Humanities Fellows Program

What Forms the Self?

Explore, Imagine, Connect

The Humanities Fellows Program is a selective, close-knit, and interdisciplinary community of students and scholars investigating critical and contemporary questions about human experience from diverse perspectives. Sophomores excited about humanities fields have the opportunity to explore their interests while developing skills that matter in and out of the classroom and preparing to live productive and purposeful lives. “In 2024-2025 our focus will be the theme question, “What forms the self?”

The program combines an interdisciplinary humanities seminar and field experience in Washington, D.C. (March 28-31, 2024) with the opportunity to apply for mentored summer research and continued professional mentorship, career development and community.

Humanities Fellows:

EXPLORE the central questions about human experience that define humanistic inquiry in an interdisciplinary seminar that develops students' skills in critical thinking, argumentation, and written and oral communication.

IMAGINE a focused and immersive humanities research project under the close guidance of a faculty member and apply to pursue that project in a paid summer fellowship.

CONNECT with each other, mentors, UR alums, and career advisors to investigate internship, fellowship, and post-graduate opportunities while learning to match and market their skills to future jobs and careers.

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  • What do you mean by "What forms the self?"

    While we invite people to take up the theme question in unexpected and creative ways, we offer this list as a starting point for considering the scope of the theme question.

    • What are the commonalities and differences among the primary terms used to mark the self: “self,” “person,” “individual,” “identity,” “subject,” “character,” “citizen,” “human,” etc.?
    • What is “the human” in the humanities? How has that human emerged historically in time and in particular (political, economic, and cultural) institutions? Is this or is this not the same as “the human” at play in global Human Rights discourses from the 18th century forward?
    • How have histories of racialization, (patriarchal) gendering, and the construction of architectures organized around able-bodied and neurotypical selves shaped the concepts we associate with personhood or citizenship?
    • How has “the human” been conceived in relation to ideas of the divine, including in origin stories? How do specific forms of ritual practice shape shelves?
    • How has “the self” been understood as formed by “nature,” whether more figuratively as in Plato’s “Myth of the metals” or “literally” in discourses of biology, especially evolutionary biology?
    • How is the self seen as developmental in various kinds of educational philosophy, psychology, psychoanalysis, or neuroscience?
    • How has “scientific” thinking about individuals intersected with “biopolitical” struggles around reproductive health care, eugenics, euthanasia?
    • How has the dialectical subjectivity-generating drama of self and Other found in, for example, G.W.F Hegel’s philosophy, continued to shape social and political thought, including in its “postmodern” or “poststructuralist” versions?
    • How have various technologies and media shaped histories of selfhood (e.g., Harold Bloom claims
      Shakespeare invents the modern self; Lynn Hunt says it was invented by 18th century epistolary novelists; many are worried about what video games and online environments mean for contemporary subject formation; etc.).
    • How/why have specifically “liberal” understandings of the self been so central to modern world systems?  
    • How have modern theories of economics been built around specific ideas of the human or corporate “person” as producer and consumer? How are those theories related to shifts in the state form, including the global reach of “representative” forms of government?
    • How have bio- and communication technologies, cybernetics, artificial intelligence, struggles around environmental and animal rights shifted conversations about what a “person” is?
  • How does the program work?

    Spring 2024
    The program begins with a 1-unit spring seminar that explores how humanists examine and research a critical question of human experience. Our theme in 2024 is the question What forms the self? Through a range of case studies encompassing a diverse range of voices from different historical eras, geographic locations, and cultural traditions, fellows will learn how humanities fields approach big questions. In the process, we focus on the relationship between our questions and the approaches or “methods” we adopt. The primary aim of the seminar is to help Fellows craft a humanities-based research project that they undertake across the next full academic year. As many readings as possible are by scholars the Fellows will get to engage during the semester, whether those are UR faculty or invited scholars doing Humanities events.

    Summer 2024
    Building off of the work of the seminar, Fellows will apply for a fully-funded, summer fellowship exploring a research or creative project of their own design. Under the close guidance of a faculty mentor, Fellows will develop skills in project development and execution, independent thinking and working, and can apply to present their results at national undergraduate conferences.

    Fall/Spring 2024–25
    In either fall or spring of 2024-25, Fellows will complete a half-unit independent study with their mentor to bring summer efforts to fruition and prepare to present at the A&S Symposium. Students will also work with their Career Services representative on how to research and apply for shadowing opportunities, summer jobs, and internships, match and market their new skills to future careers, participate in A&S NEXT, and learn about post-graduate fellowship opportunities.

  • What takes place in the classroom?

    The Humanities Fellows Program is specifically designed to foster a collective approach to thinking, one intensified in the spring semester through participation in many Humanities theme events on campus, in a spring trip to Washington, D.C., and to occasional outings around RVA.

  • What takes place outside of the classroom?

    If health and travel guidelines permit, the Fellows visit to Washington, D.C. puts classroom training to work and links theory and practice by teaching students to "read" a metropolitan capital through the lens of recovery and repair.

    The Humanities Fellows run the @URHumanities Instagram account, beginning during the D.C. trip.

    Fellows also stay in touch via bi-weekly meetings, often on Zoom due to study abroad schedules) throughout the summer and entire next academic year leading to the A&S Student Symposium.

  • How do I come up with a research area?

    The Fellows discover their topics in a variety of ways. Some students come to the course with an idea from a class they’ve previously taken and others discover a new area of interest while working in the seminar. Don’t worry if you don’t have a topic: we don’t expect students to come to the program with anything other than an enthusiasm for learning new skills and approaches and a deep curiosity about how individuals and cultures evolve.

  • Who can apply?

    The program is open to sophomore students.

  • How to apply

    Applications are due by 5 p.m. on October 6th. Applications can be submitted here

    Information sessions will be held in the Humanities Commons (220 Humanities) at noon on Wednesday, September 20th and 27th, and on Zoom at 9 a.m. on October 2nd.

    You are also welcome to reach out to Humanities Coordinator Nathan Snaza ( with any questions.

Humanities Fellows Student Stories

Humanities Fellow Student Story
Read more about humanities fellow Victoria Charles’ work constructing a historical narrative of the black student experience at the University of Richmond.
Humanities Fellow Student Story
Read more about humanities fellow Hannah Maddy’s research looking for poetry in the ruins of ancient Pompeii.