Skip to main content


Humanities Combating Isolation (2020): New Pedagogies in Justice

Public Humanities, Explorations in the Public Humanities, Building Publics

dateJune 10, 2020 timeWednesday, 11:00am EDT locationVirtual Event
  • The Society of Fellows and Heyman Center for the Humanities
  • Free and open to the public
  • Registration required. See details.
  • Image Credit/Caption: Image by Victor Moriyama, Sao Paolo, March 18th 2020 from “The Great Empty,” The New York Times, March 20th, 2020
Apartment building with people visible in many of the windows

This week’s Building Publics features two projects developed in association with Columbia’s Justice-in-Education Initiative. One of them consists of playwriting and creative writing workshops with incarcerated students at Rikers Island prison facility. The other is a reading and discussion initiative around a classical text with a group of individuals at Rikers, the outcome of which involves an alternative "edition" of the text and an online exhibition. Fellows Meadhbh McHugh and Erin Petrella engage in conversation with Mya Ruyters and Joseph Howley.

*As a way to support the June 10 global strike called by Particles for Justice, a group of physicists, and the Black Lives Matter movement, attendants will be asked to participate in a creative writing activity designed by the Justice-in-Education Initiative for its Rikers Island Book Club. We will use this opportunity to actively reflect together in writing about the conditions of incarceration and about how our public humanities projects are embedded in the effects of systemic racism. In doing so, the event aims to honor the lives of those who have lost their lives to state violence, and to stand in solidarity with those who seek justice and equity for Black men and women.

Erin Petrella is a PhD candidate in the Classics department at Columbia University. Her research involves the possibility of semantic value for silent propositions in ancient Greek literature and philosophy, and the development of botanical and scientific Latin from antiquity to the Renaissance. Erin has a prior master's in Rare Books and Manuscripts Librarianship, and a professional background in academic libraries. For several years, she has volunteered with the New York Public Library's Correctional Services program, providing library services to incarcerated individuals in city jails, including MDC and Rikers. Her project will combine all of these experiences into a months-long intensive reading and discussion of a classical text with a group of incarcerated people.

Meadhbh McHugh is an Irish playwright and PhD candidate at Columbia University. Her plays include Helen and I (Druid Theatre Company), nominated for the Stewart Parker Award 2016, and the stage adaptation of Louise O’Neill’s novel Asking for It for Landmark Productions with the Everyman Theatre and Abbey Theatre, Dublin. Asking for It won the Audience Choice Award at the Irish Times Theatre Awards 2018. Meadhbh’s dissertation focuses on trauma and lyricism in contemporary Irish drama, and she has taught university writing for the past three years. As part of the NY Public Humanities Fellowship, Meadhbh will develop playwriting and creative writing workshops with incarcerated students, in association with Columbia’s Justice-in-Education Initiative.