A few years ago, a group of professors at Eastern Illinois University considered founding a Humanities Center that would advocate for the role of the humanities in higher education. At first, in thinking about how this new Center might function, they called it the “Center for the Translational Humanities.”
In first contemplating what our Humanities Center could do for our campus, we found the word translation to offer a powerful metaphor. One of the most important functions of the university—ours or any other—is its ability to serve as a space of translation. This “translation” can take many forms.
In many ways, each department, or field of study, taught at the university uses a unique approach or method for examining the world. This specific approach, or discipline, is like a language spoken by all those people (researchers, faculty, and students) who learn, teach, and think in that particular field of study.
We thought that our Center might assist in finding ways for people who work and think in one department, who speak one particular language, to communicate more easily with people who work and think in another, who speak another language. In other words, we could help folks translate between the various disciplines of the university.
For more ways we thought of our Center as a place of translation, check out this link.
In the end, the name “Center for the Translational Humanities” had one big problem: the word “translational.” It is, we had to admit, a word that doesn’t quickly and readily evoke the meanings we wanted it to. It’s not a word you hear very often, and it tends to be used in very specific contexts that are not easily understood in relation to teaching and research in the humanities—fields such as molecular biology, medicine, and even physics.
And, since we wanted our Center to be a space that fosters the exchange of experiences, ideas, research, and creativity between students, faculty, and community, we decided that a name that sounded confusing might not be our best choice. So we abandoned the “translational,” and now go by the more-direct name of EIU’s Center for the Humanities.
Sort of. While we no longer call ourselves the “Center for the Translational Humanities,” our acronym—CtH—embeds the history of that name. After all, the “t” in CtH can stand for “the” or “translational.”
And we still think of the CtH as a space that promotes innovative ways of translating research into action, of translating between the past and the present, and providing opportunities for various constituents of the university and the community to come together to generate productive and interesting conversations about ideas, ourselves, and our world.