Interdisciplinary Humanities Research Seminar on Play: Call for Public Fellows Applications

“Play is the exultation of the possible”

—Martin Buber

Play is a fundamentally inventive social activity in which we craft rules, experiment with boundaries, find new opportunities for expression, and engage in creative work.  Both a noun and a verb, the word is wildly expansive and can describe everything from artistic performance to sporting events and phone apps.  Play is among the first things we do as children as we seek to to test the limits and possibilities of a bewildering world.  Yet we sometimes imagine that such activities have to be pushed aside as part of the growth into adulthood and oppose play to things like work, productivity, seriousness, and maturity.

Johan Huizinga, however, argues that play is an essential human activity, “that civilization arises and unfolds in and as play.”  Games have long been a central feature of our social, civic, and imaginative lives, from the ancient Greek marathon, through contemporary college sports, to the explosive growth of digital gaming.  Modern workplaces often deliberately incorporate elements of play into their design, and urban planners seek to create spaces—like Tulsa’s Gathering Place—that treat play as a fundamental element of social life.  Education, leisure, and even government have incorporated “gamification” to improve outcomes and increase engagement.

Play has, it seems, moved to the center of our culture, but what are the consequences of this shift?  What does it mean, for example, to dissolve the boundary between work and play or to incorporate game design into civic and educational practices?  Does play offer a new way to theorize the humanities, education, and creative practice more generally?  Or are we at risk of play losing its spark in these attempts to manage it?  And how do the definitions, practices, and places of play change across time and between cultures?  What about the role of things like race, gender, class, sexuality, and technology, whether in “gamergate” or in the design of toys, cities, and classrooms?  Finally, how can the concept of play help us better understand our changing definitions of work, leisure, boredom, and pleasure?  These are some of the questions the OCH will explore through intensive research and public programming in 2019-20.

In order to support this work, the OCH invites public applications to the Interdisciplinary Humanities Seminar focused on the topic of Play. The seminar will convene once a week through the fall 2019 semester and build on the expertise of each participant with assistance from visiting speakers, artists, and performers.  In the spring, participants will share their work with the larger community through talks, performances, workshops, and other events.  The Center welcomes a broad interpretation of the theme that will carry our investigations across intellectual, political, experimental, and artistic domains.  Anyone interested in the topic is welcome to apply.  For more information visit

Application for the 2019-2020 Humanities Research Seminar

Description: The Interdisciplinary Humanities Research Seminar sponsored by the Oklahoma Center for the Humanities at the University of Tulsa is intended to promote 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 digital projects, performances, creative works, or activities designed to spur civic action and service.  The admissions committee will judge applications based on an assessment of the proposal’s interdisciplinary appeal and its potential for sparking dialogue.

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 be eligible to receive a small stipend to defray any direct costs associated with their participation.

Requirements:  The seminar will convene for three hours each week at the University of Tulsa from August 26 to December 9, 2019.  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 2019.

Theme: The theme for the 2019-2020 seminar will be Play.  You are encouraged to interpret this topic broadly and in ways that are appropriate to your own fields of interest or expertise.

Application: Applications for participation in the seminar should include the following:

  • A resume or CV, including contact information,
  • A brief letter of reference,
  • Full responses to the three application questions listed below.

Applications should be sent by electronic attachment to:


Please direct any questions to Sean Latham (

Application Questions (no more than 1,500 words total):

  1. Why does the topic of play interest you and how does it connect your civic, professional, intellectual, personal, or artistic interests?
  2. How would participation in this seminar contribute to your own work or interests? What kind of project do see coming out of your participation in the seminar?
  3. What are some of the key works (books, images, performances, films, articles, etc.) that you believe raise important issues in regard to play. Please simply list 10-12 items.