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April 13, 2017

Humanities Center offers grants, doctoral fellowships

Pitt’s Year of Humanities, the focus of the last academic year, lives on at the Humanities Center in 2017, with new humanities project grants being offered and newly created doctoral student fellowships placing humanities students in local nonprofits.

Dan Kubis, assistant director of the center, says the Pitt interdisciplinary humanities grants are similar in spirit to the Year of Humanities project grants funded by the Provost’s office for 2015-16.

Projects applying for a maximum of $2,000 in funds must involve partnerships between schools, and preferably involve the larger University community. With $20,000 at its disposal, the center will be selecting a minimum of 10 grants. Application deadline is Oct. 2, but applications are being accepted now.

Kubis says grant funding for projects may be offered twice per year in the future. The all Pitt humanities committee, successor to the group that helped direct the Year of the Humanities, is sponsoring the grants and still meets each semester to look at new ways it can nurture humanities work at Pitt.

As an example of projects that might likely be favored by the grant program, Kubis pointed to the humanities and health conference held in spring 2016 by the linguistics department in the Dietrich School of Arts and Sciences and the family medicine department in the School of Medicine.

He sees these grants as opportunities to connect Pitt people throughout and outside of the arts and sciences, helping them to seek new ideas concerning “thinking in humanistic ways.”


The public humanities fellowship program has just finished accepting applications for three summer positions for PhD students, one each at the Kelly Strayhorn Theater, the Pittsburgh Parks Conservancy and City of Asylum (which hosts foreign writers from countries who persecute or place obstacles in front of artists in their own countries).

While PhD programs produce research-focused professors, “those jobs have been shrinking for a long time,” Kubis says. Giving PhD students a chance to see applications for their skills outside university settings “is a demonstration that the kinds of things they end up knowing and doing are valuable in places other than academic departments.”

Adds Jonathan Arac, head of the Humanities Center: “We have had since the start a program of collaborative research grants to bring together Pitt faculty from different units, and often with colleagues from different institutions, to carry out shared work, and the new public fellows program expands this possibility by specifically aiming the award to doctoral students and also by defining the collaboration as with a local cultural institution. The institution has research ideas they’d like to realize, and we help them find capable early-career researchers to shape and carry out the work.”


How secure is the future of the humanities?

While President Donald Trump has proposed eliminating the National Endowment for the Humanities (NEH), Kubis was reassured at the recent National Humanities Alliance conference in Washington, D.C., that there is a great deal of bipartisan support for the NEH and its sister organization, the National Endowment for the Arts.

There is an economic argument that can be made for the value of the humanities, he notes, as Fareed Zakaria did in his 2015 book “In Defense of a Liberal Education.” “Businesses are looking for people who can think critically, who are adaptable … which are the kinds of skills that are nurtured in liberal arts education,” Kubis says.

But there are better reasons for studying the humanities, he believes, from their contribution to creating a more just and equitable society to the lessons available in history.

“What happens in humanities departments is that we explore human existence in the world in a way that pays particular attention to the role of human imagination — that’s why the humanities have broad relevance,” he adds. For the Humanities Center podcast (, released on the first Friday of every month, Kubis interviewed Rafael Campo, a doctor who believes that poetry also is essential to his life. Campo explained that, as a gay Latino in medical school, “he feared being outed as a poet more than he feared being discriminated against for being gay and Latino,” Kubis recalls.

“People in a number of professions can do their work better when they don’t forget that the imagination and creativity are present,” he said.


For more information on the interdisciplinary humanities grants, go to Information on the public humanities fellowship program is available at

—Marty Levine

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