The Center for the Humanities is dedicated to the promotion of humanistic thinking and scholarly production as essential activities in the intellectual, political, creative and artistic life of this university, the community it serves and the broader world.
The International Writers Center (IWC) opened in October 1990, with William Gass, the David May Distinguished University Professor in the Humanities, as its director. Gerald Early, the Merle Kling Professor of Modern Letters, became the second director of the IWC in 2001. Under the guidance of its advisory board and after seeking input from Washington University faculty, the IWC expanded its mission to be more inclusive of other scholars and the larger community. In September 2003, the IWC became the Washington University Center for the Humanities, "dedicated to letters and humanistic research and their presence in the public life." After Gerald Early stepped down to focus on other projects in 2013, Jean Allman, the J.H. Hexter Professor in the Humanities, became the center's second permanent director.
Why a center for the humanities?
The center highlights the historical importance and continuing relevance of the humanities to our current lives and provides a fertile environment for collaboration across departments and programs. The center’s goals are to foster support for faculty research and new ways of teaching in the humanities, to support independent undergraduate student research in the humanities, to collect pertinent library materials and books for new research opportunities in the humanities, and to involve the larger community in programs that highlight the rich diversity of the humanities.
Understanding culture and understanding ourselves
For many, humanities education evokes the idea of studies based on classic works. This idea remains central to a humanities education at Washington University. However, new writers, art, interpretations, ideas and thinkers are constantly coming into being, from the Beats to Derrida, from “auteur” film theory to Harry Potter. The Center for the Humanities works closely with the Interdisciplinary Project in the Humanities, its sister program, which offers an undergraduate major in humanities studies. We also work with an array of departments and programs in Arts & Sciences and with scholars from other Washington University schools and divisions in order to promote understanding of the nature and influence of elite art and literature, academic criticism and methods, and the impact of popular culture on modern life.