James English, Director
John Welsh Centennial Professor of English
The Penn Humanities Forum was launched in the spring of 1999 with a "Celebration of Philadelphia Writers" organized by Wendy Steiner. That three-day event brought together dozens of local novelists, poets, and scholars in historic and cultural venues throughout the city. Over 2000 Philadelphians attended the readings, walking tours, performances, and lectures, and thousands across the country saw these re-broadcast on C-Span. The Celebration epitomized the Forum's mission: to use humanistic knowledge and expertise to promote an ongoing cultural conversation involving artists, academics in various disciplines, and the general public.
As Founding Director, Steiner led the Forum through an exciting decade of expansion and experiment. Every year has seen a great diversity of participants discovering common ground through a program of events concerted around a single theme. The inaugural topic was “Human Nature,” enlisting evolutionary biologists, medical ethicists, literary and music scholars, artists, gender theorists, and human rights experts. In this and all our subsequent annual themes, we have considered how the humanities are linked with many areas of inquiry in medicine, law, business, and the social sciences.
Each topic is explored in a rich program of public lectures, performances, and exhibitions, as well as through faculty and student research. Actively participating in Philadelphia's civic life, we cosponsor and site programs in major cultural and historical venues around the city.
The Forum thus has many beneficiaries. Perhaps most fundamentally, it provides a setting in which humanities scholars and students can put their ideas and values to work. The Forum enables them to learn from those outside their field, to bring their research into a public conversation, and to help make the university a place of benefit to the wider community.
If you explore our website you will discover a world of interconnections, for the Forum is itself a kind of web, a growing system of links binding people and ideas and institutions. We extend to you our most cordial invitation to join this network, to participate in the Penn Humanities Forum.