When the Humanities Center was launched in August of 2012 it represented the boldest research initiative in the history of BYU’s College of Humanities. But it was actually the third in a series of significant reform initiatives undertaken by Dean John Rosenberg since 2005. The first pertained to teaching and involved the implementation of learning outcomes for all college courses and programs. The second was the Humanities Plus initiative that linked BYU Humanities students and graduates to the world of work outside the university.
The Humanities Center, then, was the third in a series of major institutional initiatives. And yet, in some important ways, it was unique. The first two initiatives, regarding teaching and Humanities Plus, amounted to creative responses either to university mandates or emergent threats. The impetus to reform teaching derived from new requirements issued by national accreditation agencies, Humanities Plus found its motivation from the financial crisis of 2008 and the growing public discourse surrounding a supposed “crisis in the humanities.” But the Humanities Center was the product of longstanding reflection and a little inspiration. Adapted from a model developed at some of the world’s leading universities, the BYU Humanities Center represented a creative solution to questions of how best to integrate and elevate various aspects of the College mission: teaching and research, institutional achievement and collaboration with other universities, and dedicated scholarship alongside public outreach and service.
With those questions in mind, Dean Rosenberg began a conversation with his associate deans in 2011 about whether a humanities center might be a good fit for BYU. A year later, it had received administrative approval and the College announced the Center’s creation at the Fall 2012 College meeting. It blossomed quickly and began hosting a series of events and undertaking new initiatives involving faculty, students, and friends of the university. Dean Rosenberg appointed Matthew Wickman (English) the Founding Director of the Center, with other faculty fellows appointed from around the College. Ed Cutler (English), Janis Nuckolls (Linguistics and English Language), and Dale Pratt (Spanish and Portuguese) formed the Humanities Center Executive Committee, with Tony Brown (German and Russian), Frank Christianson (English), Wendy Smemoe (Linguistics and English Language), and Anca Sprenger (French and Italian) also being awarded fellowships. Within the next year, the Center would add Mark Davies (Linguistics and English Language) to its list of multi-year fellowship appointees; it would also create one-year fellowships for faculty completing major projects and began awarding an external fellowship to a BYU faculty member from another college. A generous donor also enabled the College to create three undergraduate student fellowships.
The Humanities Center has become a vital part of the intellectual life of the College, sponsoring multiple research groups comprised of students and faculty, lectures by distinguished visitors, colloquia for the presentation of faculty work in progress, interdisciplinary courses, symposia featuring student research, professional development workshops, meetings for the discussion of pertinent trends and issues facing the humanities, teaching and research interest groups, public humanities (otherwise known as “outreach”) initiatives, and more. The Center has also increasingly begun collaborating with other entities on and off campus in creating events and forming friendships – all, as the Center’s Mission Statement explains, with the aim of promoting the language, literature, thought, culture, and history of the human conversation.