Public Forum on Role of Humanities April 22

April 13, 2013 - News Release

Five of Canada’s leading humanities researchers – all holders of prestigious University Research Chairs at the University of Guelph – will take part in a free “CommUnity Conversation” April 22 on the role of the humanities in culture and community.

The timing could not be better, organizers say.

Almost every day brings newspaper columns, radio programs, debates or discussions about the “value” of a university education, especially degrees in the arts and humanities, say professors Sky Gilbert and Robert Enright.

More and more, researchers are being asked to demonstrate how their work will add “value” to society, usually through commercialization.

Said Gilbert, a drama professor and holder of a University Research Chair in creative writing, “Universities are and must be primarily for ‘creating creators’: teaching people analytical, critical and original thinking.”

Students should be taught to question and ponder important societal issues, he said, including questioning the role of industry and business.

“These are the focus of the humanities and of universities -- or they should be. This is why such a forum is important: to explain the role of universities in terms of humanities in a modern world which seems more and more focused on the bottom line, capitalism and making a buck.”

Gilbert, an award-winning playwright, filmmaker, poet, author and director, will be among five U of G professors to discuss “Why the Humanities?”

The event will be held from 7 to 9 p.m. at the Hope House, 75 Norfolk St.

He will be joined by English professor Dionne Brand, a poet, novelist and essayist; Enright, University research professor in art criticism and one of Canada’s best-known cultural journalists and art critics; Daniel Fischlin, an early modern literature and music scholar, and professor in the School of English and Theatre Studies; and Elizabeth Ewan, a Scottish studies scholar and history professor.

Enright, who will serve as moderator, said the event will highlight how the humanities help shape community.

“We don’t remember other civilizations for the quality of their roads or for their taxation systems but for the art, writing and music they produced.

“We live in a culture where politicians tend to think that the arts are draining on society, but the arts are society.”

Scholars must remain vigilant in their roles as public intellectuals, he said. Universities, he added, “should be the point where society and ideas meet, and we should articulate that connection to the community by sharing the interests that we have.”

This event is sponsored by U of G’s Office of Research.

"It’s important for our University Research Chairs to lead in community engagement and knowledge mobilization,” said Kevin Hall, vice-president (research).

“When these experts share their work and ideas with the community, everyone benefits.”

For media questions, contact Communications and Public Affairs: Lori Bona Hunt, 519-824-4120, Ext. 53338,, or Kevin Gonsalves, Ext. 56982,

University of Guelph
50 Stone Road East
Guelph, Ontario, N1G 2W1