A floormap
A section of the architectural plan of the Franklin Humanities Institute at Smith Warehouse.

Founded in 1999, the John Hope Franklin Humanities Institute (FHI) is built on a fundamentally collaborative model befitting the Duke University emphasis on knowledge in the service of society. Through interdisciplinary cross-fertilization, we seek to encourage the conversations, partnerships, and collaborations that continually stimulate creative and fresh humanistic research, writing, teaching, and practice at Duke. Inspired by the scholarly and civic example of John Hope Franklin, we also support work that engages questions of race and social equity in their most profound historical and global dimensions.

The FHI was jointly founded by Cathy N. Davidson (Distinguished Professor of English, CUNY Graduate Center; Ruth F. DeVarney Professor Emerita of Interdisciplinary Studies, Duke) and Karla F. C. Holloway (James B. Duke Professor Emerita of English, Duke), respectively Vice Provost for Interdisciplinary Studies and Dean of the Humanities and Social Sciences at the time. Since our inception, the FHI has been a key element of the University’s overall strategic vision. The FHI was designated as a University Institute in Duke's 2005-6 Strategic Plan, Making a Difference. The most recent Strategic Plan, Together Dukeidentifies the FHI's Humanities Labs, the Faculty Book Manuscript Workshops, and the Duke Human Rights Center @ FHI as vital contributors to the University's mission to "grow, connect, and empower diverse and inclusive communities of excellence" and "to enhance the creation, delivery, and translation of knowledge for a rapidly changing world."

For its first decade, the FHI was based at the John Hope Franklin Center for Interdisciplinary and International Studies, a "center of centers" comprised of initiatives across the arts, humanities, social sciences, and area studies. Our first flagship program, the Annual Seminar (1999 - 2011), provided a structure of exchange for humanities faculty, graduate students, and postdoctoral fellows across multiple disciplines and departments, along with Professional School faculty and librarians. Through the Seminar and a rich array of campus and public programs that included the Annual Distinguished Lecture, Scholars in Residence, Wednesdays at the Center, and more, the FHI became a hub for the humanities at Duke.

In Fall 2010, the FHI moved to the renovated Smith Warehouse on Duke's East Campus, near the heart of Durham's historic Downtown. The Warehouse has been home to our Humanities Laboratories initiative, which began in 2010 with the Haiti Lab, co-directed by Laurent Dubois and Deborah Jenson, who later served as the Institute's Faculty Director from 2015-17. The Humanities Labs contribute to Duke's research and pedagogical missions by convening groups of faculty, graduate students, and undergraduates around discipline-crossing projects, in spaces designed specifically to catalyze collaborative work. FHI labs have spanned regions (Haiti Lab, BorderWork(s) Lab, Global Brazil Lab, Amazon Lab), creative genres and modes (Story Lab, Social Practice Lab), technologies and media (Greater than Games, Audiovisualities, Digital Knowledge), as well as significant social phenomena (Health Humanities, Social Movements). 

In addition to the Humanities Labs, we have continued to build on the Institute's long-standing signature programs, notably the Faculty Book Manuscript Workshops and partnerships with Historically Black Colleges and Universities (HBCUs). The Faculty Bookwatch series, presented in conjunction with the Duke University Libraries, highlights recent books by Duke faculty scholars. In 2014-15 the FHI inaugurated Humanities Futures, a multi-year initiative generously funded by the Mellon Foundation. The grant explored the states and directions of humanities disciplines in light of the interdisciplinary developments in recent decades, through an expansive set of partnerships with Duke's humanities, arts, and interpretive social sciences departments and non-departmental units.

As part of our brief as a University Institute, the FHI has been the administrative home of several affiliated centers and initiatives. Based at the FHI since 2008, the Duke Human Rights Center brings together an interdisciplinary group of scholars, staff, and students to promote new understandings about global and local human rights issues. Home to the Human Rights Certificate at Duke, the DHRC @ FHI puts special emphasis on issues of gender, race, ethnicity, sexuality, religion, income inequality, the environment, and artistic responses in its teaching, programming and outreach. The Forum for Scholars and Publics (aka Forum @ FHI), which came under the Institute’s umbrella in 2021, regularly collaborates with community partners on projects focused on arts and humanities in the public sphere. 

For close to two decades, the FHI has been a leader in national and international conversations on the future of the humanities. We have been the institutional host of two major humanities networks: the Consortium of Humanities Centers and Institutes from 2007 to 2017, during which our former Faculty Directors the late Srinivas Aravamudan and Ian Baucom (now Provost at the University of Virginia) served successively as the organization's president, and HASTAC (Humanities, Arts, Sciences, and Technology Alliance and Collaboratory), co-founded by Cathy Davidson, from 2006 to 2017. Along with the University of Virginia and the University of Bologna, Duke is a founding partner of the Academy of Global Humanities and Critical Theory. The FHI also shares a rich history of collaboration with the Wits Institute for Social and Economic Research (WiSER) at the University of Witwatersrand in Johannesburg, South Africa.

The FHI is currently directed by Ranjana Khanna, Professor of English; Literature; and Gender, Sexuality, and Feminist Studies. The FHI reports to the Office of the Vice Provost for Interdisciplinary Studies and Dean of Humanities in the Trinity College of Arts & Sciences. The FHI’s Faculty Advisory Board, including FHI-appointed faculty, provides important input on program content and strategy. Operating funding for the FHI is provided by the Provost, with additional targeted funding provided by the Dean of Arts & Sciences.