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Portela looks to expand offerings at Humanities Center



Edurne Portela is the newly appointed director of the Humanities Center.

Edurne Portela sits in an oversized chair in the sun-drenched main room of 224 W. Packer Avenue. Surrounded by papers, books and a laptop computer, she looks as much at home as if it were her own living room.

This former chaplain’s residence—filled with stained glass, couches and a kitchen—has been home to the Humanities Center for seven years.

As the center’s newly appointed director, Portela is starting to settle in, not just to the unconventional work space, but also to her new role, aided by Sue Shell, coordinator of the center.

“The humanities are an essential part of a liberal arts education and we need to have a strong focus on the humanities at Lehigh,” says Portela, who came to the university in fall 2003 as an assistant professor of Spanish in the modern languages and literature department.

Portela is also a member of the Latin American studies program. Her research focuses on representations of political violence and trauma in Hispanic culture. In her forthcoming book entitled Displaced Memories: The Poetics of Trauma in Argentine Women’s Writings, Portela examines how literature helped three survivors of Argentina’s “Dirty War”—Alicia Kozameh, Alicia Partnoy, and Nora Strejilevich—cope with political imprisonment, torture, survival, and exile.

"Edurne has been a strong advocate for the humanities at Lehigh and an active member of the Eccentral Committee of the Humanities Center,” says Anne Meltzer, who is the Herbert and Ann Siegel Dean of the College of Arts and Sciences. “Edurne brings tremendous vision and passion to her new position, and I look forward to working with her as she advances and expands the mission and programs found at the Humanities Center."

The center was started by philosophy professor Gordon Bearn, who continues to be a vital advocate of the center’s mission and an active participant in its activities. The center offers a place for the campus community to continue academic pursuits and discussions outside the classroom. The center has been described as a place where the meaning of intellectual work is reinvented, where disciplinary boundaries are erased and where faculty, staff and students can explore, create and play.

The center’s offerings also include a yearly lecture series, a seminar room and meeting space for classes, reading groups and a warm, informal atmosphere for students and faculty to exchange ideas.

“Some of the greatest institutions in the country have a humanities center that combines strong research opportunities for faculty and undergraduate student participation,” Portela says.

Portela is excited by the opportunity to expand the center’s offerings—both for students and faculty.

“The center serves a big role for students,” she says. “It’s a great space for class discussions, reading groups or activities. There’s also opportunity for students who want to get involved in different cultural activities facilitated by the center.”

The center already has active participation from faculty, and is assisted by the Eccentral Committee represented by faculty from English, history, philosophy, modern languages and literature, religion, and creative writing. But Portela expresses a strong interest in seeing faculty involvement grow.

Her future plans already include summer grants that would be awarded to humanities faculty for research with the caveat that recipients will give back their intellectual gains through workshops or presentations at the Humanities Center.

Portela will also continue the Humanities Center lecture series, which has consistently brought a diverse range of scholars and voices to campus. She is in the process of selecting a theme for the spring of 2008 and the 2009-2010 academic year.

Last year, interim director Seth Moglen, associate professor of English, introduced the New Bethlehem series—based on topics related to the city of Bethlehem—including explorations of its history, its present realities, possible futures, and the process of transformation it is about to undergo as a result of the imminent development of the Bethlehem Steel site.

“If faculty and departments in the humanities would like to invite scholars that are essential to current research trends and discussions in their disciplines, the Humanities Center is the place where they can find the help and resources to make that kind of interaction possible,” Portela says.

--Tricia Long


Posted on Tuesday, October 28, 2008

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