Stephanie Maroney

I applied to be a Mellon Public Scholar in the hope that the program would provide an institutional space, a cohort, and the financial resources to both think and practice the public humanities.

My interest in the public humanities developed from my experiences as an interdisciplinary humanist in a Cultural Studies PhD program with its own genealogies of publicly-engaged scholarship, and my awareness of the changing nature of doctoral work as a result of a restricted tenure-track job market, the increasing corporatization of the university, and what feels like a glut of possibilities for careers outside of academia.

Combahee River CollectiveThinking about audiences and publics outside the university has always been part of my academic training, especially in Women and Gender Studies where “activist/academic” is a common, but contentious, title under which feminist scholars articulate their commitment to rigorous scholarship and social justice (often at the expense of university promotion and merit systems). I’ve been similarly inspired and shaped by this work in ethnic, queer, and disability studies programs. Educated in this vein of publicly engaged scholarship, I believe investment in and institutionalization of the public humanities in the age of the corporate university deserves some careful thinking through.

Personally, my desire to be a part of this program is also motivated by an existential reflection on the question, “What is my place in the world?” This question emerges from a tension at the heart of my experience as an almost-PhD—balancing pride in myself for pursuing what felt like an impossible dream as a first-generation college student with a deep sense of responsibility to do work in the world that is not just self-satisfying.

narcissusBeing a PhD student in the humanities sometimes feels like an exhaustive, narcissistic examination of oneself—my research, my reading of the text, my dissertation writing, my work in relation to the discipline, my project’s grant-worthiness, my contribution to the field of study—and much time is spent internalizing this investment in our potentiality as scholars.

Part of my excitement about the public humanities is the explicit task of connecting oneself to the world, of being put in the service of others, and doing the difficult and critical work of making connections, translations, and creating new knowledge out of collaboration. However, it is also my hope that this way of working and thinking circles back to the “academic humanities” and transforms the way we teach and fund future humanities PhDs, especially those students who actively seek connection and service with non-academic publics.

Stephanie Maroney