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Oklahoma Center for the Humanities at TU announces 2016-17 fellows

The Oklahoma Center for the Humanities at The University of Tulsa has announced its annual class of fellows for the 2016-17 academic year. The 10 individuals selected from applications submitted earlier this year include TU faculty and students as well as members of the Tulsa community. They are engaged in wide-ranging creative and research activities surrounding the idea of food – a topic the center will explore through lectures, symposia, public debates, readings, shared meals and exhibitions.

The faculty fellows include Lisa Cromer, associate professor of psychology; Sam Halabi, associate professor of law; Chris Ruane, professor emeritus of history; Bruce Willis, professor of languages; and Jan Wilson, associate professor of history and women’s and gender studies.

They will be joined by two students: Molly Noah, a museum studies master’s student, and Emma Stewart, an undergraduate English student. The center also has named three public fellows: Michelle Donaldson, executive chef at Tallgrass Prairie Table in Tulsa; Sasha Martin, Tulsa author of Life From Scratch: A Memoir of Food, Family, and Forgiveness and founder of the blog Global Table Adventure; and Anh-Thuy Nguyen, artist and assistant professor of fine art at Rogers State University in Claremore, Okla.

Food is a foundational aspect of all human cultures. The manifold ways we grow, prepare, regulate and share what we eat gives shape to identities both cultural and political, ethnic and national. Food preparation is a source of enormous creativity – our kitchens are social sites where tradition mixes with innovation amid a now global flow of ingredients, tastes and techniques. Eating itself lies at the very core of most world religions, giving rise to ritual as well as to values like hospitality and generosity. In the arts, we find food everywhere, from early images of hunters scratched in rock through Renaissance paintings and modern cinema. It’s there in the earliest recorded literatures, like the Egyptian Book of the Dead, and it drives the plots of Renaissance plays and contemporary dystopian novels.

Some of the great cultural and historical shifts in human history can also be traced to changing food ways. Agricultural innovations, like the plow, and ecological disasters, like the Irish famines, have concentrated populations and dispersed them. We see the evidence of these great migrations in abandoned Mayan ruins and in the towns of western Oklahoma where the prairie turned to desert amid the Great Dust Bowl. Today, the industrialization of food production is changing what and how we eat, simultaneously contributing to climate change even while generating vast new global food supplies. The language of food, furthermore, shapes the very ways we write and speak about ourselves: taste and hunger, consumption and starvation – such words borrow the rituals of the table to describe our pleasure, desire and pain. Food, in short, is an essential element of the human condition. Throughout the 2016-17 academic year, the Oklahoma Center for the Humanities will explore its human dimensions through a diverse array of programs including concerts, performances, film screenings, exhibitions, discussions, lectures, cooking demonstrations and shared meals.

The Oklahoma Center for the Humanities at The University of Tulsa was founded in early 2014 when an interested group of faculty and administrators gathered with the shared goal of developing a public think tank focused on enduring questions about history, identity, ethics, memory, art, music and literature. Sean Latham, Pauline Walter Professor of Comparative Literature at TU, was named the center’s founding director. Each year, the center focuses attention on a single topic designed to help us better understand what it means to be human.

For more information about the center and its programs, please visit