Reimagining the Humanities for the Good of the Public (CLOSED)

Thursdays, 2-4pm with Professor Bianca Williams


As part of The Graduate Center’s new Mellon Initiative “Transforming Doctoral Education for the Public Good,” this seminar will offer students the opportunity to both reimagine the process of doctoral study, and identify how they want their training in the humanities (and humanities-adjacent disciplines) to serve the good of the public.

Throughout the “Reimagining the Humanities” seminar, participants will work collaboratively with faculty- and practitioner-guests to think through the purpose of the humanities, what individuals with humanistic expertise and skills can offer multiple professions, and how these future PhDs might combine their research interests with their public and/or political commitments. Students will learn about diverse forms of writing, research, and communication; be introduced to pedagogies and teaching tools for multiple audiences; and connect with PhDs who have careers in a variety of industries. By the end of the course, students will be better prepared to conceptualize careers both inside, outside, and across the boundaries that some uphold around academic institutions; while also, troubling the binary notion that “the academy” and “the public” are separate, disconnected entities. The premise of this seminar is that a doctoral education should provide the frameworks, pedagogies, and tools necessary to successfully solve problems, teach, communicate, and generate change in a variety of spaces. With these objectives in mind, this seminar will focus on three substantial themes:

Transforming Doctoral Education in the Humanities

Students will be given the opportunity to think deeply about how their research interests and public/political commitments mutually influence one another, and how the humanities offer a particular set of tools for doing public-facing work. Drawing on critical university studies, decolonizing pedagogies and methods, and other canons to examine the power dynamics of the PhD process, we will interrogate how structures and institutionalized practices might need to transform in order to make doctoral education a more engaged, healthier process. We will ask, “If one’s wellness, creativity, and public/political commitments were viewed as essential throughout the doctoral process, how might one’s experience in higher education change? How might the humanities be transformed as a result?”

Recognizing and Learning from Multiple Publics

Instead of focusing on “the public” and higher education as a binary, the seminar will attempt to emphasize the connections and interdependence of these spaces. We will ask, “What are the many ways people with PhDs have contributed to the interests of the public through their writing, teaching, and leadership? What are the particular costs, benefits, and politics of engaging multiple audiences and publics?”

Centering the Good of the Public

As a result of the corporatization and economics of higher education in recent years, there has been much conversation about whether or not higher education can still be considered a public good, and the responsibility it has to contribute to the public. In connection to this debate, we will ask “How must we transform doctoral education in order to effectively work for the good of the public?”

By the end of the course, students will have: (1) written several short essays and blog posts investigating how their discipline/field has taken up the question of “the public good” and documenting how humanities PhDs are using their training to do public-facing work; (2) created a personal vision for how they might do this during, and after, their doctoral training; (3) built a relationship with practitioners and faculty through the new PublicsLab, which offers resources on how to pursue public-facing research and praxis.

Please email Professor Williams at if you have any questions about registering for this seminar.