Public Humanities: Accountable to Whom?

Although Gregory Jay’s article, “The Engaged Humanities”, looks to the future of public humanities while Mary Mullen’s “Public Humanities’ (Victorian) Culture Problem” looks to systemic issues of the past, in essence I found they both argued a similar point: the need to reexamine the relationship between public humanities and the public. Is the public humanities department an extension of the university —an institution of the state that shapes public culture along authorized institutional culture—or is it on equal footing with the public, receptive to its co-authority and unique designs? In other words, to whom are the public humanities accountable: the public or the institution? While both contend with these questions, Mullen criticizes Jay for “uphold[ing] the university’s traditional institutional authority” despite his call for reforms of the public humanities. Yet, in my opinion, Jay is not proposing maintaining the “university’s traditional institutional authority”, but emphasizing the need to re-situate public humanities within the confines of the university and the public. Does Mullen’s criticism stem from the belief that the connection between public humanities and the university should be severed? If not, how do the public humanities gain independence from the universities they are beholden to?

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