Thanks to the innovative thinking of Nancy McHugh, professor of philosophy and department chair, Wittenberg University is now home to the new Institute for Public Humanities and Sciences, the first such institute of its kind among Ohio liberal arts colleges.
“The importance and growth of public humanities and sciences has been steadily increasing since the early 2000s,” Provost Michelle Mattson said. “Departments such as philosophy, environmental science, history, and sociology are already actively engaging in public-facing work. However, until Dr. McHugh shared her vision with me, there was nothing to unite, support, or move this work forward in a way that benefits and challenges our students, faculty, or University. The Institute will change this, and I am excited about this ambitious endeavor and grateful to Dr. McHugh for being willing to take on what would for many be the daunting task of starting a new initiative at Wittenberg in a time of great challenge.”
McHugh, who will serve as the Institute’s inaugural director, has a deep and extensive background in public philosophy. Currently the outgoing president of the international Public Philosophy Network, McHugh has worked tirelessly to connect the work students and faculty do in the humanities and sciences with the broader region, state, and nation. Along with being a Fellow in the University’s Susan Hirt Hagen Center for Civic and Urban Engagement and a noted author, she also teaches philosophy courses in K-12 settings, and as part of the Inside-Out Prison Exchange Program at prisons, juvenile detention centers, and prison reentry programs.
“Wittenberg’s Institute for Public Humanities and Sciences (WIPHS) is a mission-driven bright light that can help shape our path forward,” McHugh said. “Not only does it reflect the best of who and what Wittenberg is by combining the academic role and the public-facing role of the University’s mission, but it also creates opportunities for students and faculty through a range of collaborative activities.”
Public-facing work in the humanities and sciences ranges widely, but some types include: podcasting, vlogging, digital archives, museum and library collaboratives, op-ed writing, documentaries, community participatory research, public programming, facilitated and deliberative dialogue, oral and public history, and narrative medicine and health.
“Establishing an institute from the ground up is exciting because it allows for a lot of creativity, strategic planning, and visioning, which are things I love doing,” McHugh said. “We will have to write grants and engage alumni and other potential donors. The exciting thing is that donations and grants of any size can have a significant impact on the Institute because these early funds will help shape the work we do into the future.”
Some of the WIPHS’ innovative, inter-institutional collaborations will include partnering with colleges and universities affiliated with the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America (ELCA), Southwestern Ohio Council for Higher Education (SOCHE) and Research 1 institutions as defined by the Carnegie Classification.
WIPHS’ two signature programs are connected by the theme of Mobilizing Public Humanities and Sciences in Times of Crisis. The first is called COVID in 19 Iterations: Conversations, Short Films, Literature, and Poems by and with frontline workers, survivors, and families of victims. The program will also have a SOCHE/Miami Valley focus as it will offer an opportunity to explore the health, emotional, moral, and spiritual impacts of COVID-19 on the lives of area frontline workers.
The second program, Race, Place, and Healing: A Place-Based Racial Awareness and Healing Project, will collaborate with public scholars at ELCA colleges in exploring how place through time shapes understandings of race and racism, and how place shapes the ways racial healing, racial justice, and racial reparations should take place.
McHugh is also collaborating with Dayton’s Public Broadcasting Station (PBS), ThinkTV, on a project, which will be the first of its kind at Wittenberg. The collaboration will involve a documentary and multi-media project on racial segregation and its legacy in the Miami Valley.
Two additional programs include Living Ohio Treasures and the Public Humanities and Science Innovation Lab. The first is an idea developed by a Wittenberg senior and is based on the Japanese model of Living National Treasures. The program will seek to develop a digital archive of Ohio Treasures, which will include interviews and images or recordings of people and artifacts. The second program will feature members of the public and Wittenberg community bringing WIPHS their ideas for a public-facing project and working jointly to help shape, find funding, and implement the project.
The Institute’s advisory board, comprised of faculty, alumni, and experts outside of academia who engage in public humanities and sciences, will focus on strategic planning to set a five-year trajectory for WIPHS, as well as provide advice, direction, and possibly collaborate on projects and/or form working groups to assist with projects. Four Wittenberg alumni have already agreed to serve – Adam Brown ’13, CEO of ClinArk; Lacey Davidson ’12, assistant professor of philosophy at California Lutheran University; Deacon Dan Jacob ’10, Wittenberg University ministry associate; and Alan Stewart ’69, Wittenberg University Board member and physician for the Vincennes Community School Corporation.
“The WIPHS came together this summer as a way of responding to the pressing need to build a range of capacities at Wittenberg to support the public academic work of faculty and students, to grow Wittenberg institutionally, and to reach and collaborate with the public and other academic institutions in the Miami Valley, the state of Ohio, and nationally,” McHugh said. “I hope that we can provide energy and collaboration across departments through shared projects and shared work with other colleges in Ohio and the Midwest. I hope that we can establish new and creative ways to do public humanities and sciences that will make Wittenberg the place to study and teach if you are invested in public humanities and sciences.”
WIPHS is located in the Dietrich House on campus and will complement the work of the Hagen Center in providing a combination of experiential learning and community engagement. The institute’s website is: www.wittenberg.edu/wiphs. From there you can also access their Twitter feed, Facebook page, and Instagram.