Global Humanities Project Debuts at GW

University leaders and professors from Global Humanities Project institutions
Participants in the Global Humanities Project, including President Driss Ouaouicha of Al Akhawayn University, President Steven Knapp of GW and Rector Gülay Barbarosoğlu, of Boğaziçi University.
Education leaders convene on campus to support the humanities around the world.
March 10, 2014
(From GW Today)

By Ruth Steinhardt

Last week at the George Washington University, humanities held the spotlight.

On Wednesday and Thursday, the Office of International Programs hosted the first colloquium of the Global Humanities Project—bringing together the presidents of three universities, alongside humanities advocates from several countries, to discuss ways to enhance the visibility, prestige and impact of the arts and humanities in an increasingly globalized world.

“To think about the humanities as a subject on which we can come together makes every kind of sense,” GW President Steven Knapp said, addressing attendees at the event’s opening breakfast in the Elliott School’s City View Room. “When you think about the stories that play such an important role in our national cultures, the values and ideas that define us, and when you bring those stories, ideas and values together in dialogue, what will emerge?”

The Global Humanities project is designed to highlight the value of the humanities and to link leading universities as they promote humanities in higher education around the globe through a series of international collaborations, sponsored by three cooperating institutions—GW, Boğaziçi University in Istanbul and Al Akhawayn University in Ifrane, Morocco. All three partner institutions have a longstanding commitment to the values of a liberal arts education.

“It is through the arts and humanities that we define our identities and envision our future,” said Donna Scarboro, associate provost for international programs, who organized the project. “In a world where those narratives increasingly speak to and about each other, we must prepare students to create and understand human expression in all its complexity across layers of culture that influence one another.”

In his part of the world—North Africa—the humanities may be an especially crucial topic, said President Driss Ouaouicha of Al Akhawayn.

“The humanities matter globally and locally—for us in Morocco in particular, because of the long history that we have, but also with the challenges we face with globalization and internationalization,” Dr. Ouaouicha said. “We have to reconcile the old traditions, and our own identities, with the necessities that globalization requires. We want to be part of that, rather than undergo it.”

He added that training in the humanities was an advantage for students of Al Akhawayn University.

“Compared to some other universities, where the focus is solely on science and technology, when we combine the two—a focus on the area of specialty, but at the same time a strong grounding in the humanities and social sciences—we prepare students better for success not just in the job market, but in their life and in their relationship with the world around them.”

At Boğaziçi, said Rector Gülay Barbarosoğlu, students are required to take a number of classes in the humanities.

“We believe that to be a good citizen it is necessary to have all these concepts, these values—democratic representation, civic duty and civil participation—and all these values can be attained by taking courses in the humanities,” she added.

The inaugural event took place over two days, featuring receptions at the embassies of both Turkey and Morocco. Attendees also visited Washington, D.C., cultural partners of GW, including the Folger Shakespeare Library and the Phillips Collection.

The focus of the gathering, however, was in sharing ideas in a series of roundtable discussions among GW, Boğaziçi and Al Akhawayn faculty. Topics covered ranged from  “Narrative and Identity” to “Humanities as Social Intervention” and “Religion and the Humanities.” Faculty members represented many disciplines, including the expected literature and arts fields but also physics, engineering, business, law and more.  Collaborative projects in humanities research and arts performance were developed, and they will be elaborated further over the months ahead.

“The discussions were so energizing and useful that the three presidents have agreed to continue the project and to bring the groups together again in the future,” Dr. Scarboro said.

More student involvement is part of the plan. Small teams of students from the participating partner institutions will be identified to join the project and to help produce tangible results, working with their counterparts to explore the topic of global humanities.

“We are preparing the citizens and leaders of tomorrow,” Dr. Ouaouichi said. “And for them to be successful, they need to know as deeply as they can their own culture—but they also need to know the culture of the other, the international practices and international values, because the world of tomorrow will require dealing with other cultures.”