Before UW-Milwaukee achieved top rankings for research productivity in 2016, there was “major university status” – a goal UWM administrators and educators approached with vigor, creativity and strategy in the late 60s and early 70s. Key to achieving this status was focused growth in several areas of excellence: freshwater, urban, humanities and surface studies.
Opened in 1968 as one of the first humanities research centers in the United States, UWM’s Center for 20th Century Studies was a lynchpin of the university’s growing reputation. In 1971, university leaders dubbed the center one of the four “peaks of excellence” that became guideposts on UWM’s journey to top-research status. Nationally, the center became known as a groundbreaking gathering place where scholars and artists from all over the world came together for conversation, collaboration and exhibition.
“From the time I started graduate school at Berkeley in the mid-1970s, I knew about UWM from the Center for 20th Century Studies and the modern studies doctoral program, both of which were on the cutting edge of critical theory,” said Richard Grusin, center director and UWM distinguished professor of English. “All of the most famous thinkers and many famous artists and writers came through Milwaukee in the center’s first decades.”
Guests of the center over the years have included artists Nam June Paik, Dick Higgins of Fluxus, Laurie Anderson and John Cage; theorists Stuart Hall, Teresa de Lauretis, Jean Francois Lyotard, Judith Butler, and Jean Baudrillard; authors Anaïs Nin and Eugene Ionesco; and filmmakers Isaac Julien and Frederick Wiseman.
Time has changed the center. In 2001, it received an updated name: the Center for 21st Century Studies, or C21. In another nod to the passage of time and technology, the center has broadened its focus to encompass digital humanities. Today, the center organizes its research and public programs around three broad areas: critical, public and digital …