Each month, The Stone House Center for Public Humanities interviews a humanities scholar or community member and asks them everything from why they believe the humanities are important to what they're currently binge-watching. We hope that our new blog series, Coffee & Questions, will inspire you, introduce you to a variety of people and fields, as well as create new conversations.
Our guest this month is Jason M. Kelly, Director of the IUPUI Arts and Humanities Institute and an Associate Professor of British History in the Indiana University School of Liberal Arts at IUPUI. He is a Visiting Research Fellow at Newcastle University and a Fellow of the Society of Antiquaries of London.
Dr. Kelly received his Ph.D. from the University of California, Santa Barbara and is the author of The Society of Dilettanti: Archaeology and Identity in the British Enlightenment (Yale University Press and the Paul Mellon Centre for Studies in British Art, 2010).
As Director of the IUPUI Arts and Humanities Institute, Dr. Kelly supports IUPUI’s research mission by directing the IAHI grant programs, identifying and fostering transdisciplinary research collaborations, and organizing research workshops and symposia. He also acts as a liaison to the Indianapolis community, and in this capacity facilitates collaborative endeavors including performances, lectures, and research projects.
Dr. Kelly’s research projects focus on the histories of the environment, human rights, art. His current book project is A History of the Anthropocene, a deep history of human-nature relations. He leads a major international collaborative project, Rivers of the Anthropocene, which brings together scientists, humanists, and policy makers to study global river systems and policy since 1750. He directs The Cultural Ecologies Project, a public research program and PhD track that works with community stakeholders to examine cultural interventions across multiple scales — from the personal to the neighborhood to the city level. He also directs Digital Freetown, an immersive, virtual reality educational environment focusing on African American history.
Dr. Kelly is also the recipient of the IUPUI Research Trailblazers Award (2013), two IU Trustees Teaching Awards (2011, 2008), and the IU School of Liberal Arts at IUPUI Student Council Outstanding Academic Adviser Award (2010).
What inspires you in your current position/role?
My biggest inspiration comes from working with the many local communities beyond campus. One project that I am particularly excited about is our Cultural Ecologies project, which asks the question: how do cultural interventions transform cities? There are several components of this project including assessment and evaluation research, a PhD track, and a public seminar. From its conception, members of the community have been actively involved, and because of this, we’ve developed increasingly close working relationships with community partners. Our seminar, "The Ethics, Values, and Practices of Public Art in Urban Contexts” is a great example. It has brought together faculty, students, local artists, and art organizations to talk about the role that art plays in making communities. We’ve tackled some big questions about class, race, gentrification, and more. Beginning in Fall 2017, we will have several new PhD students whose coursework includes long-term internships in local cultural organizations, helping them develop solutions to the challenges that they face.
What work experiences (past or present) have been the most educational for you, and why?
I have had lots of jobs over the years: park ranger, HVAC installation and repair, day care, apartment manager, and many more. I’ve learned something from each of them. But, I have to say that by current job has been the most educational. It’s taught me to think more about what we mean when we talk about “scholarship.” It’s led me to be a much more creative researcher.
What project(s) are you currently working on?
In addition to the Cultural Ecologies Project, which I mention above, I direct the Rivers of the Anthropocene (RoA) project. RoA is a transdisciplinary research network of dozens of humanists, scientists, artists, social scientists, policy makers, and community organizers from eight different countries who focus on global water systems. In addition to holding regular symposia, this project supports a number of research endeavors, including Voices from the Waterways (an oral history project) and the Museum of the Anthropocene (a series of exhibitions that will begin popping up in 2018). In relation to RoA, I am writing a book _A History of the Anthropocene_. I am the lead editor on an edited volume, _Rivers of the Anthropocene_ that comes out this fall. And, we have two more edited volumes in production.
Why do you believe that the humanities are important to everyone, and not just people in academia?
In addition to the joy that the humanities bring to everyday life, I think the humanities are important because they hold us accountable. They help us imagine a world beyond ourselves, to consider the effects that we have on other people across distance and time. And, they ask us to justify our choices in multiple ways — ethically, historically, socially.
What is something that people might be surprised to learn about you (hobby, skill, interesting story)?
I don’t know how surprising it is, but I love to tend to our garden — and especially make it inviting to animals, which at the moment includes a fox, several Cooper’s Hawks, a Great Horned Owl, lots of songbirds, a few frogs, dragonflies, and butterflies. Visiting the garden is like entering a Beatrix Potter book sometimes.
What is your first thought in the morning and last thought at night?
Don’t check your email.
What is the worst job that you had while working through your degree and what would you tell your past self now?
I was very fortunate to have good jobs while working through my degrees. The hardest job though was installing ductwork in attics in the middle of the summer. Temperatures could get unbearable. We would be sweating and covered in fiberglass fibers, which got under our skin and itched and burned. But, I had a good boss and worked with a great crew. We were all in it together, which meant that event the hardest work wasn’t entirely unpleasant.
I would give my past self the same advice that I would give myself now. It’s the same advice a wise friend once gave me: "Slow down. There is plenty of time to do everything you want accomplish.” I know it’s very good advice, and sometimes I even listen to it.
Check back next month for more Coffee & Questions. In case you missed our interview last month with local performer, Angie Settlemire, click here.
Want to be interviewed? Contact us.
Our vision is to create a community of learners enriched, engaged and enlightened through the humanities.