Founded in 1966, Penn State’s Institute for the Arts and Humanities is one of the oldest and most distinctive interdisciplinary centers in the nation. Over the past fifty years, major American universities have created dozens of advanced research institutes in the humanities and/or centers for the fine and performing arts, but because the arts and humanities are almost always housed in different colleges with different administrative structures, most universities have kept their arts and humanities centers separate. Penn State, by contrast, is one of a handful of universities whose interdisciplinary institute was designed from the outset to bring together innovative work in the arts and humanities– under one roof, across two colleges.
As a result, the Institute for the Arts and Humanities spans disciplines that range from philosophy to music, from history to dance, from comparative literature to landscape architecture. The structural division between the arts and humanities at most American universities is significant– and would baffle and vex almost any artist or scholar from eras that predate the rise of the research university. Plato and Aristotle would not understand why philosophy is so distant from music on the university’s organizational chart, nor would William Shakespeare and Ben Jonson understand why the English department and the School of Theatre have so little cross-programming and intellectual exchange. The IAH is committed to challenging this curious and counterproductive division of labor by involving artists and humanists in every kind of discussion and debate about what it means– and what it has meant– to be human.