In 2013, the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation funded the Global Urban Humanities Initiative, or GUH, a program stemming from interdisciplinary collaboration. Both the initiative and its current iteration, the Future Histories Lab, will be closing in May 2024 after 10 years.
The initiative began with a $1.75 million grant by the Mellon Foundation in 2013, as a part of similar programs at universities across the country. The foundation granted $800,000 to the GUH initiative in 2020 to create and fund the Future Histories Lab for three years.
The lab mapped community histories, often focusing on stories laden with the cultural soul of peoples ranging from the Chicano immigrants, Black Panthers, Angel Island descendants, Beatnik revolution and LGBTQ+ movement.
“We have 10 years of interdisciplinary experiments, projects, courses, symposia, performances and all the things that we did that aim to bring together the environmental design disciplines and the arts and humanities,” said Susan Moffat, GUH’s executive director and creative director for Future Histories Lab, who will be temporarily leaving campus in order to pursue writing.
Her position as director has been funded by the foundation and will end with the program.
GUH began as a joint project between the former Dean of College of Environmental Design Jennifer Wolch and former Dean of Arts and Humanities Anthony Cascardi to study urban humanities.
The lab specifically focuses on community partnerships, Moffat noted.
“The university has such riches that don’t always connect with each other and that’s what Global Realities and Future Histories Lab has been about,” Moffat said. “We’re a hub for connecting things that are already there.”
A key strength of the lab’s classes was combining the humanities departments and design disciplines to bring together learning styles and teaching strategies. According to Wolch, design students were familiar with the hands-on work of a studio course and humanities students were well-versed in the close reading of text.
Pablo Gonzalez, ethnic studies changemaker project director and campus lecturer, worked with the lab, for instance, to develop a digital collection of murals in San Francisco’s Mission District and Downtown Oakland, specifically Grand Street.
Gonzalez and his students utilized augmented reality technology to catalog art installations and murals in the digital space which were complemented by podcasts interviewing Bay Area muralists. Many of the public murals documented were created during the George Floyd protests of 2020.
“(Future Histories Lab) also made us think about our lived environment, whether it be in the urban center or along places like Albany bulb and locations by which particular histories have emerged, and at times been silenced,” Gonzalez said. “The Future Histories Lab is about resurfacing those stories, bringing them into public dialogue.”
With the lab now closing, much of their work is being archived digitally.
Wolch stressed the impact that the lab and GUH’s closing will have on campus. She noted that this type of work requires community investment and connections with local organizations as well as a “continuous effort” to create larger projects.
“What would be great is to have something like the Future Histories Lab as a regular campus lab that was part of the campus’s pedagogical investment,” Wolch said.