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  September 10, 2001

Humanities Institute to Provide
Intellectual Forum for Scholars

Planning to enhance the intellectual climate at the University and to foster increased communication and sharing of research, the College of Liberal Arts and Sciences has begun organizing the University of Connecticut Humanities Institute.

The new institute, made possible in part by the renovation of the former Waring Chemistry Building, will be headed by Richard Brown, a professor of history, and Francoise Dussart, an associate professor of anthropology. Eventually, Brown says, he expects eight faculty, two graduate fellows, and four undergraduate student fellows to be involved in humanities research projects, seminars, and sponsored study groups.

"Ideally, we will enhance and encourage research and generate interest in the intellectual life of the institution," Brown says. "I want to see a high level of intellectual vitality, which will be evident in morale and achievement in the humanities, and our scholarship will be more visible, nationally and internationally."

The institute will operate from a suite of offices on the third floor of the recently renovated Waring Building, which now houses the College of Liberal Arts and Sciences. Besides space for the directors, an administrative assistant, a reading room, and a seminar room, the suite provides offices for faculty fellows and a small kitchenette.

Dean Ross MacKinnon, who spearheaded the effort, says there has long been a need for humanities scholars to interact more closely but no forum to bring them together.

"Clearly, the new space made this possible, gave us a window of opportunity," says MacKinnon. "But, more than that, I believed that the profile of all the scholarship that's done on this campus must be raised. The institute gives us a focal point from which we can improve the quality of our work, and build on our strengths" in the humanities, he says.

There are nearly a dozen departments that can contribute scholarship to the effort, MacKinnon says.

The institute will sponsor conferences, symposia and lectures, as well as research by faculty and student fellows. Brown says there will be monthly luncheons where researchers can present and discuss their work, and workshops "to cross-fertilize scholars with similar interests.

"Our largest task during the first year will be community building," Brown says. "We have to develop some activities so humanists can find and get to know each other. Generally, UConn has operated within departments, and there are good reasons for that, but there are also good reasons for sharing our scholarship and research findings."

Although most major research universities currently have humanities institutes, Brown says many are of recent vintage.

"One reason for the national movement toward humanities institutes is funding. Universities recognize that federal agencies have moved toward funding scientific research and away from the humanities," Brown says. "The National Endowment for the Humanities provides some support, but it's a small amount and the competition is fierce. The NEH makes awards to only about 5 percent of the applicants. The Guggenheim Foundation awards even fewer and, once you receive a grant from them, you become ineligible to receive another."

This year, the institute will operate on a budget of less than $100,000. Brown says that will grow in subsequent years, with funding anticipated to be about $360,000 in 2002-03, primarily to fund faculty fellows, including two visiting scholars who will receive $40,000 each for a year's research. Four undergraduate fellows will receive $1,000 each per semester.

Funding for the project will come from CLAS, philanthropy, grants and, MacKinnon hopes, support from other schools and colleges.

Richard Veilleux

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