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Gregg Lambert charts global course for humanities

January 28, 2010

Rob Enslin
(315) 443-3403

Don’t ask Gregg Lambert about the “crisis in the humanities.” The founding director of the Syracuse University Humanities Center has been around enough to know the difference between reality and media hyperbole. Granted, the humanities have taken their share of hits in recent years—cuts in federal funding, a shifting job market for advanced degree recipients and increased emphasis on science and technology in the academy—but Lambert remains optimistic about the future, especially what it means for the humanities on a global scale. “It’s time to move beyond the rhetoric without ignoring the challenges,” he says. “Some of the solutions are in our own backyard. Others can be found at our sister institutions overseas.”

Case in point: Lambert spent part of his Winter Break at Sungkyunkwan University (SKKU) in Seoul, Korea. The invitation came from their BK21 Project, an innovative training program for education and for English linguistics and literature research. “BK21 is a leading example of how the academy is providing opportunities for humanities students to cope with the new paradigm of globalization,” explains Lambert, who also serves as Dean’s Professor for the Humanities and as co-principal investigator of The Andrew W. Mellon Central New York Humanities Corridor, a partnership among SU, Cornell University and the University of Rochester. “For more than six hours a day, I worked with 20 graduate students in exploring intersections among academic disciplines, cultures and languages, and culture and industry. Many of them will go on to short- and long-term training opportunities overseas,” he says.

The significance of the invitation was not lost on Lambert. Founded in 1398, SKKU is one of the oldest, most prestigious private institutions in the world. The history of SKKU is so intertwined with Seoul’s that he says it is sometimes hard to tell the two apart. “Not unlike Syracuse University, SKKU is grounded in the liberal arts, especially the humanities and social sciences. Only recently have the natural sciences become prominent there,” he says.

In addition to delivering several public lectures throughout Seoul, Lambert taught an interdisciplinary course at SKKU titled “The Image of Thought in Gilles Deleuze: Philosophy and Non-Philosophy,” drawing on examples of art, literature and cinema. “Deleuze was one of the 20th century’s leading thinkers, whose insights into the nature of thought, identity and time shook the foundations of traditional philosophy,” Lambert says. “Articulating this kind of epistemology in any context—in the East or West—can be challenging, but my students were up for it.”

Lambert says that BK21 and programs like it are changing the way the humanities are taught worldwide. Already, conversations about faculty and graduate student exchanges are taking place between SU and SKKU. Also, the increased presence of the digital humanities—a new Excellence Initiative in SU’s College of Arts and Sciences—will likely underscore the partnership. “Technology is transforming the traditional classroom, creating new interdisciplinary opportunities for teaching, research and engagement,” declares Lambert, who recently lectured on the future of the humanities at Auburn University. “At Syracuse, we are remodeling our research theory and practice to meet the challenges of the 21st century and are critically assessing our funding sources to put these challenges front and center. The future of the humanities depends on good strategic planning and development, and I am excited that we are leading the charge.”

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