Theme for 2023-2024


The Humanities Center at the University of Pittsburgh would like to introduce the 2023-2024 theme of Histories. We invite scholars to reflect with us on questions that interpret the theme of "Histories" in a broad and generous sense that encompasses work from all crafts and disciplines that engages with the past in some way.

Recent years have seen many ways of mobilizing the past to serve various ideas of and agendas for the present and future, and we invite you to consider them alongside us.

We ask questions about the work that histories do in the U. S. Supreme Court’s mobilization of “original contexts” for the interpretation of constitutional provisions, in the invocation of legal and historical precedent to justify the overturning of Roe v. Wade, for example.

We consider the technologies of history-making, as the James Webb Space Telescope reveals the visible history of the universe in new detail and as anthropogenic climate change makes ecological time more vivid.

We experiment with new forms of historiography that conceive time and space on scales other than human, and that take non-human historicity seriously. In a world of objects and environments made in a slew of different temporal contexts and emergent at very different temporal scales, what does and should anachronism mean? What experiments with slowness and dailiness and scale do we need in our histories to tell the stories that are important to us?

We ask about the role of imagination and counterfactuals in the writing of histories. Given that “the historical record” has already been selected to make certain stories visible and others invisible, what responsibility do we have to imagine into documentary absences and fragments? What experiments with imagining can we take up to respond to such historical erasure? Given that documentary erasure is so common and so problematic, are there practices of collecting and producing archives we can foster now that make future histories more likely to be just? And what are the roles of memory amid such documentary absences and fragments?

We ask what it means to begin a work of art - a poem, an installation, a film - with a historical object of some kind. Practically speaking, how can we do that? What emerges? And what do interweavings of the fictional, the fabulous, and the factual tell us about these various categories?

We consider the history of thought as a particular kind of history motivating our theoretical presuppositions today. We ask, for example, about the place of history of philosophy in philosophy, history of political thought in political science, and history of science in science.

We ask: what distinctive challenges and opportunities do we have with histories that do not run into the present and are disconnected in some sense with “today”?

We consider the relationship between histories and speculative futures. What ways of embedding value in narrative are evident in conjectural future histories like eschatology or science fiction?

We wonder about the relationships between histories and temporalities. Are they the same thing, quite different, or related to each other in some way? Is the temporal sequencing and structuring of music, for instance, a form of history? If so, how so? If not, why not?

Alongside these larger questions about history, time, and context, we also consider questions of history-making and history-application in the quotidian, history in everyday life. How do individual life histories or institutional histories impact present / future decisions and practices?

We intend this theme to be invitational to all humanities and humanities adjacent disciplines and crafts. If you have any questions, please be in touch with the Humanities Center Co-Directors, Carla Nappi ( and David Marshall (