Pomona Launches Humanities Studio to Promote Research


A man smiles in a library
Pomona college recently announced that Kevin Dettmar, chair of the English department, will take on a new position as founding director of the Pomona College Humanities studio, a process-oriented space to increase interdisciplinary scholarship in the humanities. (Photo courtesy of Pomona College)

Pomona College will launch a humanities studio — a new initiative for interdisciplinary scholarship in the humanities — in the fall of 2018, Dean of the College Audrey Bilger announced in an email to students Jan. 16.

“The humanities studio is conceived as a process-oriented space that models and demystifies the process of producing research and new knowledge in the humanities,” she wrote.

The center will feature weekly seminar conversations, visiting speakers, professional development workshops, as well as other campus and public programming, according to Bilger.

The physical space for the program has not yet been chosen, but Bilger wrote in an email to TSL that it will not involve building a new facility. Costs have not yet been finalized, as administrators continue to apply for funding.

Kevin Dettmar, the English department chair, has been appointed to be the founding director. Dettmar was chosen because of his involvement in initiating the speaker series in 2013 and 2014, Bilger wrote to TSL. His term will last for five years, beginning this summer.

Dettmar said one of his primary objectives will be to pursue research opportunities for both faculty members and humanities students.

The studio will question the part of “humanities research being ‘hidden’ from students, while our science faculty do a very good job of inviting students to be part of that process — they ‘demystify’ it,” he wrote in an email to TSL.

“I thought that we could do a better job of giving our students a sophisticated research experience, the way my colleagues in the science disciplines do,” he added. “In the sciences, the lab is the space of collaborative discovery, modeling of research practices, mentoring; but most humanities scholarship takes place ‘off the clock’ — at night, on the weekends, over the summer — and behind closed doors.”

The studio will give faculty and rising seniors interested in the humanities the chance to become studio fellows, who will facilitate seminars and research, Bilger wrote in her email to the student body.

Dettmar wrote that fellows will be free to pursue research topics of their choice. The applications for prospective fellows will open in a few weeks and Dettmar is assembling a steering committee of faculty and students to review them.

In addition to stimulating interdisciplinary thought, the humanities studio will focus on a theme every academic year. The 2018-2019 theme will be “Fail Better,” inspired by the late Pomona English professor Arden Reed, Bilger announced.

“[Reed] was a great proponent of the idea that important things can happen when, to embrace the familiar criticism, your reach exceeds your grasp,” Dettmar wrote. “The student and faculty fellows and I, along with visiting speakers, writers, and thinkers, will take a deep dive into failure, to bring back the treasures that only failure has to offer us.”

English major John Flanagan PO ’19 said he believes the studio will be a positive addition to Pomona. Like Dettmar, he is appreciative of the efforts to create more integrated research opportunities between faculty and students, similar to those available in STEM departments.

“In my experience with the English department, it’s gone either of two ways,” Flanagan said. “Either you have a personal connection with a professor to help them with their research, or you have a completely independent research opportunity. It’s really hard to get in tandem with a professor in research. I see this studio as potentially giving us the opportunity to find that balance.”

Flanagan said he would be interested in applying to be a fellow both to pursue his own research and to honor Reed’s memory.

“Even if I don’t get the opportunity to reap the benefits of this studio, I would love to help institute the studio so that two or three years down the line, students are able to get solid research opportunities,” he said.

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