Humanities Institute

About the Humanities Institute

Created by an NEH Challenge grant in 1983, the Humanities Institute in the College of Arts & Sciences is an endowed initiative established to ensure that the humanities will flourish at the heart of a Fairfield University education. Since its inception, the endowment has funded hundreds of lectures, events, film series, workshops, and seminars, as well as most of our successful curricular and engagement initiatives. Over the past 30 years, the Humanities Institute has been one of the most significant sources of educational innovation and change at Fairfield University.

Moving forward in the 21st Century, the Humanities Institute continues to lead the way in catalyzing humanistic inquiry and dialogue across disciplines to inspire, guide, and respond to transformations in our lives and our societies, contributing to imagining and creating a more just, humane and sustainable future for humankind. The Institute revitalizes the University, placing our traditional strengths at the center of our strategic priorities and ensuring that our students are not only technically equipped to analyze, innovate, and address real problems in professional contexts, but intellectually and ethically capable of doing so in ways that fulfill our educational pledge and deliver on Jesuit education’s promise.

The Humanities Institute aims to: Humanities Institute

  • Support teacher-scholars in humanistic inquiry
  • Cultivate innovative teaching in the humanities
  • Participate in identifying, enriching, and assessing student learning, engagement, and outcomes
  • Partner with on and off-campus constituencies
  • Create an international hub for humanities teaching, research, and engagement 


Director: Dr. Nels Pearson

Associate Directors
Dr. Patricia Behre
Dr. Jerelyn Johnson

Message from the Director

Nels Pearson headshotIt is an honor to lead the Humanities Institute in its mission to promote the Humanities as the nexus of intellectual livelihood at Fairfield University. Following our renaissance as a freestanding unit under the inaugural three-year directorship of Dr. Ronald Davidson, we now seek to broaden the impact of our programming, support, and outreach. Among our recent highlights is an expanded Humanities Institute Seminar, directed by Dr. Patricia Behre, which now welcomes six faculty fellows for 2017-18: Dr. Jennifer Adair, Dr. Gwendoline M. Alphonso, Dr. Cecelia Bucki, Dr. Sara E. Díaz, Dr. Johanna X. K. Garvey, and Dr. Katherine A. Schwab. Fellows receive reassigned teaching time to work on innovative research projects and support one another’s progress while also mentoring our eight student fellows, advising them in original research. The interdisciplinary seminar format provides valuable interactions between faculty scholars while also offering some of our top humanities students the kind of tutorial-based, one-on-one experience that will prepare them for graduate school or other intensive intellectual environments outside of Fairfield. 

The program grants committee, now directed by Dr. Jerelyn Johnson, will look to continue and enhance its exemplary work in assessing and funding faculty projects. Recently funded projects range from restoration of ancient Greek art to representations of China in Italian film, and from mapping Irish emigration in Rhode Island to guiding veterans in the writing and performance of their remarkable stories. Each of the program grants has been successful in infusing the dynamic energy of the humanities into the fabric of the University̦.

One of the Humanities Institute’s core concerns, the Digital Humanities Working Group spearheaded by Dr. Sally O’Driscoll and Dr. Gita Rajan, is now a permanent part of the Institute, and will continue working with the DiMenna-Nyselius Library to enhance its web-based hub for the promotion and dissemination of student and faculty digital projects. Other planned initiatives of the Humanities institute include exciting new public humanities programming and outreach, as well as the new course HU 201, “Technical Skills for Liberal Arts Majors,” which will train humanities students in the specific software skills that surveyed employers say will make them competitive after graduation.

We will also continue to explore the possibilities arising from the recent formation of the School of the Humanities, including the ways in which the two entities in the College of Arts and Sciences will work collaboratively to promote teaching, scholarship, and initiatives in the Humanities.

We hope you will join us in the various events we are planning and connect with the remarkable faculty and students of this University as they ask difficult questions of themselves and their peers, seeking answers that challenge entrenched positions while also expressing intellectual generosity and empathy with others, whether in agreement or difference of opinion.

Nels Pearson, Ph.D.
Professor of English
Director of Literature
Director, The Humanities Institute in the College of Arts and Sciences
Fairfield University

Mission Statement

‌The Humanities Institute supports and promotes all aspects of humanistic inquiry and performance, as expressed in the scholarship, initiatives and organizations of the faculty and students of Fairfield University, whether on campus or in the wider community. In the Jesuit spirit of cura personalis, and through the employment of both traditional and digital media, the Humanities Institute advances interdisciplinary dialogue and exchange by assisting teaching and supporting research across the humanities and related disciplines. To this end, it seeks to create a hub of international humanistic discourse, with an emphasis on student-faculty mentorship.


