Many of you probably know of the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles. You also might know that they are strangely buffed and masked anthropomorphic turtles named after Renaissance artists, including Leonardo, Michelangelo, Donatello, and Rafael. Living in sewers, away from Main Street, these turtles combat evil in urban New York City using no less than the Japanese art of Ninjutsu. They first appeared in comic books in 1984, then morphed into lead figurines in 1986, and by 1987 these “Heroes in Half Shells” were calling out “Turtle Power!”
through our television sets, movie screens, cartoons, video games, even our Pez dispensers and skateboards.
Now, I'd like you to imagine yourselves as academic Mutant Ninja Turtles with half shells on your backs, taking on the names of, perhaps, literary figures such as William, Miguel, Italo, or
Virginia and Carmen and calling out "Humanities Power!" to a world that is transforming before your eyes. You, the Millennial Mutants are living in a world to which you apply your talents to the art of writing and creating, discovering and knowledge making, questioning and persuading, and in the process you resist the forces that are increasingly asking you: “What in the world are you going to do with a degree in Spanish, French, or in Classics?”
Knowingly or not, you have become the next generation of ninja warriors, hybrid humanists thrown into an economic, social, political, and educational environment that is demanding that you transform not necessarily how you approach your scholarly endeavors, but how you articulate your roles and goals as students, as scholars, and as professional leaders in this complex global environment. As humanists of the twenty-first century you just may feel a little bit like you are carrying a halfshell on your backs, a mask on your faces, and a weapon of words in your hands.
You are becoming what I call "hybrid humanists" because your work is increasingly residing between the academic and the public communities you co-inhabit. And to be a hybrid humanist means that you engage in a self-reflexive understanding of the tools and technologies, programs and opportunities that connect your research to your publics.
As such, you are tasked to find an educational and professional balance, a hybrid state in which you decide how, when, where, and with whom your research can take on the most powerful of shapes and forms.
You are the Next Generation of humanists who live and breath the art of remixing and networking, and your spirit of innovation has the potential to infuse the Humanities with a vision that can speak to your peers in new ways. Therefore, I would like to challenge you today,
to change the story, to engage your “mutant ninja powers” to express yourselves like public intellectuals, activist scholars, scholar producers, or applied scholars. Take what you do best, what you are presenting here today, what surprises, innovates and transforms our thinking, our disciplines, our societies, and communicate your work to a broad range of audiences.
As scholars in the field of Modern & Classical Languages, you are well-versed in the art of storytelling; you are gaining the skills needed to articulate in writing and in speech your thoughts in dialogue with others. To that effect, it is worth pointing out that it is no coincidence that the word
“public” is at the center of the verb”to publish” or “publication,” which derives from Latin publicare, “to make public, show or tell to the people, make known, declare,” --and from publicus, meaning “pertaining to the people, the public.” In fact, “the public,” although in the singular, is made up of many different publics, who, knowingly or not, are already, to some degree or another, engaged in the publications that connect the arts and humanities with their own lives and interests.
To remember is that although the process that connects our scholarship to our publics is often viewed in terms of two distinct steps and serving two distinct spheres, an American Council of Learned Societies' National Task Force argued that "scholarship and the public humanities [is] a single process, the process of taking private insight, testing it, and turning it into public knowledge"(Quay). And what I want to emphasize here is that the process of turning it into public knowledge can take on a variety of different forms, from large forums, exhibits or radio across disciplines. Important to realize is that our scholarly worlds have become more directly connected to others, and that we can no longer sit in front of a computer without recognizing that there is someone at the other end of that screen--whether that is Big Brother watching or Little Sister learning.
Some sectors of the general public might not think that they have much in common with scholarship in the humanities. Yet the humanities, more than any other group of disciplines participate in a web of relations between knowledge building and public consumption. This is a network that joins scholarly expertise--such as an interpretation of Victor Hugo's historical novel Les Misérables--with the public enjoyment of its musical adaptation on Broadway and its thousands of fanfiction spinoffs.
We all participate in a large network of publications and publics that expands human knowledge and practices along a continuum of sharing, of consumption, knowledge-building, and production.
