When I was a student at Wesleyan in the 1970s, I spent almost every Monday night at Russell House attending lectures from the Center for the Humanities. They usually drew a decent sized audience of faculty and students, and many of the visiting speakers were big names in their fields. It was the heyday of critical theory and deconstruction, and I heard many a talk in these areas that I found difficult to understand. Still, I was always at what were affectionately called “Monday Night Services.” Knowledge was happening at the Center, and I wanted to be part of it.
Years later I came back to Wesleyan to offer a Monday night lecture at Russell House. My faculty advisor, Henry Abelove, was the director of the Center at that point, and he’d asked me to talk about psychoanalysis and the exhibition I’d curated about Sigmund Freud at the Library of Congress. I found it terrifically moving to stand at the podium there where I had often sat in the audience (bewildered).
The Center for the Humanities has gone through a variety of incarnations since it was founded in 1959. Its current director, Ethan Kleinberg, has beefed up its web presence (see iTunes and YouTube), brought together a great group of fellows and speakers, and planned some exciting events. Next Monday at 6 p.m., Professor Samuel Moyn, from Columbia University, will speak on “The Political Origins of Global Justice.” This lecture kicks off the series on Justice and Judgment. The lecture series has moved from Russell House and will take place in the Daniel Family Commons (on the third floor of Usdan).
From September 26-28, The Center will host a conference on Hannah Arendt’s Eichmann in Jerusalem, which was published 50 years ago. Arendt, one of the most important political theorists of the 20th century, came to Wesleyan’s Center for the Humanities to finish the book, and so it’s particularly fitting that the conference marking its publication will take place here.
For its first 50 years the Center for the Humanities operated with various funding streams that fluctuated with the times. We decided to change that and asked the Mellon Foundation for help. I am delighted to let everyone know that in the late spring we completed a matching gift program with Mellon. Wesleyan raised $4 million in endowment funds, and the foundation added another $2 million! Others may be fretting about the “crisis in the humanities,” but thanks to the generosity of our donors the Center for the Humanities will continue to offer great things to Wesleyan and the world for decades to come.