Temple Times Online Edition
    DECEMBER 2, 2004
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New home for humanities opens in December

The 10th floor of Gladfelter Hall doesn’t look like much now. Step out of the elevator, and you’ll see empty rooms, bare walls and plenty of new office furniture in the halls, unpacked and waiting to be placed.

But starting Tuesday, Dec. 14, this space will become ground zero in the transformation of academic life in the humanities at Temple.

That afternoon, Susan Herbst, dean of the College of Liberal Arts, will cut a ribbon to officially open the new home of the Temple Society of Fellows in the Humanities (TSFH), the first physical space dedicated solely to bringing together faculty and students from all disciplines to think, read, exchange ideas, attend programs and ultimately advance scholarship in the humanities at Temple.

The Society of Fellows was created in September 2003, but until now it has existed in borrowed spaces.

“Having our own space makes a huge difference,” says the TSFH’s director, professor Philip Alperson. “Now we have a place where we can bring people together.”

Visitors to the society’s new headquarters, which occupy the entire 10th floor of Gladfelter, will find offices, reading rooms, work stations, art exhibition space, group study areas, and space for seminars and lectures. Alperson will keep an office there, as will professor Jena Osman, the society’s associate director; professor Noel Edward Carroll, Temple’s new Andrew W. Mellon Term Professor in the Humanities (recently hired from the University of Wisconsin–Madison); and Sean Purdy, the first Society of Fellows Post-Doctoral Fellow in the Humanities.

The society sponsors a variety of activities and programs: visits by distinguished scholars, public lectures and conferences, research grants and art exhibits, as well as fellowships for Temple faculty members (the current TSFH Faculty Fellows are professor Suzanne Gauch of English and professor Karen Hersch of Greek, Hebrew and Roman classics), visiting post-docs and Temple graduate students.

The first major conference to be hosted by the society at its new home will be “What Do They Think of Us?: International Perceptions of the U.S. Since 9/11,” March 17–18. (For a complete listing of TSFH programs, go to its Web site, www.temple.edu/humanities.)

The TSFH also runs an innovative collaborative exercise called the Study Group Program. Groups of three to six faculty members are encouraged to submit proposals to study a topic or a book. If the proposals are accepted, the society then advertises the subject to other Temple faculty members in the humanities, soliciting participation from no more than three other faculty members. The society then supplies books, a space to meet, refreshments — and perhaps even a visit from an author or other off-campus expert to address the study group. This semester, study groups have been convened to discuss the medical humanities, the 19th century and gender theorist Judith Butler.

According to Alperson, everything the TSFH does is governed by one guiding principle: nurturing interdisciplinary collaboration.

“Temple is a huge, complicated place made up of diverse groups of highly specialized people,” he said. “One of the consequences of that is we don’t work as much with people in other disciplines as we might. We’re often not even aware of what our colleagues are doing. The Society of Fellows can break down those barriers. People can get to know other scholars and collaborate with them across disciplinary boundaries.”

Herbst admitted that personal contact among humanists is less common than it should be. She hopes the society’s new headquarters will be a social lubricant.

“Humanities research is often a solo activity,” Herbst said. “It can be lonely. That’s why I think of the beautiful space we’ve created for the society as a place for our humanists to drop in with their lunches or wander up when they need a break from research — and just hang out. We’ll have newspapers, magazines, good conversation and the coffee pot will be on all day.”

Hillel J. Hoffmann