Spring Seminar

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Each spring, Rural Humanities offers a semester-long “methods and practices” seminar in Public Rural Humanities for graduate students and advanced undergraduates. Enrolled students can receive up to $2,000 to assist them in the development and dissemination of their research and/or to facilitate their collaborations with community partners.


Spring 2021

SHUM 4800/6800: Rural Humanities Seminar
Spring. 4 credits.
Limited to 15 students.
Interested students must submit an application.

This seminar focuses on rural black lives from historical and contemporary perspectives. Its historical content examines slavery, abolitionism, and the Underground Railroad in Central New York. Students will have the opportunity to explore the important abolitionist collection of books, manuscripts, and objects at Cornell’s Kroch Library and work on one of several communications or anthropological projects with the St. James AME Zion Church in Ithaca, a documented Underground Railroad station. The seminar’s contemporary content focuses on the circumstances, livelihoods, and challenges of black farmers in our region. Community health conditions permitting, site visits to Underground Railroad stations, the Harriet Tubman residence in Auburn, NY, and regional farms are being planned. This seminar provides rich content for engaging in the public humanities as both a disciplinary inquiry and a set of practices. It is intended to train graduate students and advanced undergraduates in the various methods and practices of public humanities and community-engaged work, to think collectively with and beyond disciplinary interests, and to share research on rural black lives with their communities and a broader national public.

The seminar offers the opportunity to

  • become familiar with the history and current circumstances of black lives in upstate New York;
  • examine the alliances of the diverse racial and economic groups that facilitated and sustained the Underground Railroad as an historical example of allyship;
  • visit and listen to community partners tell their stories and experiences as we generate original research questions based on communication, engagement, and collaboration with community organizations or individuals;
  • assist community partners to substantiate, enhance, and disseminate their stories;
  • become familiar with the language, goals, methods, and challenges of the public humanities and community-engaged work;
  • invite faculty and other colleagues who are currently working on rural black lives projects to share their insights; and
  • present findings in a public forum and answer questions based on communication and research.

Community partners in Central New York:

  • St. James AME Zion Church, Ithaca (Underground Railroad)
  • The Tompkins County History Center

For those students going on to academic careers that involve public programming, a publicly engaged humanities will be indispensable not only in securing a university position but also in shaping the future understanding of the role and mission of the humanities in and for society. For those students who will not be pursuing academic careers, such training in public humanities is crucial for imagining and pursuing careers beyond the university that nonetheless bring a deep familiarity and training in the humanities to bear upon their work. The seminar’s focus provides an opportunity for students to employ these methods and practices to examine, produce, and disseminate research on rural black lives in collaboration with their communities.  

Instructor: Gerard Aching, professor of Africana studies and Romance studies.


We are not currently accepting applications. Please check back for application deadline and instruction.