Paige Morgan

MLA 2014 Special Session Proposal: Marketing the Humanities

How can we justify funding for the humanities? Questions like this one have become the basis for numerous articles proposing what colleges and universities could be doing differently. These articles focus on what the humanities will have to do next semester, next year, next budget cycle in order to become more attractive in today’s marketplace. As such, the articles often remain essentially theoretical, rather than looking at the choices departments are making right now.

This panel takes a different angle on the subject of marketing the humanities. Instead of looking for the best way to do so in the future, we will present critical analyses and case studies regarding marketing that is already taking place in campuses across the US. Marketing is a much broader activity than merely designing flashy websites, or taking up the language of mainstream for-profit advertising culture. We are already marketing the humanities, whether or not we are embracing that marketing as a significant part of our role as teachers. Marketing is not a should-we-or-shouldn’t-we? question — it is part of the way that funds are allotted in annual budgets, and a complex process involving a series of ongoing decisions and commitments from faculty and staff.

Our panelists agree that defending the humanities requires conversations, reflection, and analysis about these decisions and commitments. Discussing the implementation of strategies designed to raise the profile of the humanities and the challenges that accompany such implementation illuminates how marketing is far more than rhetoric. It is a collaborative activity requiring labor contributions from multiple individuals.

The MLA Convention provides an important space for dialogue that is difficult to achieve in online comment threads. To take full advantage of the format, we are presenting talks from faculty and administrators from a community college, a 4-year college, and three universities. Our panelists are committed to keeping their talks at 13 minutes, in order to ensure that there is space for dialogue with panel attendees in the last part of the session. The four papers to be presented include both critical analysis of proposed rhetoric for defending the humanities, and discussions of the specific steps and obstacles that departments have taken. By combining both of these types of discussions about marketing, we can see how the theoretical meets the practical.

Peter Kerry Powers, Dean of Humanities at Messiah College, will begin the discussion with “Career Development, Critical Vocationalism, and the Humanities in the Marketplace,” by examining some features of the relationship between the humanities and the marketplace today. The gradual dissolution of traditional notions of canonicity and universal worth has left the humanities naked in the public square without a clear public rationale for their value, in part because the notion of a “public” has also been fracturing under the pressure of the markets. In this context, Powers will explore the possibilities and realities of what Gerald Graff and Paul Jay have terms “critical vocationalism.”

Tonya Howe’s “Public Humanities as Marketing Strategy: Making the Private Public” (co-authored by Bess Fox and Hollynd Karapetkova), will build on Powers’ presentation by looking at the private and public in the humanities from a different perspective. She argues that public humanities can be the middle way between “private,” intrinsically valuable academic scholarship, and (over)emphasizing “marketable” skills. Howe explores what would be involved in a curriculum overhaul resulting in a deep and systematic incorporation of public humanities in a small university’s English department. Specifically, this presentation will examine how public humanities challenges what Julie Ellison describes as “normative academic identities.”

Community colleges face different challenges when it comes to promoting the humanities, and searching for the “perfect” marketing strategy. Cecilia Kennedy’s “Humanities Colloquium Anyone? Marketing A Humanities Event to Academic and Non-Academic Audiences” will present the experiences of the Humanities Colloquium Committee at Clark State Community College in trying to set up the first regular events that were spotlighting only the humanities. The committee made efforts to develop publicity and partner with STEM field representatives without success. Instead, they found that their biggest ally was the local county government. Kennedy offers a review and assessment of the successes and failures the Clark State Colloquium Committee experienced getting this event off the ground, keeping it going, and attempting to expand the audience.

In “Selling Students: Market Realities in the Digital Humanities,” Jesse Stommel and Kathi Inman Berens will consider the ways that departmental budgets are split between permanent faculty and student recruitment/retention. They ask: do we need more enrollment to sustain recurring costs of full-time faculty? Or do we need full-time faculty to foster the student work that will attract enrollment? This presentation examines the specific budget decisions made by Marylhurst University regarding the faculty/recruitment question. Stommel and Berens use their investigation to explore the role of digital humanities-oriented curricula, and to discuss what adopting a DH track would involve, in terms of departmental budget decisions, and collaborations with university marketing teams and other community entities.


