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University Gazette

The University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill

Schroeder to develop new initiatives in ‘flourishing ecosystem’ of public humanities

Robyn Schroeder

Robyn Schroeder first became interested in public humanities (although she wasn’t calling it that yet) as an undergraduate at Wesleyan University. Schroeder is bringing that passion for public humanities to the College of Arts & Sciences as the new initiative director for the Mellon-funded Humanities for the Public Good. She began the post Oct. 9.

Schroeder had always been fascinated with issues of public memory, and one of the things she did as an undergraduate was give campus tours, sharing the university’s history with students and their families.

That led to a series of jobs after graduation, at museums big and smallthe Glessner House Museum and later the Museum of Science and Industry, both in Chicago, as well as the Lincoln Home National Historic Site in Springfield, Illinois.

She knew she wanted to attend graduate school and chose Brown University, receiving both a master of arts in public humanities and a doctorate in American studies there. She went on to serve as director of graduate studies and as a post-doctoral fellow at the John Nicholas Brown Center for Public Humanities and Cultural Heritage. She wore a variety of hats at Brownrunning academic programs and helping students to find community practicums, fellowships and jobs beyond
the academy.

One of the key things Schroeder (pronounced “SHRAY der”) learned through those experiences was that experts beyond the academy have a tremendous capacity for teaching local and larger histories. Carolina’s Humanities for the Public Good program uses multiple strategies to integrate public humanities into the curriculum and tap the potential of digital technology for humanities scholarship and teaching. It also reaches out to diverse communities to elevate awareness of existing humanities activities at Carolina as well as fosters new avenues of public engagement.

As director of new initiatives, Schroeder has already been meeting people, making connections and observing “how much more is possible because of the mission of this public institution in serving people beyond this campusin reaching the state of North Carolina.”

One of the events Schroeder created at the John Nicholas Brown Center was a “Day of Public Humanities” with a fellow postdoc, Jim McGrath. They curated and organized activities and a discussion on how to raise the profile of the public humanities.

At Carolina, she hopes to conduct a baseline assessment of the publicly engaged activity already happening here.

“We have a flourishing ecosystem of public humanities work already, but part of my purview is to make connections among people who might not normally come into contact with one another,” she said. “My husband calls that ‘thickening the matrix.’”

At Brown, Schroeder was active in the Northeast Public Humanities Consortium, an organization that shares resources among universities doing publicly engaged work in support of art, culture, history and education.

“What I see in looking around at other universities doing public humanities work is an opportunity for Carolina to become a leading model,” she said. “I want to inspire people to think that the realm of the possible is bigger than they think it is.”