Welcome Letter from FHI Director Ranjana Khanna

Dear Colleagues,

This week I have begun my tenure as Director of the John Hope Franklin Humanities Institute, and I want to thank Deborah Jenson for her years of service in this role, and also to express FHI’s commitment to providing an environment for the exchange of ideas in all aspects of the humanities and interpretive social sciences.

This semester we will be organizing events around the concept “monument” in conjunction with various other efforts around campus, and with support of the President and Provost.  The theme of monument emerged with the taking down of the Robert E. Lee statue at Duke chapel in the summer, which came on the heels of the events on the campus of UVA in Charlottesville in the summer. Our thematic consideration will start with that event, and end with it, but in between we are trying to understand what kind of a concept a monument is, for example, how is it distinct from a statue, a memorial? What is monumentality? How do we understand notions of history embodied in a monument in an age of the digital? How has architectural theory changed in relation to monuments? What kind of aesthetic does a monument have?  Alongside, we will address more historical questions, such as why so many are coming down internationally at this time, why so many went up when they did, why we care about them in some moments and are indifferent to them in others, and what we do with disgraced monuments.  The modern history of the monument is often bound up with the nation-state; this could be said of contemporary counter-monuments, “Rhodes Must Fall,” post WW2 removal of Nazi monuments in Germany, the removal of statues of Lenin and Stalin across the former USSR, the Lukács statue controversy in Budapest, etc. But what of deeper histories of monuments?

Look out later in the semester for new programs—Friday morning faculty presentations, a lecture in honor of John Hope Franklin, and a project on past and future planetarities.

You will have seen the CFPs for new labs, as well as for book manuscript workshops.  We’re looking forward to receiving your proposals.

Happy New Year, and very best wishes for the new semester,



Ranjana Khanna