The theme for this year’s Penn Humanities Forum is “Connections,” which addresses not only the increasing human connections taking place in the world, but those between the different humanities departments at Penn as well.

Every year, the Forum hosts a variety of public lectures, performances and exhibitions that all have something to with the theme of that year — “the burning issues of our day,” according to Founding Director and English professor Wendy Steiner.

“The idea is to give a panoramic view of new ideas on the topic,” Steiner said.

Upcoming events include a keynote address by Emory University English professor Laura Otis on “Reconnecting Visual and Verbal Thinking” on Friday from 5:00 p.m. to 6:30 p.m, as well as a lecture by Berkman Center for Internet & Society fellow Lewis Hyde, who comes from Harvard University, on “Benjamin Franklin and the Liberty to Communicate” Feb. 24 from 5:00 to 6:30 p.m.

These events are open to the Penn and Philadelphia communities. In addition to holding events at Penn, the Forum co-sponsors programs at major cultural and historic venues in the city.

“We don’t only want to create an intellectual conversation within the University, but one between the University and the city, too,” Steiner said.

The Forum always looks for broad topics under which all kinds of work can be grouped together, according to next year’s Topic Director and English professor James English.

Next year’s topic is “Virtuality,” which English described as “one that scholars from all fields can relate to.”

In addition to attending these events, undergraduate students can also participate in the Forum through the Andrew W. Mellon Undergraduate Research Fellowship program.

The fellowships are open to any full-time undergraduate student who wishes to conduct research on some aspect of the annual theme. Successful applicants receive a stipend for the year to cover their research costs.

Selected research fellows meet every two weeks to discuss their research, as well as socialize. “Depending on the chemistry between the group, they have an absolute ball,” Steiner said.

This year’s deadline is Jan. 31, but College senior and this year’s Coordinating Research Fellow Daniel Fein said he was surprised at how few applications they had received so far.

“There’s absolutely nothing to lose in applying, even as a freshman,” Fein said. “It was a real honor to be selected, and it’s been a great opportunity to hear about how different fields go about their research.”

English agreed that not enough undergraduate students take part in the Forum.

“We have a great outreach to the Philadelphia community, but undergraduates don’t always feel it’s for them,” he said. “We need to get more students involved in this outlet for interdisciplinary thinking, which is a central institution for what we do here at the School of Arts and Sciences.”

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