Paige Morgan (Session Leader) is a Ph.D. student in English and Textual Studies at the University of Washington, focusing on 18th and 19th-century English poetry and economics, and the digital humanities.  She is the organizer of the Demystifying Digital Humanities workshop series, sponsored by the Simpson Center for the Humanities at the University of Washington, and the creator of the ongoing digital humanities project, Visible Prices, an archive of literary and economic information. Her articles on digital humanities, William Blake, and textual studies, can be found in Romanticism and in the upcoming Palgrave anthology Sexy Blake. She works on publicity for the Textual Studies Program, the Interdisciplinary Writing Program, and other UW Departments.

Rachel Arteaga (Session Co-Leader) is a PhD student in English and a Fellow in the Certificate in Public Scholarship at the University of Washington. Her research focuses on theories of affect and the realist and modernist American novel. Her scholarly work takes up the topic of confinement and begins with discussions of the prison; describes the ways in which this institution is largely invisible to the outside public; and analyzes formations of confinement across texts. She is also engaged in a project that will assess the use of digital humanities resources in K-12 schools; initially, the project will work in rural communities in the state of Washington.

Peter Kerry Powers has been Dean of the School of the Humanities at Messiah College for five years.  In that capacity he has been involved in a variety of initiatives designed to address enrollments in the humanities and to re-envision humanities curricula for the 21st century.  These have ranged from developing new emphases in career development within traditional humanities curricula, supporting faculty initiatives in the digital humanities and pedagogy, creating new curricula in areas such as digital media, and being involved in the marketing and promotion of humanities programs to internal and external constituents.  Dean Powers oversees seven departments and a center for the public humanities; he also runs summer programming in the humanities designed to promote humanities learning among high school students.  Dean Powers is also a full professor of English at Messiah College; as a scholar his work has focused primarily on multi-ethnic American literature, and more recently on the history of books and reading in a digital age.  He has begun a process of new research on the humanities crisis which he envisions leading to an edited collection on what Gerald Graff has called “critical vocationalism.”

Committed to a technologically and publicly informed critical pedagogy, Tonya Howe teaches and researches in the areas of 18th-century British cultural studies, disability, and digital humanities. She is currently Associate Professor of Literature and Director of the Graduate Program in Literature, Language, and the Humanities. Specializing in the study of popular performance genres, Tonya presents widely at national conferences, is an avid THATcamper, and has recently published on the 18th-century posture master and farce as an embodied and self-conscious theatrical form. This project on the public humanities, emerging from research conducted for a campus Ethics initiative, is co-authored by Hollynd Karapetkova and Bess Fox, the director of Marymount’s Composition Program.

Cecilia Kennedy is Associate Professor of English and Spanish at Clark State Community College. Her work combines interests in theater, literature, eco-criticism, and performance with a focus on spaces and audiences for humanities related events. She is the author of Sitios: A Community-Inspired Approach To Spanish, a textbook featuring the elements of “place” and Spanish language-learning; and her scholarly work has previously been published in Hispanófila. At Ohio State and the University of Dayton she has taught Spanish literature, composition, language, and culture.  At Clark State, she currently teaches Spanish, English literature/composition, and Regional Studies of Latin America. As a service to the college, she has chaired the Clark State Humanities Colloquium Committee since its inception in 2011, and experienced the triumphs and tribulations of organizing this annual event and attempting to advertise it to a wide audience.

Kathi Inman Berens teaches at the Universityof Southern California’s Annenberg School of Communication and is a Fellow at the Annenberg Innovation Lab, where she works on virtual classroom software and embodiment.  She curates and researches electronic literature. She teaches and researches transmedia branding, communication interfaces and hybrid pedagogy.  She is co-teaching a class with Jesse Stommel in which students are creating a social media campaign to promote the Showcase of Electronic Literature at the Library of Congress, of which Kathi is co-curator.

Jesse Stommel is Director of English & Digital Humanities at Marylhurst University in Portland, OR and Director and Co-founder of Hybrid Pedagogy: a digital journal of teaching and technology. He earned a Ph.D. in English from University of Colorado Boulder. He recently co-authored  “The Bill of Rights and Principles for Learning in the Digital Age” with Sebastian Thrun, Cathy N. Davidson, Phillip Schmidt, Audrey Watters, and 8 other carefully selected educators.

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