Science, Humanities, and Public Engagement

Elizabeth Pitts, assistant professor of English, and I discussed the course she’s working on this summer, “Science, Humanities, and Public Engagement.” The course will be offered in conjunction with the exhibit she’s organizing called Art’s Work in the Age of Biotechnology in collaboration with curator Hannah Star Rogers, who is serving as a visiting scholar at Pitt this year.  A version of this exhibit took place at the Gregg Museum of Art & Design, North Carolina State University Libraries, and the North Carolina Museum of Art in fall 2019-spring 2020. Compared to this first iteration, Pitt’s exhibition, which is supported by a SEED Grant from the Chancellor’s Office as well as the university’s Research, Ethics, and Society Initiative, led by Professor Lisa Parker, which is designed to foster campus-wide discussion of research ethics and the social implications of scientific research and technology

Dr. Pitts said that her course is related to, but separate from, the art exhibit. The course has a public humanities goal to “apply humanities thinking to the civic challenge of facilitating public deliberation” of emerging technologies. The plan is for the exhibition to serve as a platform for public-facing scholarly work as well as a variety of creative interactions with broader audiences. She hopes that the course might appeal to graduate students in fields we often think of as quite disparate, ranging from English to Biological Sciences, Engineering, and Education.

When I asked what Dr. Pitts was most excited for students to gain from her course, she said she enjoys “integrative thinking – the ability to put different kinds of work in productive conversation.” Located in the English department’s Composition, Literacy, Pedagogy, and Rhetoric program, she defines composition broadly, drawing parallels between the “composing of writing and speech and the kinds of composing that scientists do in their laboratories.”  The course will build bridges between different forms of expertise, addressing both a scholarly and public audience.

Finally, Dr. Pitts appreciates that Humanities Engage project recognizes that academic work is not separate from the rest of life. She thinks humanities thinking is relevant to every aspect of life in these times

This conversation has been edited for clarity and brevity.

Michele Krugh, PhD 
Project Coordinator, Humanities Engage 

June 11, 2020

Learn about all the Graduate Faculty Summer Stipend for Curricular Innovation awards and Dr. Pitts' curricular development experience.