News & Announcements

  • WUHF Faculty Director Tim Rommen Named Davidson Kennedy Professor

    Timothy Rommen, Professor of Music, has been named Davidson Kennedy Professor in the College. An ethnomusicologist who specializes in the music of the Caribbean, Rommen is the author of two books, including "Mek Some Noise": Gospel Music and the Ethics of Style in Trinidad, which was awarded the Alan P. Merriam Prize by the Society for Ethnomusicology. At Penn, he is currently Interim Chair of the Department of Africana Studies and has served as Undergraduate Chair and Graduate Director for the Department of Music, faculty director of the Wolf Undergraduate Humanities Forum, and a member of the SAS Personnel Committee and the Faculty Senate Subcommittee on Research. He received his Ph.D. in ethnomusicology from the University of Chicago. The Davidson Kennedy chair was established in 1994 through the bequest of the late Josephine Rankin Kennedy and is named in memory of her husband. The chair supports a distinguished faculty member who displays excellence in teaching, innovation in curriculum development, service to students, and first-rate scholarship.

  • PHF Associate Director Jennifer Conway Retires

    After 18 years with the Penn Humanities Forum, Jennifer Conway is retiring from her position as Associate Director. Jennifer joined the Forum just after its inaugural festival, Celebration of Philadelphia Writers, in the spring of 1999. In her time at PHF, she helped produce almost 1,000 events and graciously welcomed more than 700 visiting scholars and faculty, postdoctoral, and student fellows through the doors of multiple Forum locations on Penn’s campus. 

    Jennifer worked with faculty director Wendy Steiner until Jim English, John Welsh Centennial Professor of English, came on in 2010. “Jennifer has been the heart and soul of the Penn Humanities Forum through its entire history. With her intelligence, warmth, and breadth of knowledge she has established a great fund of goodwill for our center and for the humanities at Penn generally. Her retirement is a real loss for the institution.” Jim says, “For me personally it is a bittersweet thing. I will miss her deeply, but I also know how much she looks forward to the fun and travel of a vigorous retirement. Thank god for cellular communications technology! For the next year at least Jennifer’s cell number will be my panic button.”

    The Forum has been fortunate to grow under Jennifer’s leadership and anyone who worked with her will be quick to echo her praise. The numerous lives she has touched reaches well beyond the PHF fellows and staff and deep into the Penn and Philadelphia communities. There is no doubt that she will continue to make her mark on whichever community she chooses to be a part of.

  • Joshua Bennett reads from his debut collection, "The Sobbing School"

    In October 2016, poet, scholar, and Penn alumnus Joshua Bennett returned to campus for a poetry reading of his debut collection, The Sobbing School. Figures as widely divergent as Bobby Brown, Martin Heidegger, and 19th-century performance artist Henry Box Brown, as well as Bennett’s own family and childhood best friends, appear and are placed in conversation to suggest a world that always lies beyond what we are socialized to value, inviting other ways of thinking about connections and alliances. While an undergraduate at Penn, Bennett's many honors included an Andrew W. Mellon Research Fellowship with the Penn Humanities Forum. Listen in as Bennett reads from The Sobbing School at Penn's Department of Africana Studies on October 12, 2016.

  • Hopeful lessons from a history of intercommunal relations in the Middle East

    Across centuries, the Islamic Middle East hosted large populations of Christians and Jews as well as Muslims—a diversity driven to the brink of extinction since the fall of the Ottoman Empire. In her new book, A History of Muslims, Christians, and Jews in the Middle East (Cambridge University Press), Heather Sharkey, Penn Professor of Near Eastern Languages and Civilizations, examines the Ottoman Middle East before World War I, offering a vivid and lively analysis of everyday social contacts, dress, music, food, bathing, and more, as they brought people together or pushed them apart. Historically, Islamic traditions of statecraft and law, which the Ottoman Empire maintained and adapted, treated Christians and Jews as protected subordinates to Muslims while prescribing limits to social mixing. Sharkey shows how, amid the pivotal changes of the modern era, efforts to simultaneously preserve and dismantle these hierarchies heightened tensions along religious lines and set the stage for the twentieth-century Middle East. Professor Sharkey's book is based in part on research she conducted while a Penn Faculty Fellow in the 2009–2010 Penn Humanities Forum on Connections.

