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Initiatives and Programs

The Truth Project: The Status of “Truth” in Public Discourse and Human Interaction

The question of what counts as “true” or “knowledge” in humanistic disciplines has always been a vexed one. Answers to questions about the human condition inevitably involve interpretation, fractured evidence, contested testimony, and the poetics of expression. At the same time, the realities of social life, the dynamics of political struggle, and the need to face up to our history, demand an acceptance of truth and facts in some form. How to embrace truth while taking seriously the multiple ways that social understanding is complex and evasive, is the central question that motivates this initiative.

In a series of events – lectures, panel discussions, films – we will attempt to spur conversation about what counts as “true” in a social landscape that is marked by deep difference and chasms of misunderstanding. What counts as “testimony” and “evidence” when large portions of the population are systematically silenced or downgraded in their status as truth-tellers? How do we understand the past in order to face it? What levels of “ignorance” are we willing to tolerate about violence, deprivation, and the state of the planet? Can we face the challenges of understanding our social world?

These questions motivate this series, which builds on the highly successful Truth and Reconciliation series sponsored previously by the IAH.

Events in The Truth Project

The Witness: A film by James Solomon

***Shortlisted for the 2016 Academy Award for Best Documentary Feature***

The name Kitty Genovese became synonymous with bystander apathy after The New York Times reported that 38 witnesses watched her being murdered – and did nothing to help. THE WITNESS, which premiered to critical-acclaim at the 2015 New York Film Festival, follows her brother Bill’s search for the truth. In the process, he unravels a myth that transformed his life, condemned a city, and defined an era. THE WITNESS debunks one of America’s most chilling crime stories as a brother reclaims his sister’s forgotten life from her infamous death.

Join us for the Film Screening on October 19 at 7:00p.m. in 113 Carnegie.

Join us for a discussion following the film, with faculty members Pearl Gluck (Assistant Professor of Film/Video) and Sarah Clark Miller (Associate Professor of Philosophy and Women’s Studies), moderated by HI Director, John Christman.

True Talk: Fake News

True Talk, Fake News: The Search for Truth in Public Discourse. This panel discussion brings together faculty members Rosa A. Eberly (Associate Professor of Rhetoric, Department of Communication Arts and Sciences & Department of English), Patrick Plaisance (Don W. Davis Professor of Ethics, Department of Journalism) Russell Frank (Associate Professor, Department of Journalism), and Matt Jordan (Associate Professor, Department of Film/Video and Media Studies).

Join us for the Panel Discussion on November 9th at 4:30 p.m. in the Foster Auditorium (102 Paterno Library).

Sustain What? Wrestling with the “Truths” of Sustainability and Climate Science

When the term “sustainability” refers to so many complex aspects of our social and environmental life--including sustaining ecosystems, land and water formations, human communities, and ways of life--what do we really mean when we say, “sustainability”?

Join us for a multi-faceted panel discussion, as we consider the important questions surrounding the challenges of high levels of climate change.

Panelists include Bryan McDonald (Sherwin Early Career Professor in the Rock Ethics Institute and Associate Professor of History), Erica Smithwick (Associate Professor of Geography and Director, Ecology Institute) , and Courtney Morris (Assistant Professor of African American Studies and Women’s, Gender, and Sexuality Studies). The Panel will be moderated by Peter Buckland, Penn State Sustainability Institute.

Join us for the Panel Discussion on April 4th at 4:00 p.m. in 101 Chambers Building

Who Counts? How Lives are Remembered and Erased in Public Discourse

While public memory is never unitary, it is mediated through public discussions, historical accounting, and institutional practice in consequential ways.  Public attention paid to the everyday experiences of life and death of countless members of vulnerable groups often have gotten shoved aside, reframed into irrelevance, or simply erased altogether in the public imagination.

As part of the discussion and lecture series The Truth Project, the Penn State Humanities Institute is organizing a panel discussion about the ways that lives get represented (or not) in public life in the contemporary U.S.: how lives and stories tend to get recorded or not in public accounting, discourse and representational schemes; how do lives get effectively erased in historical records and public memory; and how do the unacknowledged deaths of people of color and members of other vulnerable groups get ignored, mis-reported, and un-acknowledged by various institutional, political, and social forces operating today?  In general, how does the “truth” get constructed in the symbolic, historical, and institutional record of our society?

Panelists include Cynthia Young (Associate Professor of African American Studies and English and Department Head, Department of African American Studies), Nan Woodruff (Professor of African American Studies and Modern U.S. History) and Ebony Coletu (Assistant Professor of English and African American Studies).

Join us for the Panel Discussion on April 23rd at 4:00 p.m. in 101 Chambers Building

Public Humanities Initiative

Interest in the kinds of reflection on the human condition that the study of the humanities provides – in fields such as history, philosophy, literature, cultural studies and communication – has never been higher, and with the affordances of media technologies, opportunities to reach audiences driven by those interests have never been more numerous.  Therefore, we plan a multi-platform public media initiative to spur an ongoing conversation about the fundamental ideas and questions that shape our time. 

The plan is to produce programming at several levels, which is envisioned to include a digital platform video series, radio and podcasts, a blog, and a hosted television show.  We envision short programs that will integrate innovative “translational” presentation of topics, with interviews and conversations between a wide range of voices. The shows will have a host, and topics will be drawn from cutting edge research projects in the humanities that will speak to the issue of “why the humanities matter” for people and their communities.  Subjects will be fellows at the Humanities Institute, scholars from Penn State, and visitors who will discuss their insights on issues that lie behind or help to enrich discussions currently in the news.

Stay tuned as these plans come to fruition.