Virginia Tech will serve as this year’s host of the Virginia Humanities Conference.

Since the mid-20th century, the annual conference has brought together scholars with an interest in the humanities and a desire to participate in an exchange of ideas within a broad, interdisciplinary context. The conference rotates each year among Virginia college and university campuses.

The conference’s 2021 theme — “Democracy, Technology, and Social Justice: Humanities in an Unequal World” — was chosen by its current president, Sylvester Johnson, who directs the Virginia Tech Center for Humanities.

“We are very excited that the Center for Humanities has the opportunity to host the Virginia Humanities Conference,” Johnson said. “This network of humanities centers and institutes at colleges and universities in the commonwealth has devoted time each year to highlight humanities discussions related to a broad range of topics and questions.”

Johnson, whose own scholarship explores the human condition and social institutions of power in the age of intelligent machines, also serves as executive director of Tech for Humanity. This university-wide initiative addresses the societal impact and governance of technological innovations.

“The conference’s focus this year on democracy, technology, and social justice is a timely intersection of major challenges,” Johnson said. “It aligns with our Tech for Humanity initiative and with the Public Interest Technology University Network. We can expect a wonderful array of connections to emerge from this conference as we highlight the importance of human-centered scholarship in helping to shape a more equitable world.”

The free conference, this year held virtually for the first time, will take place from 2 to 5 p.m. on March 24, March 25, March 31, and April 1.

The conference is particularly focused on promoting collaborative research between faculty members and students. Conference organizers encourage participation by scholars — including undergraduate and graduate students — from any of the humanities disciplines, including history, political science, anthropology, literature, modern languages, drama, philosophy, theology, and the arts (visual arts, music, dance, and architecture).  

Johnson, who also serves as Virginia Tech’s assistant vice provost for the humanities, will offer opening remarks at the conference.

More than a dozen other Virginia Tech experts will participate in the program. Professor of Religion and Culture Brian Britt, for example, will present “Walter Benjamin’s American Humanities” as part of the “Identity and Society in Literature and Theory” panel.

Robert Browder, digital publishing specialist at University Libraries, will moderate “Power, Publishing, and the Digital Revolution.” Co-presenters in that panel will include Andrea Baldwin, an assistant professor of sociology; Trichia Cadette, a master’s student in arts leadership in the School of Performing Arts; Joe Forte, coordinator of the Athenaeum and digital humanities specialist in University Libraries; and Peter Potter, director of Virginia Tech Publishing.

E. Thomas Ewing, a professor of history, will moderate a panel, “Piedmont Tuberculosis Sanatorium: Race, Identity, and Health Policy in Virginia,” and a plenary roundtable, “Humanities Education, Integration and Engagement.” Ewing, who serves as associate dean for graduate studies and research in the College of Liberal Arts and Human Sciences, will also present “Dr. Goodman Is Right on the Job: Gender and the Politics of Public Health during the 1918 Influenza Epidemic.”

Katalin Parti, an assistant professor of sociology, will moderate a panel, “Fake News, Political Affiliation, and the Role of Social Media to Preserve Democracy.”

Finally, five doctoral students in the Alliance for Social, Political, Ethical, and Cultural Thought (ASPECT) will provide expertise:

  • Hannah Glasson, who will present “Spatial Biosecurity and the Politics of Intentional Relation: Alternatives to Hegemonic Narratives of Informationalized Life” as part of the “Technology, Health, and Human Security” panel;
  • Sarah Plummer, who will present “Difference and Otherness in Puppet Theater” as part of the “Religion, Theater, and Politics” panel;
  • Shaun Respess, who will present “Going Telemental: Contact & Intimacy in Digital Mental Health” as part of the “Technology, Health, and Human Security” panel;
  • Trevor Jeyaraj Samraj, who will moderate a panel, “Technology and Justice in the South Asian Context”; and
  • Sara Wenger, who will present “Fantasies of Domination: Exploring Technoliberalism’s Influence on Sexual Technologies” as part of the “Ethics, Justice, and Cyber Systems” panel.

Register for the free conference here.