IWU brings back humanities conference

Maria Harmon

 Illinois Wesleyan’s English Department hosted MUSE+, an undergraduate humanities conference on January 25 along with current and past Humanities Fellows.

Revived from the early 2000s, MUSE celebrates a variety of humanistic pursuits including, among others, poetry, history, philosophy, art, film and literature.

Undergraduate students from across the state as well as several from IWU presented their work at the day-long conference in State Farm Hall. 

The conference was supervised by professor of english and University Writing Program Director Mike Theune and organized by a number of students participating in the Humanities Fellows First-Year Experience. 

“MUSE was the result of the passion for humanistic thinking felt by many of the students at Illinois Wesleyan. A group of former First-Year Humanities Fellows wanted to continue to find ways to express and embody their interest in the humanities,” Professor Theune said. 

A call was put out to students in the area to present research they had worked on, and the organizers were given many student presentations to work with, ranging from projects centered around public health abroad to different styles of poetry. 

“MUSE was not only a great academic experience, but it also gave me insight into what it may be like to present research in my field after college,” student presenter Yovana Miloselvic said. 

The conference’s keynote speaker, Prof. Andrew Delbanco, was selected in part because in 2017 and 2018, First-Year Humanities Fellows engaged with Delbanco’s ideas–as encountered in his book College: What It Was, Is, and Should Be, and in his participation in the documentary Ivory Tower.

As the Alexander Hamilton Professor of American Studies at Columbia University, Andrew Delbanco is a member of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences, the American Philosophical Society, as well as the author of many academic books. 

In 2012 President Obama awarded Professor Delbanco a National Humanities Medal for his work in writing about higher education. 

A scholar and writer, Delbanco has been a point of interest for Wesleyan’s humanities students for some time. 

That interest along with the release of his new book, Fugitive Slaves and the Struggle for America’s Soul: Coming to Terms with Our Nation’s Past was a large reason he was sought out to be the conference’s keynote speaker, according to Theune. 

Professor Delbanco’s presentation expressed the ways in which America’s dark past of slavery still affects us today. 

Quoting writer William Faulkner in his argument, Delbanco described his book as a reminder that “the past is never dead. It’s not even the past.” 

Two panels were also included in the day’s events, one of which focused on humanistic 

professions and included panelists Julie Hile, Founder and President of a local consulting firm, the Hile Group, Professor Kelahan and Writing Center Director, Anna Scanlon.

The second panel explored the publication process and included Professors Erlewine and Plath from Wesleyan as well as the Director of the Publishing unit at ISU, Steve Halle. 

Theune is hopeful that the conference will continue through the humanities scholars after the success of the revival. 

“The human condition isn’t going anywhere. Hopefully, MUSE will continue to offer a venue for taking it seriously, and treating it with care and imagination,” Theune said.

Student organizers were also enthusiastic about the success of this year’s conference. 

“The humanities fellowship originated my freshman year with the intention of raising awareness for the necessity of the humanities through presence, cohesion and a shared sense of purpose,” student organizer Gia Joyce said. 

Student organizers have been working on bringing the conference back for the better part of a year, 

Upperclassmen have been working on the possibility of the conference for even longer. 

“For me Saturday brought the concepts we have been working towards for the past three years to life,” Joyce said. 

Theune plans to keep the conference alive through the continued work of IWU’s Humanities Fellows. 

“Based on this years success ,and on the student organizer’s energy and continued interest in promoting the humanities, I feel confident that MUSE will happen again and hopefully well into the future,” Theune said.