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From Depth Through Breadth

IASH gathers scholars from a diverse mix of disciplines to examine research into some of the most pressing cultural issues of the day.

A history graduate student sits alone before an audience of a dozen professors and a few students, a large turn-of-the-century map of Turkey projected behind him. As he talks about migration patterns between the Ottoman Empire and the United States — his thesis — the audience pelts him with questions and new ideas: Why do you think the agrarian enclave developed in the West? Why would an immigrant take such a circuitous route? What did it mean to be a citizen of Turkey?

This is the second time in a year David Gutman presented, and defended, his research to the Institute for Advanced Studies in the Humanities (IASH), and he loves it.

"It's a very challenging yet supportive environment," he says. "I always get new ideas."

Nearly every Wednesday, IASH gathers scholars from a diverse mix of disciplines to examine research on some of the most pressing scholarly issues of the day: political trends in Latin America, judicial identity and judicial choice, gender and sexuality, human migration patterns, rural life and economics and a myriad more. The surprisingly simple format — one IASH member presenting research-in-progress while the others listen and throw in ideas as they occur — produces wonderfully complex results.

The most oft-heard phrases during an IASH meeting are "I hadn't thought of that" and "I'll have to look more into that." That's precisely what Harpur College Dean Don Nieman had in mind for the institute.

"By bringing together scholars from an array of disciplines, IASH builds a network that researchers can turn to when conducting research," he says. "It creates a community where cross-pollination is the norm."

IASH provides stipends to release faculty and grad students from their teaching responsibilities, which frees up hundreds of hours each year to explore topics more deeply. Once a semester, they present their work in progress to the institute, which this year consists of 12 faculty members, five graduate students (four on stipend) and two undergraduates, though it can also include visiting faculty and community members.

Comparative literature Professor Luiza Franco Moreira was a fellow last year and shared her work on Brazilian poet Cecília Meireles, who wrote a lot about education and how boys and girls were taught differently. The subject sparked a strong debate in IASH.

"What I got out of it that I didn't expect, is how widespread the concern for education of boys and girls is," she says. "As long as I'm talking about a Brazilian poet, people expect that it's somebody who has a niche. But when I talk about what she has written about educating boys and girls and about gender, everybody is interested, everybody is concerned."

They all brought their own disciplines to the conversation and made connections to their own work. This kind of interdisciplinarity is unusual. Leaders in higher education like to talk about interdisciplinarity, but rarely is it as fundamental to a college's identity as it is in Harpur. And that helps strengthen research.

"I had historians listen to me and give me feedback, so it wasn't just literary scholars," Moreira says. "It's very nice to have literary scholars and historians in the same room. Very often they don't interact."

After launching last year, IASH is gaining momentum with key gifts from alumni. Alex Huppé '69 believes supporting the humanities and the kind of critical thinkers they create is invaluable, especially in a quickly changing world, where more and more the emphasis of education is on practical skills.

"The humanities institute counters the national trend towards pre-professional higher education," Huppé says. "It is a move towards opening up the world to our students, rather than narrowing it. Breadth and Depth made Harpur's reputation, and still is the core of the institution. The humanities defined a Harpur education. But that is a tough battle in today's intellectual climate."

IASH Future Plans

In spring 2012, IASH will host a symposium to facilitate the discussion about what the humanities and, more generally, humanistic studies teach students. In Fall 2012, IASH will host Martha Nussbaum, whose latest book, Not For Profit: Why Democracy Needs the Humanities, is generating an energetic, worldwide conversation about the humanities and their place in education.

IASH is also developing plans for Independent Undergraduate Research in the Humanities for the spring semester. The program will offer Binghamton University juniors and first-semester seniors the opportunity to pursue an independent and often interdisciplinary research project on a topic relevant to the humanities. Students will be IASH Undergraduate Fellows, meeting in seminars to discuss their research and learn about the ethics of research, mentoring, and the importance of multi/interdisciplinarity and a collaborative approach to one's own work. They will present their research at the end of the semester and continue into an honors program in their departments, presenting their honors work at the end of the fall semester symposium.

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Last Updated: 11/14/16