Skip to main content


CUNY The Center for the Humanities Seminar on Public Engagement and Collaborative Research

Public Humanities

August 25, 2016
Immigrant baker Mahoma Lopez holding up his fist in front of a wall filled with bagels.

The Seminar on Public Engagement and Collaborative Research at the Center for the Humanities began in fall 2014 and runs through fall 2016. Expanding the diverse ways that the public humanities function in public life and as a public good, this project is made possible by the generous support of the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation.

Bringing together over 40 faculty, students, and–uniquely–civic, cultural, and community partners, the seminar produces and circulates research through public projects, engaged scholarship, and interdisciplinary activities at CUNY and throughout New York City. The seminar is organized into four research groups that work collaboratively and independently to amplify the intellectual and creative work emerging at the convergence of the arts and humanities, the digital humanities, the humanities-related social sciences, and social justice.

Please click here for additional information and upcoming activities.

Mediating The Archive
Led by Amy Herzog and Edward Miller, the Mediating the Archive research group has focused on how archival studies dovetail with the scholarly and artistic legacy of queer activism through visual art, film, digital media, and dance. Their work ensures such counter archives are a part of public discourse.

A World Redrawn was an exhibition of the work of artist Zoe Beloff curated by Katherine Carl in the James Gallery. It presented an archival investigation of Soviet filmmaker Sergei Eisenstein, the connections between his work and German playwright Bertolt Brecht’s politically charged “epic theater,” and queer Hollywood in the lead up to World War II. Beloff's exhibition was accompanied by a series of talks, performances, and screenings organized with Herzog and Miller.

Mediating the Archive’s concern with cinema studies, transfeminist histories, and counter archival practices led the group to support the production of two films: Happy Birthday, Marsha!, a film by Reina Gossett and Sasha Wortzel about the life and legacy of legendary transgender artist and activist Marsha “Pay it No Mind” Johnson; and Toilet Training, a film by Tara Mateik about the persistent discrimination, harassment, and violence that people who transgress gender norms face in gender segregated bathrooms, made in collaboration with the Sylvia Rivera Law Project.

The Mediating the Archive research group deepened its impact at CUNY by empowering doctoral students to launch scholarly and public investigations of the social uses of the archive. Presidential Research Fellow Chelsea Haines curated Christian Palestinian Archive: A Project by Dor Guez in the James Gallery in spring 2016. She also organized talks by Ariella Azoulay on photography, Hannan K. Munhayyer on textiles, and Carrie Lambert-Beatty on fabulated archives. In collaboration with the Cinema Studies Group at the GC, Mediating the Archive produced a conference on moving image archives that culminated in a keynote panel of international artist-archivists: Clarence Elie-Rivera, Guadalupe Rosales, and Bobbito Garcia. And finally, Digital Fellow Benjamin Haber organized a two-day conference called Queer Circuits in Archival Times in collaboration with the New York Public Library that incorporated scholarly, artistic, and activist approaches to thinking through and experimenting with networked data with a keynote and performance by theorist and artist Sandy Stone.

This fall, as part of a two-year collaboration between Mediating the Archive and Danspace Project, GC doctoral students Janet Werther and Jaime Shearn-Coan have organized two panel discussions as part of Danspace Project's Platform 2016: Lost and Found. Curated by Will Rawls and Ishmael Houston-Jones, Lost & Found examines the impact of AIDS on generations of artists and seeks to recover the generation of mentors, role models, and muses who died from the disease. A series of performances will take place (including a restaging of the work of John Bernd, one of the earliest New York choreographers to explicitly represent gay sexuality and the disease in his work), along with workshops, conversations, screenings, and the publication of a catalog.

Narrating Change, Changing Narratives
Led by Colette Daiute, Sujatha Fernandes, and Jeanne Theoharis, Narrating Change, Changing Narratives developed three interrelated projects. The thread that connects their work is a coordinated examination of the ways in which narration serves (and doesn’t serve) social justice.

