“Humor is just another defense against the universe.” — Mel Brooks
Humor is a nearly universal human trait, yet it remains strangely difficult to define, or explain. Looking askance at any attempt to make sense of it, E.B. White wrote that “humor can be dissected as a frog can, but the thing dies in the process and the innards are discouraging to any but the pure scientific mind.” Fraught with contradiction, it is at once intimate and public, cerebral and emotional, serious and whimsical. It has a place in nearly every form of art and thought, ranging from the rowdy comic plays of classical Greece through the punning crosstalk dialogues of Qing-dynasty China, to Freud’s meditations on jokes and Richard Pryor’s sharply pointed examination of American racism. Humor can be subversive and liberating, as we see in the ancient traditions of carnival, but also cruel and abusive, as when it’s used to bully others or reinforce degrading stereotypes. Plato’s Republic urged the guardians of the ideal state to refrain from humor, while Nietzsche crafted a “gay science” that imagined laughter as a pathway to freedom. And now, emerging research in medicine, neuroscience, and other fields has begun to help us understand how integral humor might be to the structure of the human brain and to see possible roles for it in a variety of therapeutic settings.
Humor, in short, is an integral part of our human existence, yet it remains a shifting and unstable concept that varies across time and between cultures. Is it any wonder that it’s then so difficult to define? Throughout the 2015-16 academic year, the Oklahoma Center for the Humanities will explore this compelling if complicated concept through a diverse array of programs including concerts, performances, film screenings, exhibitions, discussions, lectures, and even stand-up acts. We will consider topics like racial and ethnic humor, comedy as a social or political practice, and the history of different comic genres like satire, slapstick, farce, and parody. We’ll ask why jokes often don’t translate across cultures and why, as Will Rogers said, “everything is funny, as long as it’s happening to someone else.”
In order to support this work, the OCH invites public applications to the Interdisciplinary Humanities Seminar. The seminar will convene once a week through the fall 2015 semester and will build around the expertise of each participant to launch an intensive investigation of humor, assisted by visiting speakers, artists, and performers. In the spring, participants will share their work with the larger community through talks, performances, colloquia, debates, and other events. The Center encourages interdisciplinary work and welcomes a broad interpretation of the theme that will carry our investigations across intellectual, critical, experimental, and aesthetic domains. Anyone interested in the topic is welcome to apply.
Application for the 2015-2016 Humanities Research Seminar
Application – PDF Application available for download
Description: The Interdisciplinary Humanities Research Seminar sponsored by the Oklahoma Center for the Humanities at the University of Tulsa promotes engaged, intellectual discussion on topics of current public and intellectual interest. Every year, a group of approximately eight Research Fellows will be chosen to collaborate on a series of weekly seminar discussions. It is hoped that these discussions will then lead into further projects, undertaken collectively or individually. These might include magazine articles, creative works, digital projects, educational initiatives, or efforts designed to spur civic action and participation. All members of the Tulsa-area community are eligible to apply as public fellows. The admissions committee will judge applications based on assessment of the proposal’s connection to the topic and potential for sparking dialogue among the seminar’s members.
Eligibility: Anyone whose public, private, or professional interests would benefit from involvement in the seminar is eligible to apply. Finalists will be asked to participate in a short interview with a member of the Center’s staff. Fellows will receive a small stipend to support their participation.
Requirements: The seminar will convene for three hours each week at the University of Tulsa from August 24th to December 7th, 2015. Fellows are expected to participate in all seminar sessions and to present some aspect of their work at an appropriate public forum in the spring of 2015.
The theme for the 2015-2016 seminar will be Humor. You are encouraged to interpret this topic broadly and in ways that are appropriate to your own areas of interest and expertise.
Application: The application for participation in the seminar should include the following.
- A resume or CV, including contact information.
- A brief letter of recommendation affirming your qualifications.
- Full responses to the three application questions listed below.
Applications should be sent by electronic attachment to: firstname.lastname@example.org
Application deadline: May 8, 2015.
Please direct questions to Sean Latham (email@example.com)
Application Questions (no more than 1,500 words total):
- Why does the topic of humor interest you and how does it connect your artistic, civic, personal, or intellectual interests?
- How would participation in this seminar contribute to your own work or interests? What kind of project do you see coming out of your participation in the seminar?
Provide a list of works (books, images, performances, films, articles, etc.) that you believe raise important issues in regard to humor