To be part of the general public--which we all are--means acknowledging that there is an important place for humanities expertise. Just imagine a world in which politicians make decisions about whether to go to war without considering a region's history, culture, or language. Picture standing on a bridge built by an engineer with no knowledge of a region's cultural and community environment. We, the general public, understand that expertise, discovery, and application live within a large relational web that must be mutually supportive. Without this productive engagement, our bridges would collapse, our international affairs would fall apart, and our worlds would sound like one superficial Les Mis monologue that spans an entire lifetime.
Contrary to popular belief, the digital age is the age of the humanities! It is the age where the word, the image and sound are all front and center on each and every one of our screens, all the time; it is an age where the skills and content acquired in humanities disciplines becomes all the more important so that we all learn to engage with the material placed before us in ways that are critical, analytical, active, powerful, and smart. If we do, our futures will turn into an exciting blend of hybrid, continuous, and participatory opportunities.
To this effect, MacArthur Foundation fellow and founding artistic director of the International Contemporary Ensemble,
Claire Chase, recently remarked in the New York Times that classical music is “far from dying, [it] is just being reborn. . . with new performance practices that put creators, interpreters, historians, educators, theorists in the same entrepreneurial space.” She is right. Although a crisis does loom in the United States and abroad when it comes to the perceived value of the humanities, we are also standing before a time of innovation where spaces blend and bring together people who can see the world in a million shades, perhaps, of ….grey? and through a host of different lenses
…...and this is where you come in.
The research you are presenting here today exemplifies the many lenses and colors of creative and critical expression that can emerge when great minds get to work and come together. And I believe you are not only going to continue to bring new ideas to the table, but you are going to tell the world why the Arts and Humanities, and language, literature, history and culture in particular, are not just alive and well, but they are thriving, they are exciting, and they are contributing surprising and transformative insights toward the future of knowledge-building and society.
You see, I have great hope for you and the contributions of your creative mutant minds, because I have learned from my students that the humanities are being reborn through your eyes in many surprising ways. Let me give you some examples from a research-based class I teach at Union called “Global Remix Culture.” In this class two years ago, a student named Morgan opened my mind to a whole new world of classical music as energized by groups like The Piano Guys.
This American musical group, which includes a pianist, cellist and studio engineer has been mashing up classical and contemporary tunes, such as Beethoven's Fifth Symphony and One Republic's song "Secrets." The result? One energetic and coherent composition called "Beethoven's 5 Secrets." And to give you a sense of their music, I brought you a clip.
The Piano Guys visually and viscerally elevate both classical and popular music through video mash-ups of piano and cello performances located in different spaces
including canyons, forests, buildings, glaciers, and many other wonders around the world.
The result is a deeply moving, beautiful and infectious musical energy filled with a joy for composition and consumption that reaches across spaces and crosses generations, making classical music exciting again to many audiences.
My student Morgan also told me of another person who inspired her to study music, and that is the DIY work of Lindsay Pollack, who began as a Rennaissance flutemaker in the 1970s and now creates different types of instruments through household items such as carrots and hoses, as seen in the rubber glove bagpipe or carrot flute.
Another student in my course, her name is Allison and she is an Art History major, shared with the class the cover of "ARTPOP" (2013),
in which a sculpturized image of Lady Gaga is giving birth to a gazing blue ball before Sandro Botticelli's 1486 painting of "The Birth of Venus."
The effect of this còllage created by American artist Jeff Koons (b. 1955) not only aligned the singer with the visual art world, but it also led to a new appreciation of high art that not only demanded extensive historical and visual knowledge to interpret the cover, but particular analytical skills no doubt found in the courses that you are taking here at Siena in the arts and humanities, and that would allow you to effectively join the three time periods, three worlds, and three cultures presented in this image (that of Botticelli, Koons and Gaga),.
Recognizing the analytical skills needed to interpret today's multimedia and multi-spatial and temporal worlds, Allison found herself disturbed by the negative messages she and her classmates had been receiving since childhood for their educational careers.
