What is Public Engagement

At the core of Public Programming in the College of Humanities and the Arts is the fundamental belief in the interaction between our college and the surrounding community. All of the Public Programming initiatives (see Engage) are rooted in this idea of Public Engagement or Public Humanities and Arts.

H&A in Action begins by asking the questions:

  • How do you teach Public Humanities and Arts through live programming?
  • What are the student learning goals and outcomes?
  • How do you find collaborators across campus? And community partners to engage the students (beyond service learning)?
  • How do you construct a shared assignment that engages students across their disciplines and boots them out of their silos?
  • Sure, you’ve got public art, but how do you log the metadata that’s necessary to curate and preserve the artwork for later study?
  • Or invite students to build the knowledge prior to attending an event?
  • Or create tertiary knowledge to enhance the live programming?
  • What does that assignment prompt, project-based learning, or scaffolded assignment look like?
  • How do you create a shared vocabulary with someone not in your discipline?
  • How do you engage with the rich culture surrounding SJSU in San José? 

In order to start answering these questions, we have asked ourselves to consider what is the "public" in Public Humanities and the Arts. 

What is Public Humanities and the Arts?

"Public art is a part of our public history, part of our evolving culture and our collective memory. It reflects and reveals our society and adds meaning to our cities. As artists respond to our times, they reflect their inner vision to the outside world, and they create a chronicle of our public experience." - Association for Public Art

“By finding ways to connect with readers and writers beyond our usual circles of experts, in a range of different registers, and in ways that move beyond enabling them to listen to us to instead allow for meaningful dialogue and collaboration, we can create the possibilities for far more substantial public participation in and engagement with a wide range of kinds of academic work. We can build programs and networks and platforms that do not just bring the university to the world, but also involve the world in the university.” - Kathleen Fitzpatrick, Generous Thinking (135).

"Public art instills meaning—a greater sense of identity and understandings of where we live, work, and visit—creating memorable experiences for all. It humanizes the built environment, provides an intersection between past, present, and future, and can help communities thrive." - Public Art Resource Center

In The Humanities and Everyday Life Michael Levenson places academic humanities within this field of "daily life, where abstract thought stands alongside material need. The humanities also live outside the university in activities that have been overlooked or undervalued: in book clubs, in historical re-enactments, in visits to museums and libraries, in private collections, in contributions to Wikipedia, and in amateur genealogy. These activities belong to the humanities, quite as much as research published in specialty journals."

"Final products matter less than a thoughtfully iterative, ongoing process rooted in a willingness to fail, listen, reflect, self-correct, reimagine, revamp, then repeat. What digital and engaged artists, designers, and scholars share with colleagues working in more conventional forms is a desire to have a significant impact. But whereas many of us were trained to influence our immediate intellectual communities, publicly engaged digital artists and scholars seek not merely to influence colleagues but to interact with larger, more varied audiences. That shift reorients individuals’ perceptions of their disciplines." - Teresa Magnum

The Humanities and Arts offer an opportunity to empathize with disparate voices and stories to answer the questions, “How we got to this place in history; how we remember the past; how we reason; how we communicate in words, images, sounds, objects, and gestures; how collectivities, institutions, and identities form and operate; the swell of emotion and its influence on judgment; the impact of public action on representative government: bold investigation and evidence-based analysis of all these questions and more allow us to understand ourselves and to create a just and equal future” - ACLS 2021

"Public-facing work carries a greater imperative to talk across, rather than down. It prompts thinking inside and outside at once. Faculty members like to say that research informs our teaching and vice versa, but the synergy that public humanities work brings has in some ways, for me, been more transformative. Public humanities work has fostered risk taking." - Devoney Looser

"We should not, in other words, preemptively define the public we hope to engage insomuch as we should do public work and, in doing so, find a public defined, imagined, and realized through our collaborations with the institutions, communities, and persons we encounter in the process." - Jordan Windholz

Public Humanities and Arts is all of these with a commitment to doing public work. H&A in Action offers an opportunity to engage in public work through our various public programming opportunities. Won't you join us?

For more readings and SJSU resources, check out our Resources page.