Never ending stair case

Call for 2018-2019 Altman Scholars

Monday, January 29, 2018
5:00 pm

Altman Faculty Scholars are expected to attend all Altman events, to collaborate with each other, to present some of their own research or creative work on campus during the year of the program, to link their courses to the program, and to help plan program events beginning in spring 2019.  Applicants should be aware that most Altman Program events occur weekdays at 5 p.m. and that the Faculty Seminar usually meets Fridays around lunchtime; selected faculty are encouraged to request teaching assignments that do not conflict with these times.  Each Altman Scholar will receive a $2,500 professional expenses account for use during the 2019-2020 academic year. 

To apply, please read the 2019-20 Altman Program description and provide the Humanities Center Steering Committee with a c.v. and a 1-2 page statement indicating how your research and teaching might contribute to, and benefit from, the program. Please also include the name of one or more outstanding students who could benefit from participation as undergraduate or graduate fellows.  These students will be nominated and invited to apply. Please submit your application in a single PDF document titled “[Yourlastname] 2019 Altman Application.pdf” to by 5 p.m. Monday, January 28, 2019. 

Please direct questions to Tim Melley, Director of the Humanities Center, at


We live in a time of fierce debate over truth and misrepresentation. Allegations of “fake news,” “alternative facts,” and “post-truth politics” have unsettled the sense of a shared reality that seems essential to democracy. Yet democracy also encourages respect for divergent views, and contemporary culture offers extraordinary opportunities for self-representation in memoir, documentary film, and social media. Moreover, authors, academics, and activists are anxious to find ways to speak truth to power and effect social change. How can we encourage a lively diversity of expression while also resisting spin, deception, and fabrication? This question has troubled democracy from its origins, but it seems increasingly urgent. Now is a crucial time for the humanities to reflect upon their own engagement with truth and truth-telling, and to provide the analytical tools and historical perspective to meet the challenges of engaged citizenship.  

The 2018-19 Altman Program invites faculty, students, alumni, and the public to join a yearlong, multidisciplinary exploration of truth-telling and the public sphere. What does it mean to “tell the truth,” and how can we discern it? Who defines it, and how is it defined? What are the constraints on truth-telling and on who is recognized as a truth-teller? Why or how does truth matter—to the self, to the world, and especially in the public sphere? These questions have long been central to humanities and social science conversations among historians, literary and cultural studies theorists, philosophers, anthropologists, and political scientists, and they have renewed salience in the current cultural moment. “Truth and Lies” offers an opportunity for scholars from multiple disciplines and methodologies to engage these questions at the intersection of scholarly and public debate and to investigate how and why concepts of truth matter in the public sphere.

Key Questions of the Program

We envision four broad categories of inquiry, into which key questions can be organized. Of course, these categories are not exhaustive, and the questions overlap and bleed into other categories of inquiry.

1) Personal

  • ‍Who is presumed to have or speak the truth and who isn’t? How is believability constructed through social standing and through discourses of identity such as race, gender, class, and (dis)ability?
  • What technologies of selfhood and self-representation are culturally available in the present (and in the past)? What cultural work do selfies, self-help discourse, curations of self on social media, memoirs and autobiographies, and works of popular nonfiction do?
  •  How do we relate to ourselves through prisms of truth and lies? How do we relate to others? How are personal relationships mediated by the beliefs and illusions we have about ourselves and others?
  • What modalities of interiority and exteriority do we attach to the self? What are the roles of secrecy, hidden versus closeted selves, real versus false selves, inner versus outer selves?

 2) Political

  • What are the political, ethical, and social implications of truth and lies?
  • What modes of power are harnessed by truths and lies, truth-telling and lie-telling?
  • What is the relation between truth and politics, and between truth and democracy? To what extent are lying, falsehoods, alternative facts, fake news, and spin a threat to democracy and a shared political life?
  • What is the role of ideology in creating and sustaining our political discourse? What is the role of propaganda? Can we have a sense of truth that is not ultimately reducible to ideology or propaganda?

 3) Discursive

  • ‍How do different concepts of truth and falsehood emerge from different discourses?
  • ‍How do ideas of truth vary when looked at from different vantages, e.g., historically, conceptually, epistemologically, psychologically, aesthetically, culturally, and with regard to differing media, genres, and modes of representation?
  • How we can we elaborate histories of truth and theories of truth, and what are the tensions between these two projects?
  • How do fake news and “alt” discourses undermine the (purported) objectivity of the media and the existence of a shared common world?
  • How can journalists, memoirists, and activists (among others concerned with truth) respond to the proliferation of falsehoods and spin? How have they responded in the past?

4) Epistemological

  • What makes a claim true and what is the value of a truth claim?
  • To what extent is a shared truth desirable? To what extent do heterogeneous truths make room for personal meaning, subaltern knowledge, and cultural transformation? To what extent do different conceptions of truth tear at the fabric of social relations and rend asunder our capacity to communicate across differences and sustain bonds of commonality?
  • ·How does the idea of truth involve both a subjective component of truth-telling (including the courage to tell the truth) and an objective component of saying something about a shared common world?

Faculty Seminar Format

Our aim is to create a collaborative intellectual community, oriented by a common set of questions but emerging from different perspectives, methodologies, and disciplinary knowledges. We will solicit reading and activity ideas from the Altman Scholars in the spring, and envision two possible models for structuring the seminar. In one model, the seminar would be a forum for a research workshop in which Scholars could present their own current works-in-progress related to the seminar theme. In another model, the seminar would be a forum to cultivate discussion about ideas and readings at the nodal points of intersecting interests (scholarly, pedagogical, and practical). We plan to seek Scholar input about which model is preferred, or how to develop a combination of the two. Depending on the interest of the Scholars, some of our discussions might be generated by a reading, while others might be oriented toward a creative activity or practical outcome (such as creating syllabi or lesson plans based on a particular concept, or developing a social media campaign responding to a relevant debate over truth and lies). Regardless of seminar structure, our goal will be to create avenues for cross-pollination that build connection and community across disciplinary boundaries. We also hope that Scholars will find the seminar a site of intellectual growth that fuels their individual scholarly projects.