Apart from the cuts to programs that removed opportunities in art, music, theater or language from elementary to high schools, Allison was deeply concerned by the social attitudes she still has to face today when asked questions such as: "What are you going to do with a degree in Art History?" and "Why not get a more useful major or minor?" But what she understood better than many is that the arts and humanities today are intrinsically connected to the everyday consumption, creation and sharing patterns of the future, and of all of you, the Millennials.
She also understood that in an ever-changing job market,
her Liberal Arts degree in Art History will ultimately provide more opportunities than a degree in a more narrowly-defined professional field. Allison understood that your generation has a particularly important role to play in this economic and educational environment. Your ability and interest in customizing and mutating known elements
and making them your own, allows you to capture and share your work and interests in ways that connect you and your interest differently to the world around you, and by extension, you are reinvigorating the arts and humanities in this much more complex world in which we live. The hybridization, or mashing of previously disparate ideas, spaces, and technologies is something Allisons creatively identifies in Instagram's user profile, for instance, which she sees
as "a personal exhibit space" which tells a story through images and tags and which have led to gallery and photo competitions. In other words, the worlds of personalized, amateur creation are increasingly feeding into high art environments. She also realized that museums, galleries, theaters, musicians and artists use Instagram as a way to promote themselves and connect with others. The world of high art and customizable personal impressions are increasingly intersecting in spaces that expand and move beyond large stone buildings.
Today's visual and verbal culture is exploding out of the spaces and containers traditionally assigned to their existence
thanks to the technologies and databases at the fingertips of us all. This is just one reason why the value of the arts and humanities cannot be measured by degrees awarded or money earned out of college. The thousands of fan fiction sites alone demonstrate the breadth and strength of today's artistic expression and storytelling possibilities. For this reason, you all need, more than ever, the knowledge and training to become perceptive and actively-engaged consumers, interpreter and producers of art, language, culture, history, religion, and so on. And because you have the technology and mindset to show the entire world just how exciting your work is, I would like to challenge you to break out of the spaces your studies usually inhabit, as this Symposium already does. I invite you to blog and develop Instagram or Flickr campaigns around the work that you are presenting, and take the next step: show the public how important and insightful this work is and advocate for your field and for the Humanities in general.
The advocacy of the Humanities has become an ever more important, integral and integrated step, and you, with your mutant ninja powers, have an especially important role to play in these efforts. You can take matters into your own hands and right after this symposium, go and tweet about your experience here today, write a blog about how the work that you are hearing about inspires you, share your ideas with your friends and family, maybe even take a step outside the college and present at a library or a high school. I am sure your professors here can also guide you and provide you platforms through the college, so I encourage you to speak to them.
There are a few ways in which I am also happy to offer my services and give you access to platforms that I have been developing over the years.
For instance, if you are interested in articulating how your scholarship connects to the workplace, you can participate in
“The Arts & Humanities in the Twenty-first Century Worksplace” project, which seeks to provide concrete examples and further dialogue about the applicability of the Arts and Humanities in all professional fields.
SLIDE 21 - go over fields
SLIDE 22 - Millennials Speak
SLIDE 23 - NY6 Think Tank:
With the support of the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation, the New York 6 Liberal Arts Consortium is building a community comprised of professionals and students who wish to transform—rethink and rewrite—public conversations on the state of the Arts and Humanities. This group is called the NY6 Think Tank.
SLIDE 24 - Fellows / Mini Think tanks
SLIDE 25 - Zombies
SLIDE 26 -29 4humanities
The main characteristic of you, the Hybrid Humanists of the twenty-first century, is an awareness of the relational web that exists between your scholarship in the university system and in society as a whole. To be a hybrid humanist means that you understand that your place in this century, in this historical moment when cost, access, purpose, utility, and value of higher education is at the forefront of every newspaper every day, that you recognize the power at your fingertips and you take an extra moment in your classes, your projects, and your lives to articulate, boil down, amplify, mutate, and connect the wonderful scholarship that you are presenting here today, with the many publics out there who can learn from your scholarship.