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Undergrad Initiative Aims To Revitalize Humanities

By Andrew M. Duehren, Contributing Writer

At their first meeting Tuesday evening, members of the budding Harvard Undergraduate Humanities Initiative addressed the relevance of humanistic pursuits in an increasingly digital and technological world.

The meeting in Boylston Hall was the first step in a broader effort to promote the value of humanistic pursuits for Harvard undergraduates. The Initiative, which at this point remains an unrecognized student club, will focus on offering resources and a community to undergraduate students interested in the humanities.

The less than a dozen students at the meeting emphasized the need for a more visible, centralized place to explore post-graduation applications of the humanities outside of traditional paths like professional school or academia.

“This kind of organizing around the humanities hasn’t really been done in this way at Harvard yet,” said Josh E. Stallings ’17, who is spearheading the Initiative.

Stallings discussed a number of long-term goals he has for the Initiative. Stalling said he envisions the Initiative connecting students with career opportunities, both during the summer and after graduation, from employers who are interested in students with humanities backgrounds. He also said he hopes to create a community for students interested in the humanities.

Tamara S. Fernando '16, who studies History and Literature and attended the meeting, said, “I think having a community of scholars, of undergraduates studying the humanities, would be super beneficial.”

Meanwhile, Stallings is working towards formalizing a leadership structure and planning more events. He hopes for the Initiative to receive official recognition from the Office of Student Life in the spring.

Ideas for the Initiative developed this past summer, when Stallings studied on campus as part of the Summer Humanities and Arts Research Program. Through his research during the program, Stallings became inspired by the Humanities Ambassador’s Club at New York University, which informs students there of the diverse professional possibilities that humanities students have and creates a community for undergraduate students interested in the humanities.

Doris Sommer, professor of Romance Literature and Languages and African and African American Studies, worked with Stallings over the summer on the Initiative. She emphasized the importance of addressing concerns some students had raised about limiting their career options by concentrating in the humanities.

“[The Initiative] is a way of showing that there may not be a contradiction, that training in the humanities may be a very good background for careers that they’re interested in, or ones that they haven’t even identified yet,” she said.

At a time when only 9.2 percent of the surveyed Class of 2018 has reported plans to concentrate in the humanities, Stallings hopes to turn his summer brainstorming into more tangible actions.

“I think it’s absolutely a need that we have,” Stallings said.

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