Vox Humanities is a podcast from the Center for Humanities at Virginia Tech. Our focus is on the advancement of human centered knowledge, pursued in conversation with experts whose work enhances public understanding of a complex world to which humanistic inquiry has never been more important. Throughout this series, we return to the theme of "Tech for Humanity," a university-wide initiative guiding research, curriculum, and engagement across many disciplines at Virginia Tech. The host, Sylvester Johnson, is the director of the Center for Humanities and leads the Tech for Humanity initiative.
Professor Premesh Lalu is a distinguished scholar of the humanities and the Director of the Centre for Humanities Research at the University of the Western Cape in South Africa.
With decades of experience in the field, Professor Lalu is widely recognized as a leading voice in the study of African intellectual and cultural history. His research focuses on the intersections of race, politics, and identity in South Africa and the broader African continent, with a particular emphasis on the role of the humanities in shaping our understanding of these complex issues.
We recorded our conversation with Professor Lalu in March of 2023.
Philip Butler is an Assistant Professor of Theology and Posthuman Artificial Intelligence Systems at Iliff School of Theology. He is the founder of the Seekr Project, a distinctly Black conversational artificial intelligence with mental health capacities. His work primarily focuses on the intersection of neuroscience, technology, spirituality and race. He is the author of Critical Black Futures (2021) and Black Transhuman Liberation Theology: Spirituality and Technology (2019).
For this episode, we spoke with Dr. Tom Ewing, Associate Dean for Graduate Studies and Research in Virginia Tech’s College of Liberal Arts and Human Sciences. He is an expert in Russian history, data and society, and modern medical history. Among his publications are: The Teachers of Stalinism, Education & the Great Depression, Separate Schools: Gender, Policy, and Practice in the Postwar Soviet Union. He has also co-edited, Viral Networks: Connecting Digital Humanities and Medical History, which was published by Virginia Tech Publishing in 2018.
His current research project explores the transmission of information about the co-called “Russian Influenza” (1889-1890) using data and digital humanities approaches to medical history.
Professor Ewing also coordinates the Data in Social Context program, which sustains an interdisciplinary approach of data analytics, computational skills, and critical thinking in the humanities and social sciences.
He has received funding from the National Endowment for the Humanities to run workshops on the 1918 Spanish Influenza and on Images and Texts in Medical History.
We spoke with Professor Tom Ewing in the spring of 2022.
In January 2022, Sylvester Johnson spoke with Dr. Mxolisi Victor Mavi, a veteran activist of South Africa’s anti-apartheid movement and expert in the study of theology, race, politics, and global liberation movements. Dr. Mavi is a collaborator with the “Future Humans, Human Futures” project on religion, technology, and ethics that has been generously supported by the Henry Luce Foundation. They discussed Dr. Mavi’s advocacy for social justice in South Africa during both the period of formal racial apartheid and more recently under the system of multi-racial democracy that has been shaped by drastic inequality. Their conversation explores the global dimensions of economic change that technology innovation and the “digital divide” have created as major challenges that must be addressed to shape a more equitable future for the twenty-first century.
The New River
In December 2021, Sylvester Johnson spoke with Ed Falco and Amanda Hodes about the creation and development of New River, a journal of digital writing and art currently housed at Virginia Tech. Ed Falco founded the journal in collaboration with Len Hatfield in 1996 and describes the origins of the journal within the context of emerging digital humanities technologies. Amanda Hodes, who served as outreach coordinator at the time of this recording, explains the various ways the journal has positively shaped writing, art, and creativity since its founding.
Laura Belmonte and Shaila Mehra
During June of 2021, Sylvester Johnson spoke with Laura Belmonte, Dean of Virginia Tech’s College of Liberal Arts and Human Sciences about her book The International LGBT Rights Movement: A History (2020). They were joined by Shaila Mehra, the college’s Assistant Dean for Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion who is a scholar of Black feminist theory. Belmonte, whose research examines international relations, gender and sexuality, and global politics, discusses the impetus for her research and the significance of a global approach to understanding the struggle for LGBTQ rights.