The Humanities As Activism

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I was the guest editor of the scholarly journal, The St. John’s University Humanities Review, and I was honored to be given this life-changing experience. I chose the theme: “The Humanities As Activism.” I hope that you enjoy it! Here is the link for you to read a digital version of the journal, followed by my editor’s note.


Previous issues of The St. John’s University Humanities Review mainly focused on book reviews, essays, and interviews. With this issue, I wanted to do something different, so I also asked for personal stories and essays that answered the question: How do you define and/or use the humanities as activism?

In the middle of May of 2016, when I was asked to edit this issue of the journal, I said yes. But what I didn’t say was that I truly didn’t want to do it, and that I didn’t think that I was capable of doing it. This was because I felt that I had nothing new to say about the humanities that had not already been said ad nauseam.

Then, in June, 49 people were killed at the LGBTQ nightclub, Pulse, on “Latin Night,” in Orlando, Florida. And I knew that homophobia shot those bullets.

Then, in July, two more Black men—Philando Castile and Alton Sterling—were killed by the police. And I knew that racism shot those bullets.

For me, it was a summer of attending vigils and protests. And I observed that the various disciplines of the arts and humanities were explicitly being utilized as activism in the streets at these vigils and protests. Specific language on protest signs. Writers reading poems at rallies. Performance artists theatrically marching. Etc. The summer of 2016 proved the value of the humanities. Nothing more to debate!

This idea of the humanities as activism is not a new one for me because for many years, in my own work, I have been connecting the two. But I noticed that it was obvious that others realized that the two were inextricable. And that was when I knew that I had something new to say about the humanities, and that I would use this issue to say it.

And then Trump won the election.

One of the many wonderful things that feminism taught me was that the personal is political. I chose the theme of “The Humanities As Activism” for this issue of the journal because it is personal. It truly is that simple. I believe that in order to improve our current social-political problems, we must make use of the humanities as activism. The arts and humanities must be utilized as agents of change.

As I edit this issue, I keep re-reading two of Dorothy Allison’s essays (for inspiration): “Believing in Literature,” in which she tells us that “literature should push people to change the world”; and “Survival Is the Least of My Desires,” in which she writes: “I became convinced that to survive I would have to re-make the world so that it came closer to matching its own ideals.” I think that it is time that all of us start to re-make this cruel world. And I think that the contributors in this issue of the journal agree with me; they, too, are trying to re-make this world.

What you are about to read are forceful pieces that demand and deserve the same attention that we would give to any energizing speech at a protest rally. So, with your fists up, voices screaming, and feet marching, I hope that you enjoy the journey and movement that is this issue of The St. John’s University Humanities Review. The revolution is coming and it is documented in this journal.

In solidarity,

Michael Carosone, Editor

New York City, May 2017

Dedicated to the activists, artists, humanists, scholars, and writers, to the oppressed and marginalized, to the victims. Dedicated to revealing the truth.

“The arts [humanities], it has been said, cannot change the world, but they may change human beings who might change the world.” –Maxine Greene

The St. John’s University Humanities Review

Special Issue: “The Humanities As Activism”

Volume 14, Issue 1, Spring 2017

Michael Carosone, Guest Editor

Design and layout by Michael Carosone

Copyright © 2017 by St. John’s University, New York City

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