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35 Years of Enrichment

With the Tanner Humanities Center

Missy Weeks


35 Years of Enrichment

With the Tanner Humanities Center

Missy Weeks


  Since 1988, the Tanner Humanities Center has served as an epicenter of humanities inquiry, education, research, and dialogue. The center is critical in helping the University of Utah campus and community understand the human condition. In August 2022, the center celebrated their 35th anniversary with an exhilarating return to fullfledged, in-person programming. The excitement didn’t stop there, as the year unfolded with a whirlwind of engaging events and fellow research.

“For 35 years, the Tanner Humanities Center has brought the world to the University of Utah,” said Hollis Robbins, dean of the College of Humanities, which houses the center. “Inviting transformational writers and humanist leaders such as Margaret Atwood, Tony Kushner, Isabel Allende, and Mohamed ElBaradei to exchange ideas with our faculty, students, and community, and to provoke us to examine ever anew the complex history of human flourishing. The humanities begin in wonder and end in understanding. We have provided a home for a generation of fellows to produce research on human creativity and resilience in times of war, famine, oppression, and peace, from medieval Europe to Imperial China, to the Navajo experience over three centuries. Three and half decades of enrichment! We look forward to decades upon decades more.”


The Humanities Begin in Wonder and end in understanding

The center has proudly funded academic research for scholars at various stages of their careers. This year, the center hosted a brilliant cohort of 10 research fellows from seven diverse humanities fields, including Undergraduate Research Fellowships, Graduate Research Fellowships, Mormon Studies Graduate Research Fellowships, Virgil C. Aldrich Faculty Fellowships, Obert C. & Grace A. Visiting Research Fellowships, and the Annie Clark Tanner Fellowship in Environmental Humanities and Environmental Justice. Central to the center’s community of scholars is the opportunity to get feedback and support on their research through the Works-in-Progress Talks. Since 2006, the center has hosted more than 100 of these talks, which allow fellows to workshop drafts of their work with peers and share their research with the wider Utah community.


Three fellows sitting and having a discussion

“Due to the generosity of the Tanner Humanities Center, I was able to accomplish more than at any other point in my professional career to date,” said Taylor Brorby, Annie Clark Tanner Fellow in Environmental Humanities and Environmental Justice. “I was able to tour the country nationally to promote my recent book, ‘Boys and Oil: Growing Up Gay in a Fractured Land,’ and make headway on my next memoir related to diabetes, climate change, and being gay while also making additional progress beyond the parameters of my initial application on my first novel.”

Many fellows publish work undertaken at the center in articles, critical academic journals, and books with respected national and international publishers, including Yale, Oxford, Cambridge, Harvard, and Princeton. Former Annie Clark Fellow in Environmental Humanities and Environmental Justice, Gretchen Henderson, celebrated the center’s 35th anniversary with a book launch for “Life in the Tar Seeps: A Spiraling Ecology from a Dying Sea,” which she worked on during her time as a fellow. Former Virgil D. Alrich Faculty Fellow, Daniel Medwed, author of “Barred: Why the Innocent Can’t Get out of Prison,” visited one snowy February day to discuss wrongful convictions and how to create an equitable justice system for all.

Throughout the past year, the center hosted several free public outreach events where many topics were explored, such as agency and gaming, gender, Iranian politics, Indigenous poetry, economic inequality, the free market, climate change, mental health, and the role of science fiction in shaping collective futures. Author Azar Nafisi visited during banned books week and as women’s rights protests were taking off after the death of Mahsa Amini in Iran. Nafisi spoke with Jeremy Rosen, former acting director of the center, about her work and the power of literature during troubling times. Former U.S. Poet Laureate, Joy Harjo, visited Kingsbury Hall and filled the room with her poetry, philosophy, and song.

The center discussed the zero-sum paradigm with economist Heather McGhee, video games in the humanities with University of Utah professor Thi Nguyen, free market ideology with Harvard professor Naomi Oreskes, climate anxiety with expert Britt Wray, and the bleak reality that science fiction isn’t just fiction anymore with Kim Stanley Robinson.

These events are opportunities for the community to gather and share in spaces of rich, engaging discussions with speakers of all backgrounds and interests. Susan Anderson, development officer for the center, said of the mission’s commitment to public outreach, “I have been entertained, challenged, and moved by the writers, scholars, and public figures we have hosted for our public outreach events. I have also been energized by the conversations I have overheard in various lobbies, aisles, hallways, and at our book signings. Shared humanities experiences connect us, make us think, and improve our campus, community, and lives. It has been an honor to be part of this important work.”

The center’s dedication to learning continued outside the college as they facilitated 10 National Theatre Live screenings designed to captivate students and lifelong learners. Additionally, they empowered Utah teachers through five professional development workshops, offering them fresh insights to invigorate their classrooms throughthe Gateway to Learning courses. Susie Porter, professor of gender studies and history at the U, was selected for the center’s Professor Off Campus program to support her project “Artes de México en Utah: Humanities in the Latinx Community in Utah.” These three programs underscore the center’s commitment to educational enrichment not just at the U but within the entire state of Utah, providing opportunities to hundreds of educators who go on to impact thousands of students. 

African-american woman stands at a podium giving a lecture.

Data box of statistics for the Tanner Humanities Center

Amidst a year of commemoration and celebration, April 2023 became a standout month as the center hosted two exceptional events to honor its 35 years of excellence. The events served as a reminder of the center’s essential role in connecting people and ideas and igniting the spark of curiosity and intellectual exploration that drives society forward. As the center reflects on the past and embraces the future, they remain steadfast in their commitment to fostering a thriving community of knowledge and understanding. The 35th anniversary celebrations were a testament to their collective dedication and passion for the humanities, and the center eagerly anticipates the countless opportunities that lie ahead.


Last Updated: 10/30/23