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University of Iowa News Release


Oct. 1, 2009

University of Iowa symposium features 'Platforms for Public Scholars' Oct. 15-17

Some people view scholarship as an ivory tower endeavor. Teresa Mangum and many other scholars at the University of Iowa want to dispel that myth.

"Platforms for Public Scholars," the 2009 Obermann Humanities Symposium, co-sponsored by University of Iowa Obermann Center for Advanced Studies and International Programs, will explore the diverse ways in which humanities scholars are reaching out to public audiences, whether on their campuses or across the world. The symposium will be Thursday, Oct. 15, through Saturday, Oct. 17, in various Iowa City venues. The lectures are free and open to the public.

The humanities scholars featured in this symposium reach out to diverse audiences and public partners through time-honored techniques, imaginative collaborations and cutting-edge technology, according to organizer Teresa Mangum, a professor in the UI English Department in the College of Liberal Arts and Sciences and International Programs.

mangumMangum said that presenters will discuss everything from promoting literacy and citizenship for adult immigrants in rural Iowa to creating art projects to help women in prison re-enter society through creative catharsis -- illuminating scholarship that touches and transforms lives in very tangible ways.

"From the intellectual crossroads of the theatre and the museum to the neighborhoods of Panama and South Africa to the global networks of the World Wide Web, the presenters will share their forays into publicly engaged humanities," Mangum said.

Mangum said that the humanities are founded on a commitment to understanding what constitutes "a good life" by studying art, literature, history and ideas across time and societies.

"The best 'public scholars' excel in their fields but also work creatively with partners and communities outside the university to share that endless search for what life has meant and could mean for us all," Mangum said.

semelJay Semel, director of the UI Obermann Center and associate vice president for research, said it is important for scholars to collaborate, not just with other scholars on campus, but with the greater community as well.

"The Obermann Center has been a national leader in promoting powerful research collaborations," Semel said. "Our promotion of academic-community scholarly collaborations represents a hugely important development."

The opening night's panel discussion at the Iowa City Public Library at 7 p.m. Thursday, Oct. 15, features leading writers and reviewers in the digital world. As part of the library's "Intellectual Freedom Festival," Scott McLemee, a writer for Inside Higher Ed and the on-line "Intellectual Affairs," will join Christopher Merrill, director of the International Writing Program and reviewer for Public Radio International's "The World," and Meena Kandasamy, a current IWP participant who is a poet, essayist and fiction writer. Friday's activities include discussions of digital archives that bring the past to life online including energetic new communities of readers and translations of the page onto surprising stages, Mangum said.

Highlights include a roundtable discussion at 8 p.m. Friday, Oct. 16, in Becker Auditorium (Room 101) of the Becker Communication Studies Building, featuring publicly engaged UI artists and scholars including the following: Ed Folsom, English professor in CLAS, discussing a global Whitman archive; Marshall Poe, associate professor of history in CLAS, discussing podcasting historians; Rachel Williams, professor in the department of art and art history in CLAS and art education in the College of Education, discusses taking the arts to the Iowa Detention Center; Carolyn Colvin, associate professor of Language, Literacy and Culture Program in the College of Education, will discuss a "literacy of citizenship" program for adult immigrants in West Liberty; and Linda Bolton, associate professor of English in CLAS, will discuss translating ethics into public art.

Citizenship and cityscapes are the leading themes Saturday morning, and the final panels of the symposium focus on the virtual communities that gather to collaborate or participate in an online video game that teaches global diplomacy. The speakers are leaders at the forefront of their disciplines and national humanities organizations.

Conference co-sponsors include: Imagining America: Artists and Scholars in Public Life; United Way of Johnson County; Prairie Lights Bookstore; and the following UI colleges, units and departments: Faculty Senate; CLAS, including the School of Art and Art History, Division of Performing Arts, Theatre Arts, Nonfiction Writing Program, American Studies, English, French and Italian, German, History, Spanish and Portuguese and the Writers' Workshop; UI Libraries, UI Press, Center for Teaching, International Writing Program, and Center for the Book.

See more information, including a complete schedule of events, visit
For more information on UI International Programs, visit

For more information on the UI Obermann Center for Advanced Studies, visit

For more information or special accommodations to attend the symposium, contact Neda Barrett at 319-335-4034 or

STORY SOURCE: University of Iowa News Services, 300 Plaza Centre One, Iowa City, Iowa 52242-2500

MEDIA CONTACTS: Teresa Mangum, English Department, 319-335-0323,; Joan Kjaer, UI International Programs, 319-335-2026,; or Lois J. Gray, 319-384-0077,