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New research initiative suggested

By Molly Chiu     11/9/11 6:00pm

Next fall, the humanities department plans to undertake a new research initiative called Rice Seminars, during which a small group of faculty and students will meet to discuss pre-specified topics in an effort to link Rice to the community.

Administered by the Humanities Research Center, the program is being piloted by history professors James Sidbury and Kerry Ward, who are starting it with a seminar called "Human Trafficking — Past and Present: Crossing Disciplines, Crossing Borders." The seminar will examine human trafficking throughout history, in the modern age and across geographic and racial boundaries. Ward said that she is excited about the prospect of an intellectual project that will lead to further scholarship concerning imperative national and international issues.

"We want to be a catalyst for the production of knowledge in an area that is one of the major social crises today," Ward said.



Dean of Humanities Nicolas Shumway said he hopes the seminars will make Rice a national leader in the humanities.

"The Rice Seminars give us a chance to assume a leadership role in the Humanities that other universities aren't [taking]," Shumway said. "We're looking outside the boundaries of regular curriculum."

The Rice Seminars have received funding for the first two years, but Shumway said he wants to make the seminars an annual project, with two seminars per year eventually.

In addition to Ward and Sidbury, the program will include two other Rice faculty members from any discipline, six non-Rice scholars and two graduate students. This group will meet twice a month for discussion. Seminar leaders are also looking to incorporate a few undergraduates into the research process. The first semester will focus on the history of slavery and the slave trade worldwide, and the second semester will focus on modern human trafficking and efforts to end slavery spurred by the evolution of human rights discussion.

"The basic tangible outcome is a great book," Sidbury said. "The most important intangible outcome is to stimulate a series of discussions within the Rice community about both what coerced labor has meant to the human experience historically and how it relates to experience today."

Ward said that she is excited to examine this subject with the perspectives of interdisciplinary participants and visiting scholars.

"The Rice Seminars are an unusual model in academic production," Ward said. "Ordinarily, someone will come and give a talk, and then they go away. This will be a year-long academic engagement."

The Rice Seminars are not specific classes, but many faculty participants will likely teach courses that relate to the seminar topic, hopefully attracting a wider range of undergraduates

In addition to research and undergraduate courses, the Rice Seminars will include talks by outside scholars. These talks aim to engage the Houston community and will consequently be free and open to the public.

Sidbury and Ward also said that they want to interact with other parts of the Rice community that are interested in human trafficking.

"We want to make contact with and contribute to existing projects," Ward said. "A group of undergraduates is organizing two Alternative Spring Break projects that deal with human trafficking, and I've been in touch with them."

Brown College sophomore Shelley Reese said she is interested in the topic and how the seminars will interact with the Houston community.

"Human trafficking is a topic that people should be more informed about," Reese said. "I think that the public talks will provide an important real-life connection with Houston."



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