Advisory Council 

Dr. Sergio Adrada-Rafael – Modern Languages
Dr. Matt Coleman – Natural Sciences / Math
Dr. Ryan Drake
 – Philosophy
Dr. David McFadden – History
Dr. Laura Nash – Visual and Performing Arts
Dr. Sally O’Driscoll – English
Dr. Sallyanne Ryan – Communication
Dr. John Slotemaker – Religious Studies


Digital Humanities Working Group

The Digital Humanities Working Group is an ad hoc committee of the Humanities Institute. It’s work has been supported by both the Humanities Institute and the DiMenna-Nyselius Library. For more information, please see the Digital Humanities Hub

Dr. Sally O’Driscoll, Co-director
Dr. Gita Rajan, Co-director



Interdisciplinary Programs 

Apply for a Grant

HI Program Grants are for projects that enhance the educational experience of students and/or faculty development through programs or research in the humanities (history, philosophy, religion, language, linguistics, literature, archaeology, jurisprudence, and ethics, as well as the history, theory and criticism of the arts). Proposals in the social sciences, mathematics, and the natural sciences that intersect substantively with humanities methodologies and disciplines will also be considered. All applications will be evaluated based on their potential contribution to teaching and research in the Humanities. Applications may be submitted by any CAS faculty member.  (Further guidelines available on the downloadable Call for Proposals).

Program Grants

Program Grant Application →
Call and Guidelines for Proposal →
Budget Planning →

Our next date for awards is February 12, 2018.

Quick Grants

Beginning Spring of 2017, the Humanities Institute is accepting abbreviated applications for its new Quick Grants program. Grants will be reviewed on September 1, November 1, December 1, January 1, March 1, April 1 and May 1.

Summer, Fall and Spring grant recipients

The Humanities Institute of the College of Arts and Sciences is pleased to announce the results of the fall 2017 grant competition. The project grants competition is judged by the Program Grants Committee, chaired by Dr. Jerelyn Johnson, Associate Director of the Humanities Institute. 

 The following projects were identified by the Humanities Institute Program Committee as meritorious and worthy of support:

  • Drs. Jennifer Adair and Michelle Farrell, “Nueva York: Latino New York as a Teaching Canvas.”
  • Dr. Sara Díaz, “Shakespeare’s “Twelfth Night” and the “Commedia dell’arte”.”
  • Sonya Huber, “Lisa Lucas: The Need for Literature in Challenging Political Times.”
  • Dr. David McFadden, “Meaning and Legacies of the Russian Revolutions of 1917.”

The Humanities Institute of the College of Arts and Sciences is pleased to announce the results of the summer 2017 grant competition. The project grants competition is judged by the Program Grants Committee, chaired by Dr. Nels Pearson, Associate Director of the Humanities Institute. 

The following project was identified by the Humanities Institute Program Committee as meritorious and worthy of support:

  • Dr. Ronald Davidson, “Buddhism at the Decline of the Gupta: Spells, Ritual and Religion at the Fall of Indian   Classicism.”

 The Humanities Institute of the College of Arts and Sciences is pleased to announce the results of the spring 2017 grant competition. The following projects were identified by the Humanities Institute Program Committee as meritorious and worthy of support:

  • Dr. Mary Ann Carolan, “Archival Research in Florence for Orienting Italy: China Through the Lens of Italian Filmmakers.”
  • Dr. Francis Hannafey, S.J., “The Jesuit Guide to Chinese Tea.”
  • Dr. Shannon Kelley, “William Shakespeare’s The Taming of the Shrew at Theater Fairfield.”
  • Dr. Shannon Kelley, “Research Trip to the Newberry Library and an NEH Summer Seminar.”
  • Dr. Martha LoMonaco, Dr. Katherine Schwab, and Dr. Sara Brill, “21st Century Women and Ancient Greek Tragedy.”
  • Dr. Laura Nash, “From Harlem to Hip-Hop: African American Literature, History and Song—Archival Research.”
  • Dr. Sunil Purushotham, “Tribe Between Colony and Nation: Adivasis in Hyderabad State, 1946-52.”
  • Dr. Gita Rajan, “Project India: Skill Training Girls for Employability.”
  • Dr. Kurt Schlichting, “Museum of Newport Irish History: ‘Crowdsourcing’ the 1880 Census of Newport, RI.”

The Humanities Institute of the College of Arts and Sciences is pleased to announce the results of the fall 2016 grant competition. The following projects were identified by the Humanities Institute Program Committee as meritorious and worthy of support:

  • Colleen Arendt, Elizabeth Hohl, Emily Orlando and Johanna Garvey, “Getting in Formation: Anna Arnold Hedgeman and Historical Narratives of Black Women’s Activism."
  • Sara E. Diaz, “Medici Archive Project Archival Studies Seminar. From Paleography to Digital Humanities.”
  • Sonya Huber, Elizabeth Petrino and Sophfronia Scott, “Isaac Fitzgerald: A Literary Citizen at Large.”
  • Sonya Huber and Peter Van Heerden, “War Stories: Courageous Storytelling by Veterans."
  • Jerelyn Johnson, "La Casa de Bernarda Alba: Experiencing Lorca in Performance."
  • Shannon Kelley, "Collaborative Shakespeare: A PT Barnum and Fairfield University Partnership."
  • Katherin A. Schwab, "Polychromy on the Parthenon East Metopes."
  • Jo Yarrington, "Creativity, Politics and the Visual Arts Spring Lecture Series (Part II)."


