The $50 million donation set to transform the aging Hall of Graduate Studies into a modernized humanities hub has excited the imagination of Yale’s faculty and sparked talks of increased interdepartmental collaborations, but questions remain about how current academic programs and resources will be reorganized to accommodate this vision.
The proposed center will host a range of humanities departments and be located near various academic resources, such as the libraries on Cross Campus and the Center for Teaching and Learning, a space that will consolidate various teaching resources on campus. Several professors interviewed said this geographical centralization may help facilitate collaboration. And the creation last week of the “320 York Street Planning Committee” has signaled the significant size of the project and sparked faculty conversation about how the renovation, set to begin sometime after 2017, will alter the academic geography of campus and the face of the humanities at Yale.
Yale’s humanities departments are currently dispersed throughout campus. Philosophy sits on Old Campus in Connecticut Hall, History already lives in the halls of HGS and English dwells in Linsly-Chittenden Hall. The largest of these humanities loci, and the only current template for what a future humanities center might look like, is the Whitney Humanities Center on Wall Street.
Even after the renovations, some departments will remain in their current locations. For example, the Department of the History of Art will remain at the Loria Center and will not move to HGS, said art history professor Mary Miller GRD ’81, who sits on the 320 York Committee. Still, Miller said she is excited that the centralization of many humanities departments will allow many of her colleagues to work in a single location.
“Generating the sort of intellectual possibilities across the humanities [has] not always been easy in our fragmented architectural spaces,” Miller said.
Some faculty members, like religious studies professor Kathryn Lofton, who also sits on the committee, said they do not see the current landscape of Yale’s campus as an impediment to collaboration.
“The campus is too small in size to make departments feel truly scattered,” said Lofton.
In addition, she noted that there may be less visible barriers to collaboration, such as a potential clash of personalities after the merger. She compared the consolidation of humanities departments at Yale to the joinder of the engineering departments at AT&T and Western Electric in the 1920s to form Bell Laboratories — a partnership that caused some tensions but ultimately produced great innovation.
Likewise, Lofton said, she hopes the new humanities hub will encourage faculty from different departments to tackle problems together, as great things can come when people trade ideas and work in close proximity.
“The transition wasn’t easy, as there were a lot of egos among those engineers and a lot of logistics to relocating them,” Lofton said. “But the science that was produced in those spaces changed the world.”
The consolidation and reorganization of academic resources are not unique to the HGS project. The Center for Teaching and Learning was established in 2014 to integrate on-campus support services for undergraduates, graduate students and faculty members in areas like writing, language study and technology use. While these resources have previously been situated in several locations on campus, the center plans to consolidate them in one central location within Sterling Memorial Library by December.
Just as the faculty sees the revamped HGS as a place for collaboration, Yale’s librarians are thinking of ways to further connect the University’s libraries with the humanities departments, using the new humanities center as a means to that end. The proximity of 320 York St. to both Sterling and the Beinecke Rare Book and Manuscript Library will simplify the way humanities professors teach using library collections, said University Librarian Susan Gibbons.
“Together, these buildings form a cluster for humanities study,” Gibbons said. “The amenities, facilities and services in the different buildings should be complementary.”
Although Gibbons said it is too early in the planning process to know if any of the $50 million gift will go toward building new library spaces in 320 York St., she said that some departmental libraries and reading rooms are already housed in HGS.
The development of the new humanities center has also led to comparisons with the Whitney Humanities Center, a current center dedicated to the interdisciplinary study of the humanities.
East Asian Languages and Literatures professor Edward Kamens ’74 GRD ’82 said he thinks the new humanities hub will be “much like a bigger Whitney Humanities Center.” Associate Director of the Whitney Humanities Center Norma Thompson said that while she is unfamiliar with the overall initiative, she believes that the WHC will move to the HGS location by 2020.
Enrollment and the number of major programs in the humanities have declined, Kamens said, but the programs themselves are still as vital and engaged in their studies as ever. In addition to increasing the interaction between departments, Kamens added that the renovated 320 York space will add more energy to an already vibrant field.
Beyond physical renovations, the $50 million gift for HGS will also enrich the humanities at Yale by paying for high-profile visitors who may teach, lecture and hold office hours during their stay.
When asked who she might like to see visit, Lofton said she hopes Yale uses the endowed fund to attract a scholar who has yet to change the world: “Someone who hasn’t been labeled genius yet.”