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The Franke Institute for the Humanities

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At the heart of the Franke Institute's mission and its physical space is a paradox about the public and the private, a paradox that reflects crucial tensions always central to humanistic work. On the one hand, research is usually a solitary effort involving a scholar's extensive reading in documents and texts (often rare and arcane ones) as a way of trying to gain a new grasp on continuing human problems and questions of understanding and value; unlike work in the sciences and social sciences where research teams are the norm, work in the arts and humanities tends to be individual and private. But, on the other hand, the sorting and testing of issues and methods involves interchange, discussion, and argument - a collaborative stage of work that is public or at least quasi-public. And, in its implication, work in the humanities is by definition 'public', involving issues that have to do with ongoing concerns and values in ordinary life as well as with the larger directions of culture and society.

Work in the humanities thus by definition involves both individual creative work in the solitude of an archive and communal interchange that reviews and tests results in a social, interactive, and pragmatic setting. The Institute is therefore an emblem, in its aims and its location, of the dual purposes the humanities serve in modern life: to discover new insights, modes of analysis, and cultural directions, and to test all tentative insights (old and new) against the most rigorous scrutiny and criticism.

These dual aims are tied to the aims of the Humanities Division of the University and to the goals of humanistic study generally: to further (through private study and public debate) a knowledge of the past as a way of understanding the present and preparing for the future. We not only seek a clearer and more broadly human understanding of past traditions, texts, and cultures, but encourage a wider investigation of similar issues in our present world through the reconfiguration of disciplinary modes. We mean both to stimulate exciting new directions in humanistic study and to harvest the best of traditional work - subjecting all projects continually to the kind of rigorous questioning and argument that the best and most valued traditions of humanistic inquiry have always insisted on.

Our efforts are thus eclectic, collaborative, and inclusive. We try to bring together creatively the joint aims of any meaningful educational institution or enterprise, teaching and research - aims that ultimately are harmonious but are often thought to be in conflict. We mean, that is, to promote both the creation of new knowledge and the dissemination of what is already known - and in the process to further the atmosphere of intellectual excitement which is the University of Chicago. We try to bring together, in one place, the individualistic processes of research and communal processes of teaching - both private and public discovery.


"In the great interdisciplinary tradition of the University of Chicago, we've created a physical and intellectual home for scholars in the humanities. For them, the Franke Institute is at once a time and a place and a public venue. It is a time when scholars, thanks to a generous fellowship program, can engage in intensive research. It is a place for these scholars to share their findings and debate their ideas, particularly with those from other fields and other universities. Finally and increasingly, it is a venue through which humanities scholars can engage more fully with their non-academic audiences."

Hugo Sonnenschein
President Emeritus, University of Chicago

Office window at the Franke Institute
Photo Credit: Mai Vukcevich

The Franke Institute for the Humanities | 1100 East 57th Street, JRL S-118 | Chicago, Illinois 60637 | 773-702-8274