After several years abroad Jaimey Fisher, professor in the UC Davis German Department and Cinema and Digital Media program, is back in Davis as the new director of the UC Davis Humanities Institute (DHI).
“I feel very strongly about the role the humanities and arts play at a research university and in the wider society,” said Fisher who has been at UC Davis since 2004. “I see this as an opportunity to work and think about this on a level other than departmentally. With the DHI, you have contact with very active faculty across the university.”
The appointment is for a three-year term.
“Professor Fisher brings together the humanities and the arts with his background in German literature and film,” said Susan Kaiser, interim dean of the Division of Humanities, Arts and Cultural Studies in the College of Letters and Sciences. “He has a helpful interdisciplinary and integrative approach to the DHI. He is also an experienced and creative administrator.”
Bridge builder and hub
DHI is an interdisciplinary research center that advocates for and supports faculty and students in the humanities and humanistically oriented social sciences. That ranges from co-sponsoring one-time events like lectures, to multi-year and multi-disciplinary research projects, to monetary awards from less than $10,000 upward. The DHI grew out of UC President David Gardner’s Humanities Initiative in the late 1980s that built a network of humanities centers and institutes across the UC system anchored by the UC Humanities Research Institute in Irvine.
At its core, the institute is a “bridge builder and a research hub,” Fisher said.
“Departments are important, but it’s also critical to not be in silos,” he said. “We sponsor innovation and collaborations among different areas of the university. We’re doing art, humanities, social science and science collaborations that are critical at a place like Davis that is so strong in the STEM fields.”
Cultures in transition
Fisher comes to the position with an outlook formed by being a professor in both humanities (German) and arts (Cinema and Digital Media); doing research on the role of education and youth in rebuilding and reshaping Germany after World War II; and three years in Europe, including two as the faculty director of the UC’s Northern Europe Education Abroad program.
He took the Education Abroad post in 2013 while the United States was still recovering from the recession, he said, and a time when the importance of the arts and humanities in higher education was being widely questioned. That gave him an understanding of a recovering and changing economy, shifting cultural values and educational goals, as has his studies of post-World War II Germany. His time abroad also reinforced his belief in the importance of the humanities and arts in forming well-rounded and engaged citizens.
“We need to be prepared economically for a rapidly changing environment that’s part of a knowledge-based economy,” Fisher said. “With the proliferation of ‘fake news,’ it is also important to have a population that can critically evaluate what it sees and hears. Based both on economic and quality of life arguments, the arts and humanities need to play a significant role in education and society.”
“The humanities and the arts play a much greater role in European society, and I found that inspiring,” Fisher said.
Initiatives and integration
As part of its mission the DHI oversees a number of research collaborations and clusters, including Comparative Border Studies and Reimagining Indian Ocean Worlds – both part of the DHI’s Mellon Research Initiatives in the Humanities program, and the Philosophy and Physics of Space Time, Black Radical Thought and Cognitive/Social-Science Media Theory.
An immediate goal Fisher has is to more thoroughly integrate UC Davis arts—including visual art, theatre and dance, cinema and design—into the institute’s programs. One of the institute’s strongest programs is its research fellowships that provide teaching load relief and interdisciplinary seminars; arts faculty have had separate fellowships but will be reintegrated into the main program. The university art areas also have more representation on DHI’s 12-member advisory board. DHI will soon launch an initiative on how the arts and sciences can inform one another.
“I feel very positive about the interaction we’ve had with the arts faculty so far,” Fisher said.
The institute has just completed its first year of the Mellon Public Scholars Program that funds graduate student projects that are more “civically-engaged and publicly facing,” he said. Projects have included research on multi-ethnic publishing in the San Francisco Bay area, the role of human behavior in energy conservation and immigrant contributions to sustainable agriculture in California.
“The Public Scholars Program really tries to impact society and even the local community,” Fisher said. “There were some fantastic projects.”
Fisher’s primary research and teaching interests are film and media studies, German culture and intellectual history. He is the author of the books Christian Petzold (2013), about the German film director, and Disciplining Germany: Youth, Re-education, and Reconstruction after the Second World War (2007). He has also edited or co-edited four books on film, literature and theory. At Northern Europe Education Abroad he oversaw the German, Denmark and Swedish study centers, including UCEAP programs in Berlin, Munich, Copenhagen and Lund, and was the Study Center director-in-residence in Berlin.
— Jeffrey Day, content strategist in the UC Davis College of Letters and Science