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Humanities & Public Life Book Series: An Obermann/UI Press Collaboration

The 21st century is proving to be an exciting era of imaginative, interdisciplinary collaborations among academic, local, and global partners. Inspired by such projects, the Obermann Center for Advanced Studies and the University of Iowa Press have launched a new book series, Humanities & Public Life. Obermann director Teresa Mangum and historian Anne Valk (Williams College) are co-editors of the series; they work closely with press editor Catherine Cocks.

The series spotlights the work of artists, scholars, and activists immersed in publicly engaged projects in which the humanities, arts, and culture inspire community-building and civic change. Part exhibition, part documentary, part advice, and part reflection on failures, successes, and possible futures, the series honors innovative forms of humanities scholarship in all their many-layered, capacious complexity. The series is also uniquely committed to capturing collaborations from the perspectives of faculty, students, community members, and organizational partners.

The first two books in the series were published this summer and are already receiving national attention.

The Penelope Project

Book cover showing rolls of colorful fabricOf the 15,000 nursing homes in the United States, how many are places you’d want to visit, much less live in? At Milwaukee’s Luther Manor, a team of artists from the University of Wisconsin’s theater department and Sojourn Theatre Company joined university students and Manor staff, residents, and volunteers in trading their bingo cards for copies of The Odyssey. They embarked on a two-year project to examine this ancient story from the perspective of the hero who never left home: Penelope, wife of Odysseus. Together, the team staged a play that engaged everyone and transcended the limits not just of old age and disability but also of youth, institutional regulations, and disciplinary boundaries.

The Penelope Project was collaboratively created, and the book is authored by three of the project partners: playwright, scholar, and professor Anne Basting; director and creative producer Maureen Towey; and gerontologist and chief arts officer and co-founder of GeroStart Inc., Ellie Rose.

You can learn more about the book and a PBS film about the project at the Humanities & Public Life website.

See You in the Streets

Book cover showing colorful, chalked sidewalksIn 1911, a fire at the Triangle Shirtwaist Factory in New York City took the lives of 146 workers, most of them young immigrant women and girls. Their deaths galvanized a movement for social and economic justice then, but today’s laborers continue to battle dire working conditions. Artist Ruth Sergel’s response was to found the Remember the Triangle Fire Coalition, a broad alliance of artists and activists, universities and unions—more than 250 partners nationwide—to mark the 2011 centennial of the infamous blaze. This book provides a lively account of the unexpected partnerships, false steps, joyous collective actions, and sustainability of such large public works.

CBS News’ moving feature story on the 105th anniversary includes an interview with author Ruth Sergel.

Learn more about the Humanities & Public Life book series.