Johns Hopkins announces inaugural Humanities Research Symposium

The symposium, to be held in April and named in honor of humanities scholar Richard Macksey, will welcome up to 400 undergrads from around the country to JHU for an exploration of humanities research

Humanities research, like scientific research, is exacting and full of trial and error. But no two humanities "laboratories" are alike—humanities research is conducted at sites as varied as archaeological digs, in rare book rooms, in museums, or in city archives.

In an effort to showcase this diversity of humanities research, Johns Hopkins University's Krieger School of Arts and Sciences is launching the inaugural Richard Macksey National Undergraduate Humanities Research Symposium. The symposium, to be held April 3-4, 2020, on the university's Homewood campus, will host up to 400 undergraduates from Johns Hopkins and colleges and universities across the country who will present their scholarship.

The symposium is the brainchild of Natalie Strobach, director of the Krieger School's Office of Undergraduate Research, Scholarly, and Creative Activity.

Richard Macksey reading in his library
Richard Macksey, one-of-a-kind intellectual giant

A legendary figure in the humanities at Johns Hopkins, he was affiliated with the university for six and a half decades and was known for uncommon wit and wisdom. Learn more about the man and his contributions to the study of humanities at Hopkins and beyond.

"When I was an undergraduate, it was impossible to find a platform dedicated to sharing undergraduate research in the humanities," Strobach says. "I was eventually able to present, but it was at a large conference, where most of the participants were in STEM and the social sciences. It has been a goal of mine since that time to help find a home for humanities presentations."

Enter alumnus Rob Friedman, a longtime supporter of the humanities at Hopkins. Friedman heard about Strobach's idea and wanted to fund it. At the time, Friedman's former professor and friend, Richard Macksey, was in hospice care. Macksey, who died in July, was a world-renowned expert in humanities studies, and it was Friedman's idea to name the new symposium after him.

For its inaugural year, the Macksey Symposium will present a private speaking engagement for conference participants with Pulitzer-winning author Anthony Doerr. The conference will include research presentations from undergraduate participants and panels on topics such as graduate school admissions.

"There is still no other undergraduate humanities symposium in the country of this scale, and even the largest professional academic organizations do not have major events designated for undergraduates," Strobach says. "That's why I'm so excited that Johns Hopkins will now be the home for that. Our goal is to bring a level of professionalism to the work of these students that they wouldn't be able to experience anywhere else, while also enabling them to disseminate their research outside of their campuses and broaden discussions we're having in humanities fields from anthropology to media studies to philosophy."

Undergraduates currently enrolled at any two- or four-year college, university, or community college can apply to the symposium. Conference presentations can be up to 10 minutes long and can consist of reading a paper (approximately 1,200-1,500 words), presenting a PowerPoint slideshow, reciting an original piece of creative writing or poetry, or even showing an original short film.