On Partnerships and Publicly Engaged Scholarship

Partnership drives many of the publicly engaged humanities initiatives collected in NHA’s Humanities for All database. These initiatives drawn from across the country bring scholars and students together with a wide variety of partners, including libraries, K–12 schools, community organizations and centers, and individual community members. In all cases, they draw on shared knowledge and resources to advance particular academic and public objectives. They are able to do more—and better—by working together.

As a window into the challenges and possibilities of partnerships and publicly engaged humanities scholarship more broadly, we recently released an essay introducing four examples from across the country.

These examples showcase the many ways publicly engaged humanities projects benefit both academic and community partners. NYU’s (Dis)Placed Urban Histories, for example, engages both students and community organizations focusing on housing and land use. (Dis)Placed Urban Histories students conduct research in neighborhoods where the community organizations work. This has proven to be mutually beneficial, providing students with practical and meaningful learning experiences and providing community organizations with resources to do their best work. The University of Georgia’s An American Literary Landscape in Putnam County, meanwhile, preserves and provides access to a critical period in Georgia’s literary cultural history. Working with the Putnam County Charter School System, the initiative has created locally-grounded curricular innovations as well as positive publicity and publishing opportunities. The University of Wisconsin-Madison’s Great World Texts in Wisconsin is also helping high schools, enriching literature curricula for their students in partnership with high school educators across the state. The Southwest Virginia LGBTQ+ History Project, a grassroots partnership involving faculty from Roanoke College, is preserving culture, building community, and creating new resources and community spaces.

In all cases, it is the partners’ expertise and resources that make this important work possible. The essay is rich in wisdom from the four directors of these projects, reflecting on their experiences of partnership with diverse community members and organizations. Of all these important thoughts and observations, the one I keep returning to is this: Mutually beneficial partnership can require scholars to set certain personal professional goals to the side and step back. Becky Amato of NYU stresses this in reflecting on (Dis)placed Urban Histories, noting “community partnership has to be built on mutual trust and a willingness on the part of a scholar to do the hard emotional work of not being in charge.” This might mean that the course of the project is different than initially imagined, Amato continues: “The goal is to change the stakes of what it means to be a scholar and to disassemble the walls between universities and the rest of the city. To use a popular term, I do this work to decolonize knowledge-making, knowledge-keeping, and the institutions that are responsible for setting the unequal terms of what these practices mean.”

To continue reading about (Dis)placed Urban Histories and the other three case studies in partnership, the new essay can be found on Humanities for All.


Photo Credit

Thumbnail image: NYU students and Melrose neighborhood residents explore a map of the neighborhood at the semester's closing exhibition. Image courtesy of Rebecca Amato.

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