WritingCUNY and Narrating America in the Contemporary Community College

WritingCUNY and Narrating America in Contemporary Community Colleges are two integrated projects led by Colette Daiute. The WritingCUNY research group launched an ongoing blog project that promotes collaborative student writing and analysis across community college campuses. Narrating America is an ongoing series of public forums about the meaning of community college to faculty, students, and administrators from every organizational level throughout CUNY. Daiute and Digital Fellow Jessica Murray also developed Narrating America: The Game, an interpretative video game and research tool that fosters mutual understanding and collective action around community college student experiences. The future of public education in NYC depends in part upon a better understanding of student experiences of community college, and these projects lay the groundwork for students to broadcast their public voice across campuses.

This fall, Daiute will further develop the blog, growing relationships with student and faculty mentors at CUNY through collaborative writing. On October 5th, Daiute and Murray will present on their methods and findings in the James Gallery.

Whose Movement Is It?: Narratives & Strategies from the Domestic Workers Labor Movement

Sujatha Fernandes established a peer working group that includes domestic workers, organizers, and GC staff. While meeting weekly, they have also organized panel discussions, public forums, an evening of poetry and performance, a political education workshop, and a film screening on issues pertaining to domestic and immigrant workers and workers' rights. The group also collaborated with the Center for Place, Culture, and Politics to organize a conference entitled Consciousness and Revolution, which brought together international worker-activist and scholarly perspectives on movement building. During the fall, GC doctoral student Courtney Frantz will coordinate regular meetings as well as a workshop exploring the complex relationships between the philanthropic sector and the low-wage workers’ movement.

In addition to fostering a genuine and deep collaboration between community partners and academics, and creating a space for social movements to enter and interact within the academy, the group has also been able to reach broader audiences by publishing collaborative texts in both popular and academic journals including Contexts, Dissent, Critical Sociology, and Social Text. Next year, Fernandes' research will be published in the book Curated Stories: How Storytelling is Hindering Social Change (Forthcoming, Oxford University Press, 2017).

Unsettling Histories: Rethinking Popular Fables about the Civil Rights Movement and Welfare Reform

Jeanne Theoharis and her many collaborators have sought to establish innovative means to make historical scholarship about race and injustice in America accessible to wider publics, informing the ways in which these publics participate in and understand policy debate from a historical perspective.

As one aspect of this multi-faceted work, Theoharis and Alejandra Marchevsky convened a peer group of poverty scholars from around the country to mark the 20th anniversary of welfare reform and to unsettle narratives of its success. Theoharis and Marchevsky have published editorials in The Nation and The Root about the Personal Responsibility and Work Opportunity Reconciliation Act. The group coauthored and is now disseminating a public syllabus on the destructive aftermath of welfare reform on poor communities: #WelfareReformSyllabus.

Theoharis and Jessica Murray also worked together to launch the biography website, The Rebellious Life of Mrs. Rosa Parks, on the eve of Parks’ 100th birthday. The website focuses on Parks’ lifelong work as an activist before and after her historic bus stand. This educational website aims to recontextualize how young people access histories of black social movements. Toward this end, community partner Sadie Nash Leadership Project held a 6-week class on Rosa Parks in their summer leadership academy for high school young women of color. On September 14th, Theoharis and Murray will employ the Rosa Parks biography site as a springboard for discussion on digital strategies for making substantive public histories of the civil rights movement more accessible to youth leaders, educators, and the general public.

As a result of these initiatives, the seminar is part of The Collaborative to Advance Equity through Research, founded this year by Melissa Harris-Perry and the Anna Julia Cooper Center at Wake Forest University, that commits institutional resources toward research that impacts the lives of women and girls of color.

Adjacent to this work, Narrating Change, Changing Narratives has also led to the formation of working groups on Public Education, the City, and Struggles for Racial Justice and Public History along with a seminar on Ecocritcism.

For more on The Seminar on Public Engagement and Collaborative Research, visit their site here.