Spring 2020

Urban environments and infrastructures play crucial roles in defining and mediating health. From the effects of metropolitan experience on mental health to the medical apartheids construed through urban segregation, from the healing or toxic powers of high-rise building to the invisible networks of care or contagion afforded by high density living, health is as much a problem of the polis as the city is a category of modern medical history. The contemporary crises of public health and urban inequality, moreover, only put further pressure on the ways in which architectural and urban design inform the economics, sciences, politics, and public experiences of health. Hosted under the joint auspices of the Explorations in the Medical Humanities and a new Public Humanities Initiative at the Society of Fellows and Heyman Center for the Humanities, this conference brings scholars from across the humanities, social sciences, and medicine to share their research on the intersections of health, policy, and the built environment.

This Public Humanities environmental walk will mark the 50th anniversary of Earth Day by exploring the history of the Harlem River as it manifests itself on-site. The Harlem River has been shaped by tide patterns and climate change, and like the Hudson River, it contains a legacy of toxic pollution. Despite the fact that the Harlem River is a man-made river—New York City engineers rerouted its channel—most people who live along the river have no access to the waterfront. This walk, free and open to the public, will spatially explore the ways people have been disconnected from the river and the role river history, and a public humanities approach to the site, can play in rebuilding the connections between people and their river.  By engaging the river’s wide public and staging an interdisciplinary conversation about the river’s histories of disconnection—with walkers experienced in urban planning, climate change, photography, and community activism—we will come away with an inclusive and compelling history of the Harlem River that may begin to draw new connecting threads to its publics.

Award-winning director Kurt Orderson and co-producer Najma Nuriddin will participate in a panel discussion following a screening of “Not in Our Neighborhood” (2018), an award-winning documentary on the intergenerational stories of how ordinary citizens respond to the policies, process, and institutions driving contemporary forms of spatial violence and gentrification in São Paulo, Cape Town, and New York. In telling these contemporary urban stories through the activist voices that are emerging to reclaim the right to shelter, the film offers a global critique on the current politics of space and casts the so-called Global South as particularly radical in offering modes of resistance to the social injustices afforded by the built environment.

View the full history of lectures for Public Humanities Initiative.

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