Multimedia performance among highlights of first Public Humanities at Yale conference

April 7, 2015

“The Geneva Project,” a dance and multimedia performance inspired by Professor Laura Wexler’s Photogrammar project, will be among the highlights of the first annual conference hosted by Public Humanities at Yale, part of the American Studies Program.

The conference, to be held Friday-Sunday, April 10–12, will inaugurate the creation of the North Eastern Public Humanities Consortium. “The Geneva Project” performance is one of two conference events open to the public free of charge; the other is a program of presentations about similar initiatives at partner institutions.

‘The Geneva Project’ and Photogrammar

While searching the Farm Security Administration Archives of the Library of Congress via the Photogrammar site, New York dancer/choreographer Jennifer Harrison Newman discovered photographs of her great-aunt, Geneva Varner Clark, and her family on their farm in Depression-era South Carolina. The subjects of the photos were described as “negro,” “mixed race,” and “Indian” by the photographer. “The Geneva Project” uses visual imagery, language, sound, and the physical to create a reflection on “race, class, sex, and radical subjectivity in an ever-changing, uncertain, and distinctly American landscape,” writes Harrison Newman.

“The Geneva Project” will take place 6-7 p.m. on Friday, April 10 in the Educational Center for the Arts, 55 Audubon St. The free event is sponsored by Public Humanities at Yale, the American Studies, and The Photographic Memory Workshop.

Wexler’s Photogrammar project is a Web-based platform for organizing, searching, and visualizing the 170,000 photographs created by the United States Farm Security Administration and Office of War Information between 1935 and 1945. Users can explore the relationship between place, time, photographer, and thematic content through digital maps, data visualizations and extensive metadata cross-references.


The public is also invited to hear representatives from partner institutions discuss their public humanities, public history, digital humanities, oral history, and museum studies programs 9 a.m.–1 p.m. on Saturday, April 11 in the Robert L. McNeil Jr. Lecture Hall at the Yale University Art Gallery (entrance on High St.)

A schedule for the program can be found here.

Public Humanities at Yale

Co-directed by Wexler and Matt Jacobson, Public Humanities at Yale seeks to train American studies graduate students by expanding academic discourse beyond the confines of the classroom, academic publishing, and the academic conference circuit — thereby preparing them for public intellectual work such as museum and gallery installation, documentary film and photography, and oral/community history.Shortly thereafter, Yale hired Josh Viertel, a Harvard graduate with experience as a world-traveled organic farmer, to oversee the farm on Edwards Street and grow the project into a more comprehensive program. He was shortly joined by Melina Shannon-Dipietro, also a Harvard graduate; together they formed the core leadership of the program for its first five years.

The Yale Sustainable Food Project has vastly expanded its operations since the garden began. It hosts food-world luminaries like author Michael Pollen and Slow Food founder Carlo Petrini as part of a yearly speaker series; sponsors conferences; screens documentary films about the food system and the new food movement; fosters opportunities for students to meet with the local farmers; and links students with the many food-related courses that are offered across the academic curriculum — from the biology of anthropology to the history of food and cuisine.

Academic opportunities around food have increased dramatically as the Sustainable Food Project has urged students and professors to consider the ways in which the food system affects subjects as diverse as culture, policy, economics, and public health. Undergraduates majoring in environmental studies can now concentrate in food and agriculture, and students from a variety of disciplines have found ways to work their interest in food into their senior projects.

While the Sustainable Food Project is a multi-faceted program, the Yale Farm remains at its center. It is a place for students to learn and to teach, gaining academic insight as well as practical knowledge. Paid student interns help run open volunteer work hours, welcoming visitors to the space and engaging them in the work of sustainable agriculture. These students are part of a community of interns who do vital work for the project — tilling, sowing seeds, weeding, harvesting, and selling their produce at the Wooster Square Farmers Market. The students also handle everything from taking photographs of events to making pizza in an on-site wood-fired oven to running a program for visiting public school students. It is a crucial piece of the Sustainable Food Project’s philosophy to learn by doing — and then by sharing those new skills with others.

The Yale Farm is a living space all winter long, with salad greens grown in plastic-covered hoophouses. In the late spring, the greens are replaced by the tomatoes that will produce through early September, when the students return to campus. The agricultural calendar turns with the academic one, the work of the farm complimenting and supplementing that of the classroom. As the students who work, learn and eat there attest, the Yale Farm is a place to celebrate the joy of raising and preparing the food we eat together.

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