Why is studying the humanities—history, literature, languages, philosophy, culture—important? How would you convince your parents, an employer, a politician, or others that there is value in pursuing the humanities?
Those were the questions posed to students across the country by a new contest in response to recent media reports of pessimism about studying the humanities.
Sponsored by 4Humanities.org—a grass roots organization initiated In the U.S., Canada, and England—the competition encouraged undergraduates to make the case for the importance of the humanities in any medium or format for a public audience.
The contest was run by Alan Liu, a professor of English at UC Santa Barbara.
"I remember how hard it was for me in the 1970s to tell my engineer dad that I was going to be an English major," said Liu, who came up with the idea for the contest.
"Today after the Great Recession, it's even harder to have such conversations. I hope young people today, no matter what career they want, will be willing to speak up to parents, employers, and politicians about why great societies also need great humanities, and why they personally value the humanities."
The UC Santa Cruz team of The Gail Project took first prize for Do You Have a Passport?--an essay/memoir about the project written by team member Stella Fronius.
The Gail Project is a collaborative, international public history project that explores the founding years of the American military occupation of Okinawa. The project is inspired by a collection of photos taken in Okinawa in 1952 by an American army captain, Charles Eugene Gail. The photos were donated to Special Collections at McHenry Library and made available for student research.
“Stella made the case for the importance of the humanities by telling the story of her own path into the Gail Project,” said history professor Alan Christy, director of the project. “She won the judges over by describing how the prospect of the work captured her imagination and how her work in the project itself challenged her horizons and her own sense of her abilities.”
“During the time Stella worked with me, I've seen her grow tremendously in confidence and capacity,” Christy added. “She has managed work teams, planned fundraising, worked on grant applications, and brainstormed the future directions of the project. And, of course, she has done some great research on modern Okinawan history. She has experienced the full range of work that a historian might do and has made the foundation of a bright future for herself.”
Fronius, a history student who graduated from UC Santa Cruz with Honors last week, also received the top humanities undergraduate research award at the Humanities Division’s 2016 Spring Awards Celebration. She participated in The Gail Project for two years and was also the Chancellor’s Undergraduate Intern for the Center for the Study of Pacific War Memories.
“The ‘Shout Out for the Humanities’ contest was open to students from all over the country and submissions were judged by a very distinguished panel of judges--including presidents of universities, research libraries, and major funding organizations; journalists and researchers in North America and Europe; and important players in media and industry,” Christy noted. “To win top prize in a competition of that scale from a panel of judges of such distinction is an enormous accomplishment.”