OHC Director’s Report by Paul Peppis
“We the People”: these plain and profound words open the Constitution of the United States, emphasizing at the very start the democratic grounds upon which our government is based—a government of, for, and by the people. We at the Oregon Humanities Center have chosen these three words as the theme for our 2017–18 lecture series.
The theme arose in the wake of the most divisive national election in our experience, and the tremendous social division that election has generated. As U.S. politicians and sectors of the media continue to attack and discredit different groups in our country, working to divide and separate us, we decided on the theme of “We the People” to encourage our visiting lecturers to reflect on who we are as a people, to speak from their diverse perspectives about what it means to be American, and to help us think more about and appreciate more who we are in all our differences and shared humanity. It has always been one of the special capacities and strengths of the humanities to explore and illuminate our diversity and to find in that diversity our common humanity.
The series began with an inspiring and challenging talk about who we are as Americans by this year’s Cressman Lecturer, award-winning journalist Maria Hinojosa. Before a large and enthusiastic audience of students, faculty, and community members, Hinojosa spoke with eloquence, passion, and wit about her life as an immigrant in the U.S., her career as a groundbreaking Latina journalist, and the current state of U.S. society, media, and politics. After the talk, Hinojosa provided generous, sharp, and sometimes provocative answers to audience members’ urgent questions. It was just the kind of enlightening and transformative event the OHC strives to provide—demonstrating once more the peerless capacity of the humanities to clarify our complexities and increase understanding across our differences. You can access videos of both Hinojosa’s lecture and her UO Today interview.
During winter term, we welcome two more exciting speakers who will bring their unique perspectives to our theme of “We the People.” In January, we host journalist, novelist, and playwright George Packer. Author of the New York Times Bestseller and National Book Award winner, The Unwinding: An Inner History of the New America (2013), Packer will present lectures on “American Identity in the Age of Trump” in Eugene and Portland. March brings to Eugene plant ecologist, writer, and Distinguished Teaching Professor at the SUNY College of Environmental Science and Forestry, Robin Wall Kimmerer. An enrolled member of the Citizen Potawatomi Nation and Founding Director of the Center for Native Peoples and the Environment, Kimmerer will speak on the topic of “We the People”: Expanding the Circle of Citizenship.
Our winter newsletter contains announcements of our 2018–19 faculty research and teaching fellowship winners, and the 2018 Humanities Undergraduate Research Fellows. Also included are stories about other fascinating humanities events we are co-sponsoring during winter term. As always, our calendar provides details about these events, including our regular Work-in-Progress talks (WIPs), delivered by our resident research fellows, and our occasional Books-in-Print talks (BIPs), presentations by UO scholars speaking about their recently-published books supported by OHC research fellowships or publication support funds. I look forward to seeing many loyal friends and generous supporters at our upcoming lectures and events in the New Year, as we learn and reflect with our speakers on our theme of “We the People.”
I must conclude this year’s Director’s Report with a very special note of gratitude and tribute: the OHC’s incomparable Associate Director, Julia Heydon, is retiring this year after nearly forty years at UO, the last twenty of which she has served as Associate Director of the OHC. To say that the OHC would not be the exceptional humanities research institute and public humanities institution it is without Julia’s devoted and visionary service would be an understatement. Over twenty years of societal and institutional changes, Julia has guided the OHC’s operations and programs with the most generous, wise, and humane spirit and vision. Working tirelessly with three different faculty directors and a range of center staff, she has always ensured the quality and integrity of all we do, bringing to every decision, every interaction her signature strength and kindness, rigor and generosity, passion and wisdom. It has been one of the honors and privileges of my career to have worked with and learned from Julia over the past four years. And I know I speak for the countless faculty, students, administrators, staff, and donors who have collaborated with and been touched by Julia over the past two decades when I say that there are no words adequate to express our gratitude for all she has done to foster, sustain, and defend the humanities at UO, in Eugene, and across the state of Oregon. We will miss you Julia, and we wish you all the best of luck in the next stage of your journey: “Now, voyager, sail thou forth, to seek and find” (Walt Whitman).