Fellows and their current work

Andrew Campana—now Assistant Professor in the Department of Asian Studies at Cornell University—was a JHI Undergraduate Fellow in 2010-2011 during our Image and Spectacle theme year.

Andrew provides an overview of the project he worked on while at the JHI and some insight into his fellowship experience.

He also updates us about his current work and shares why he thinks the humanities are important.

 

JHI Project

My project was about the idea of virtual pilgrimage in contemporary Japan. Pilgrimages are conventionally thought of as long, arduous spiritual journeys, but in both Japan and elsewhere, going on pilgrimages vicariously or mentally using stories, visualizations, and artwork as aids has been an important phenomenon for hundreds of years. I wanted to see what types of "pilgrimage-form" media continued on in the present day, focusing in particular on novels, films, and virtual reality. In my second semester, I shifted focus to a second related project on contemporary poetry and digital media.

The JHI Experience

My experience as a JHI undergraduate fellow was really wonderful—entering my last year of undergrad I was only beginning to get a sense of what humanities research really entailed, let alone how to do it myself. The extraordinary generosity of everyone there—the director and staff, the faculty members, the postdocs, the graduate students, and the other undergrad fellows—was immediately apparent and had a huge impact from the get go. I was able to imagine myself as a scholar for the first time, and gained the confidence to not just listen to the conversations and debates happening around me but to participate myself. Now as a faculty member, there are countless pieces of advice I got over the year that I continue to pass on to my own students.

I went into the program unsure whether I could really make humanities research and teaching into a career—but the fellowship was so galvanizing and inspiring that I decided to apply to multiple Ph.D. programs by the end of the first semester. The next year I started my Ph.D. in East Asian Languages and Civilizations at Harvard, which would have been a far more terrifying prospect if I didn't have the confidence I gained at the JHI to frame my own work, make its stakes clear, and to become a part of the broader exchange of ideas inside and outside of the classroom.

Current Work

I'm an assistant professor of Japanese literature and media at Cornell University, and loving it here in Ithaca, New York (just a few hours from Toronto!). I’m finishing off a book manuscript on Japanese poetry from the twentieth and twenty-first centuries, exploring how poets engaged with new media technologies like cinema, tape recording, the internet, and augmented reality. I’ve also started on my next project—which actually directly emerged from my JHI project on poetry and digital media—where I’ll be considering how “the digital” manifested in poetry, video games, and disability arts in Japan.

Importance of the Humanities

To be able to understand our history, how we tell stories to each other, how contexts shape knowledge and relationships, which voices are being left out or silenced—studying humanities is a way of engaging with the world that’s intensely attuned to questions like these. It’s become a cliché to say “now more than ever,” but this kind of intense engagement is so extraordinarily valuable—now more than ever!

Institutes like the JHI are uniquely positioned to bring together thinkers and practitioners from a huge variety of fields, and to give them an opportunity to not just talk about things among themselves but to amplify their research in local and global contexts. My experiences at the JHI taught me how it’s one thing to be able talk about research to other academics, but the most important work is to be able to communicate that research to students and to the wider public in an effective, compelling, and honest way.