Humanities Center invites applications from faculty interested in joining the 2018-2019
Altman Fellows Program: “Truth and Lies.” The Center will appoint six or more Altman
Faculty Scholars to take part in this program, which is described in detail below.
The program will be led by two Altman Fellows, Professor Theresa Kulbaga (English) and Professor Emily Zakin
Faculty Scholars will join Emily and
a year-long, interdisciplinary faculty seminar on the
problem of truth in discourses of selfhood and the public sphere.
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 2018.
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 2018-2019 academic year.
To apply, please read the 2018-19 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]
2018 Altman Application.pdf” to firstname.lastname@example.org by 5 p.m. Monday, January 29, 2018.
Please direct questions to Tim Melley, Director of the Humanities
Center, at email@example.com.
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
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.
- 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?
- 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?
- 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
- 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?
- 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