Message from the Director

July 2, 2020

Dear Students, Faculty, Staff, Partners, Supporters, and Friends of the McGillicuddy Humanities Center,

Yesterday I began my new role as Director of the Clement and Linda McGillicuddy Humanities Center at the University of Maine. I’m writing to introduce myself, and offer my thoughts about – and a few goals for – the Humanities Center in the next two years.

But first I’d like to thank Margo Lukens for her exceptional leadership in the last two years. Margo built upon the strong foundation established by earlier MHC leadership, and added the undergraduate Fellows Program to support undergraduate humanities research and creativity at the University of Maine. She leaves the Center well-positioned to continue its mission of supporting the Humanities both on campus and in the community as it begins its second decade.

My involvement with the humanities stems from my love for journalism and history. I was an undergraduate history major who went into broadcast journalism after college. I worked as an Assignment Editor for CNN in Los Angeles in the early 1990s, covering such stories as the 1994 Northridge earthquake and the O.J. Simpson trial, and I worked as an Information Manager for the host broadcast organizations at the Barcelona, Atlanta, and Sydney Olympic Games. I earned my doctorate in history from Georgetown University, where I studied the early U.S. radio networks in the 1920s and 1930s. I’ve been teaching in the Department of Communication and Journalism since 2006, and last year (2019) I was a Fulbright Senior Research Scholar at the News and Media Research Centre at the University of Canberra (in Australia). I believe deeply in the efficacy of applying history to inform and clarify public understanding of current events, and alongside my media history scholarship, I regularly publish commentary in journalistic outlets as a form of public engagement.

I believe our responsibility as humanities scholars employed by a land-grant institution requires us to engage Maine’s multiple publics. I’ve done some of this work myself – in 2018, I was the project scholar for a Maine Humanities Council grant-funded program about the media and citizenry titled, “Journalism, Democracy and the Informed Citizen” – and I look forward to encouraging and supporting such projects in the future. My primary goal in the near future is to make the Center’s events and projects more widely known to its many stakeholders and constituents both on campus and across the state. I would also like to see the Center assist faculty and students in locating, applying for, and securing grant funding for their research.

The McGillucddy Center’s annual symposium theme for the academic year 2020-2021 is “The Story of Climate Change.” The evolving transformation of our planet continues to reshape foundational questions about our relationships with nature and each other. From the devastating wildfires in Australia, to the recent heatwave in the Siberian Arctic, examining the ways in which climate creates and sustains both our environment and humanity has never been more vital. Here in Maine, the lobster, fishing, lumber and tourism industries that have sustained generations of Mainers are also being effected in ways both knowable and immeasurable. The symposium will help foster understanding of the relevance and immediacy of humanistic inquiry and creative approaches to a problem that’s global in scope with numerous local impacts.

Finally, I would be remiss if I did not mention the historic moment in which we’re all living. The global pandemic that’s forcing new practices in everything from established university routines, to a simple trip to the supermarket, remains a challenge. The killing of George Floyd in Minneapolis, and the national and international protest movements for social justice and racial equality that have arisen in its aftermath, remind us that history’s never fully past, and that contemplation of the nature and application of justice can never be confined to the classroom or courtroom. How we all, personally and collectively, respond to this moment will define our humanity, society, state, and nation. And I strongly believe it’s the tools provided by humanistic inquiry and imagination – history, philosophy, the arts, music, and poetry – that will best allow all of us to learn, grow, and progress towards a more just and equitable world.

Thank you for indulging me this introduction, and I look forward to meeting and communicating with all of you in the not-so-distant future. I’m interested in hearing about your ideas and interests, and how the Center may be of service to you going forward.


Michael J. Socolow