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Call for New Themes 2014-2017


The Jackman Humanities Institute (JHI) is calling for suggestions for new annual themes.  Each year the Institute organizes many of its activities around a theme. The Advisory Board of the JHI is now selecting annual themes for 2014-2015, 2015-2016, and 2016-2017, and we welcome ideas from the entire university community. Each theme should reach across multiple disciplines and offer foci to leading research in the Humanities.  For each theme you propose, please provide a title and 2-3 sentences describing the theme’s scope and focus. Multiple suggestions are welcome.

For the first six years the themes were (see below for descriptions)

  • Telling Stories (2008-2009)
  • Pressures on the Human (2009-2010)
  • Image and Spectacle (2010-2011)
  • Location/Dislocation (2011-2012)
  • Food (2012-2013)
  • Translation and the Multiplicity of Languages (2013-2014)

The Annual Theme is a focus for the following programs:

  • Faculty Research Fellowships (12-month residential)
  • Andrew W. Mellon Postdoctoral Fellowships (2 years; theme applies for first year only)
  • Chancellor Jackman Graduate Fellowships in the Humanities (1 year, for Ph.D. candidates in the final year of dissertation-writing)
  • Jackman Humanities Institute Undergraduate Fellowships (1 year, for undergraduates in their final year of study)
  • Program for the Arts (events)

The Annual Theme does not affect the following programs:

  • Faculty Research Fellowships (6-month leave)
  • Jackman Junior Fellowships (support for incoming graduate students)
  • Jackman Humanities Institute Working Groups
  • Andrew W. Mellon New Directions Fellowships (interdisciplinary training for faculty)
  • Andrew W. Mellon Sawyer Seminars in Comparative Cultures

Please e-mail your suggestions to humanities@utoronto.ca by 1 December 2012.

Download the Call for Themes [pdf]


08-09: Telling Stories
Making sense of our world depends on the practice of narrating events. In both oral and written traditions, and ranging from the historian’s monograph to the epic poem, a film or a single painting—the activity of telling stories serves as a topic for diverse kinds of scholarly inquiry. Humanities research explores various modes of telling and the social, political, epistemological and ethical implications of how and why stories are told.

09-10: Pressures on the Human

Today humanists must contend with a fundamental question: Is the object of our scholarship – Humanity – still a valid category? This question arises from pressures that challenge the distinctions that make us human beings. Some of these pressures arise from science, medicine, and technology: how are we to understand the distinction of being human when our physical activities can be recognized as part of animal biology, when our physical make-up is governed by the biochemistry of DNA, when our mental capacities are interwoven with those of computers and artificial intelligence? Can progress in medicine and technology replace the various functions that have historically and theoretically made the human distinct? Using various approaches to study the artistic and scholarly records of the past and present, humanities scholars explore these pressures.

10-11: Image and Spectacle  
Human beings make worlds appear by imagining and “imaging” it; they display worlds to others in performances. This cross-cultural theme embraces the study not only of how images relate to the reality of the world, but also of how both as individuals and as societies we generate images. The spectacle of performance, which was the origin of theory in the Ancient Greek world, leads to many kinds of reflection--from performativity to epistemology, from theories of history to literary and aesthetic theory, from cultural criticism to paleography. It extends ultimately to examining the role of reflection (speculation) and criticism of images and their worlds.

11-12: Location/Dislocation
The experience of dislocation prompts insight into how people and ideas inhabit space, and what happens as they move. Many experiences of uprooting and exile are unwelcome; arrivals in new locations often generate violence and intolerance. The arts and books, languages and stories of the old country often remain vital for immigrants, creating diasporic cultures of memory and need; at times the hybridity created in a new place is not a simple amalgam or a peaceful overwriting. Cities are the common site of exile and new creations, and in their architecture and overlapping communities of trade, worship, and education, cities provide an archival record of the disruptive encounters that result from dislocation. The task of humanities research is to engage these complex practices of memory, importation, colonization, and assimilation.

12-13: Food
Food is a basic human need. It shapes desires and yields many kinds of enjoyment. The humanities explore food from diverse perspectives seeing it both as an object produced and consumed and also as the means and symbol of our human relations. The diversity of what we eat (and don’t eat) and of how food is produced and shared shapes cultures, communities, nations, and empires. Refracted through literature, religion, and art, food is a central lens for exploring human history and the patterns of our interaction. Hunger, as an index of poverty and of environmental disaster, provides a reversed lens with which we can explore justice and ethics. How humans get what they eat, from near and far, is basic to ways of inhabiting places on the earth and relating to other species. From hunter-gatherers to communal gardens, feudal farming to agribusiness, food and the systems that provide it are matched by a diversity of the tables at which we eat--food for celebration, sustenance, display, competition, joy and sorrow

13-14: Translation and the Multiplicity of Languages
What are the implications of knowing more than one language? From mythic reflections on the Tower of Babel through contemporary philosophical reflections on the question of translation, the multiplicity of languages has been an ongoing focus of inquiry. How is translation possible, both in the specific sense of translating speech or texts, but also in the larger sense of bringing meaning from one system to another, including from speech to writing? How do we conceive of languages of music, as well as song; icons and symbols as well as scripts? How best can we interpret the exchanges between languages in a world of multilingual interactions? In the ancient Near East, for example, a number of written bilingual texts sometimes reflect a local language and lingua franca, other times reflect a political orientation and appeasement or defiance. Translation between cultures and languages produce unintended results, often creating new originals. Amidst these multiple languages, what is the impact of the untranslatable?

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