  • Medici grand dukes early conservators of American culture

    The Medici grand dukes of Florence are widely known for having been great patrons of artists. Less well known is their important role as early conservators of American culture. In Imagining the Americas in Medici Florence (Penn State University Press, 2016), the first full-length study of the impact of the discovery of the Americas on Italian Renaissance art and culture, Lia Markey, Director of the Newberry Library's Center for Renaissance Studies, reveals how New World novelties were incorporated into the culture of the Florentine court. This richly illustrated volume vividly reveals the New World as it existed in the minds of the Medici and their contemporaries. Markey's book is based in part on research she conducted in 2010–2011 while an Andrew W. Mellon Postdoctoral Fellow at the Penn Humanities Forum. Listen in to this February 9, 2017 Newberry presentation as Lia Markey imagines the Americas in Medici Florence.

  • When Art Disrupts Religion

    In his new book, When Art Disrupts Religion: Aesthetic Experience and the Evangelical Mind (Oxford University Press, March 1, 2017), Philip S. Francis, Assistant Professor of Religious Studies at Manhattan College, lays bare the power of the arts to unsettle and rework deeply engrained religious beliefs and practices. Drawing on memoirs, interviews, and field notes, Francis writes of 82 Evangelical alumni of Bob Jones University and the Oregon Extension who underwent a sea-change of religious identity through exposure to the works of such artists as Mark Rothko, Fyodor Dostoevsy, Bob Dylan, Anne Lamott, Beethoven, and others. Francis completed his book while an Andrew W. Mellon Postdoctoral Fellow at the Penn Humanities Forum in 2015–2016.

  • Penn Humanities Forum to become Wolf Humanities Center

    The Penn Humanities Forum is enjoying new horizons thanks to a gift from Noelle and Dick Wolf, C’69, PAR’15. The gift will endow and make permanent the Forum, enabling the already renowned program to continue to bring the humanities into conversation with a diverse and expanding array of disciplines and with people from Penn, the Philadelphia region, and world. “It is often said that the humanities are shrinking,” notes Forum Director Jim English, also the John Welsh Centennial Professor of English. “But today, exactly the opposite is true: They are expanding, becoming ever more vital participants in many fields, from sustainability studies to the health sciences.”

    “We are delighted to support Penn’s thriving humanities center and help it extend its reach across disciplines and communities,” said Dick Wolf. In honor of this gift, the program will be renamed the Wolf Humanities Center. More

  • How does skin color affect families?

    In her new book, Same Family, Different Colors (Beacon Press, 2016), Temple University journalism professor Lori Tharps confronts the impact of colorism and color bias (the preference for or presumed superiority of people based on the color of their skin) on mixed-race families. Weaving together personal stories of her own family (she is a Black woman married to a Spanish man; their three children each have a different skin tone), as well as history and analysis, Tharps explores the many ways that the politics of skin color affect personal relationships and self-esteem. Tharps, who conducted research for her book while a 2014–2015 Regional Fellow with the Penn Humanities Forum, also blogs about her experiences at My American Meltingpot: A Multi-Culti Mix of Identity Politics, Parenting & Pop Culture

  • Big data alone cannot predict the next armed conflict

    The expectation that big data alone will be enough to predict armed conflict is unrealistic, according a recent Science essay coauthored by Lars-Erik Cederman, professor of international conflict research at ETH Zurich. Cederman spoke at the Forum on Violence in 2013 on how new spatial models he was developing might better explain how civil wars break out and could possibly be prevented. In the February 3, 2017 Science essay, Cederman and Nils Weidmann argue that while big data can make predictions more accurate, history is often erratic and unpredictable, and in the case of armed conflict highly complex. "Overall," write the authors, "we strongly believe that conflict prediction is useful and worth investing in. Yet, future forecasting research needs to recognize the inherent limitations imposed by massive historical complexity and contingency in human systems."

  • Leon Hilton awarded Andy Warhol Foundation Arts Writers Grant

    Leon J. Hilton, an Andrew W. Mellon Postdoctoral Fellow with the Forum this year, has received a $15,000 award from the Creative Capital/Andy Warhold Foundation Arts Writers Grant Program. The award will support Hilton's work to research and write an article on the work of feminist artist, writer, and anti-psychiatry activist Kate Millett. In the article, "Come Aboard Our Ship of Folly: Kate Millett and the Feminist Aesthetics of Anti-Psychiatry," Hilton will trace a series of significant but overlooked connections between feminism and political critiques of psychiatric authority in postwar American art and aesthetic practice. Designed to support writing about contemporary art, the Warhol Foundation Arts Writers Grants Program, the first of its kind, was founded in recognition of both the financially difficult situation of arts writers and their indispensible contribution to a vital artistic culture.