Message from the Director
July 2, 2022
Dear Students, Faculty, Staff, Partners, Supporters, and Friends of the McGillicuddy Humanities Center,
This month I begin my two-year term as Director of the Clement and Linda McGillicuddy Humanities Center at the University of Maine. I’m writing to introduce myself, and the theme of the 2022-23 academic year’s Symposium for the Center. I hope that I see many of you in the coming year at our events, now that live lectures and performances are easier to organize safely, and you can see and hear the work of our UMaine scholars and artists in person.
I’d also like to thank Michael Socolow for heading up the Center over the past two years, during the worst of the pandemic. His work on keeping the MHC front of mind, developing our current newsletter, along with virtual and hybrid offerings in support of UMaine humanities faculty and students, will be a model going forward. I particularly thank him for making the 10th anniversary of the MHC this spring a memorable event and a reminder of the powerful effect the Center has had on the campus.
The Center is also lucky to have on staff its new Humanities specialist, Brian Jansen, a colleague with extensive experience at UMaine in the College of Liberal Arts and Sciences, and in my own home department, the School of Performing Arts. Brian started at the Center this past spring, and is already an important resource for our undergraduate fellows.
My own experience of the humanities is colored by coming from the performing arts, which some people would situate outside of the traditional humanities fields. While I studied in those more traditional fields within my musical training, much of my specialized work at Oberlin and Princeton came in composition and performance courses. This makes my everyday attachments to language, social studies, philosophy and related fields tied to performance as a feature, not a bug.
Musicians often borrow ideas—stories, histories, images, social and political issues —and turn them into different audible forms, sometimes with words or theatrical accompaniments attached, sometimes just in sound. My own work as a composer includes many examples of this sort of thing, in particular settings of poetry called “art songs.” These can be heard as interpretive readings of individual poems on the composer’s part, often for an intimate group of players. With luck, these songs are then interpreted by that group in concert, which will lead to other interpretations by the audience listening to those performers.
In special cases, musicians collaborate with people who are the originators of stories, histories, images, etc., combining the different perspectives into a new work of art. I’ve been fortunate enough to collaborate in this way, making an opera with former MHC Director Jennifer Moxley on the life of the poet Hilda Doolittle, which has deepened my connection to the humanities. It was also one of my first experiences with receiving support from the MHC, support that was invaluable to our work and to our collaboration with performers of that work. I hope that as the director of the Center for the next segment of its life, I can help support many experiences like this for all of the Center’s audiences.
The McGillicuddy Center’s annual symposium theme for the academic year 2022-23 is “Recovery, Rediscovery, and Resilience: Revisiting Lost Lives and Cultures.” It speaks to our current time, and offers the possibility of revisiting models from other times and places that could illuminate our experiences now. The Center will support the work of scholars at the University of Maine that are already engaged in surfacing and describing lives and cultures, bringing them together under the symposium’s umbrella. More information on events over the course of the season will be available as the school year ramps up in September.
The symposium will be one aspect of the Center’s programming, with additional events based on our fellows’ research programs and our faculty’s projects. All of the events are the public face of work towards our strategic goals for the MHC—elevating our support, and promotion, of diverse and high quality research and creative activity, while maintaining our fiscal and operational sustainability.
Thanks for helping the Center in all its aspects, and please let me know of any ideas you have for the future and for the humanities at UMaine.