The Humanities Seminar

The Humanities Seminar is a research and mentorship program for faculty and students doing work in the humanities. We envision the Humanities Seminar as the leading edge of humanities research and mentorship at Fairfield University, with significant scholarly outcomes in both faculty and student scholarship in the humanities.

Four Faculty Fellows and four Student Fellows are chosen by a selection committee and work under the direction of the Associate Director of the Humanitieis Institute. All those having a project in a humanities area, even if the home department is outside the humanities, are encouraged to apply.

The Humanities Seminar is a two-year commitment for Faculty Fellows and a one-year commitment for Student Fellows, to work in an intellectual community on individual research projects, while sharing among each other discussions of methods, procedures, theoretical considerations, and other appropriate topics of interest. Its goal is to support and to sustain humanities exploration in its broadest sense.

Any questions about the Seminar and/or application process should be directed to the Seminar Chair, Dr. Patricia Behre at  


Faculty Fellows in the Humanities Seminar for 2017-2019

  • Dr. Jennifer Adair, Assistant Professor of History, for the project “In Search of the ‘Lost Decade’: The Everyday Politics of Human Rights and Argentina’s Transition to Democracy." 
  • Dr. Gwendoline M. Alphonso, Associate Professor of Politics, for the project “Disruptive Affections & Interracial Liaisons: Family, Slavery, and the Legal Color Line in Antebellum Louisiana." 
  • Dr. Cecelia Bucki, Professor of History, for the project “Connecticut in the 1930s.”
  • Dr. Sara E. Díaz, Professor of the Practice in Modern Languages, for the project “Margherita Costa: Love Letters and Digital Archive.”
  • Dr. Johanna X. K. Garvey, Associate Professor of English, for the project “Toni Morrison’s Geographies of Trauma.” 
  • Dr. Katherine A. Schwab, Professor of Art History, for the project “The Parthenon Metopes.”

Congratulations to the successful applicants for their investiture in their two-year seminar membership!


Faculty Fellows in the Humanities Seminar for 2015-2017

The Humanities Institute is pleased to announce the selection of the inaugural Humanities Seminar Faculty Fellows for 2015-17. 

  • Dr. Mary Ann McDonald Carolan, Department of Modern Languages, for the project “Orienting Italy: China Through the Lens of Italian Filmmakers.” 
  • Dr. Shannon Kelley, Department of English, for the project “Wounded Trees and Trauma in the English Renaissance.” 
  • Dr. Emily J. Orlando, Department of English, for the project “The Editing and Annotation of Edith Wharton’s The Decoration of Houses for The Complete works of Edith Wharton." 
  • Dr. Kris Sealey, Department of Philosophy, for the project “The Metaphysics of Nationalism in the Age of Creolization.” 

Congratulations to the successful applicants for their investiture in their two-year seminar membership!  



Humanities at Work

Learn more about our student fellows' innovative research projects and hear from our alumni as they discuss the positive impact a liberal arts degree has had on their careers.

Digital Humanities

The Humanities departments at Fairfield have made a commitment to exploring and using all emerging tools and technologies that aid in digital humanities, both in faculty research and in classroom and pedagogical applications. The University's digital humanities hub shines a spotlight on the various digital projects being conducted by faculty (both individually and with students) across the College of Arts and Sciences’ humanities departments.


Christian Madsbjerg 

Tuesday, November 14 at 7 p.m.

Christian Madsbjerg
Sense making: The Power of the Humanities in the Age of the Algorithm

Dolan School of Business Dining Room

Christian Madsbjerg's Sensemaking is a provocative stand against the tyranny of big data and scientism, and an urgent, overdue defense of human intelligence. He argues that our fixation with data often masks stunning deficiencies, and the risks for humankind are enormous. Blind devotion to number crunching imperils our businesses, our educations, our governments, and our life savings. Too many companies have lost touch with the humanity of their customers, while marginalizing workers with liberal arts-based skills. Contrary to popular thinking, Madsbjerg shows how many of today's biggest success stories stem not from "quant" thinking but from deep, nuanced engagement with culture, language, and history. He calls his method sensemaking. Both practical and philosophical, Sensemaking is a powerful rejoinder to corporate groupthink and an indispensable resource for leaders and innovators who want to stand out from the pack.

"Madsbjerg thinks that if businesses accept pure data as the only truth, they are in danger of losing their ability to understand people. But it is by no means the author's aim to dismiss stem subjects. Through his particular method, his intention is to help companies find the right balance. The best CEO's can read a novel and a spreadsheet." - Financial Times

Christian Madsbjerg is a founder of ReD Associates and the Director of its New York office. ReD is a strategy consulting company based in the human sciences and employs anthropologists, sociologists, art historians, and philosophers. Christian studied philosophy and political science in Copenhagen and London.

This event is free and open to the public and is presented by the Humanities Institute in the College of Arts & Sciences and the Dolan School of Business.

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