Townsend Center for the Humanities
Mission and History
Since its establishment in 1987, the Doreen B. Townsend Center for the Humanities has encouraged an interdisciplinary approach to scholarship, fostered innovation in research, and promoted intellectual conversation among individuals from the humanities and related academic disciplines. Unlike a number of other university humanities centers, which devote a large percentage of their resources to hosting residential scholars from other institutions, the Townsend Center is committed to enriching the existing wealth of intellectual resources at Berkeley.
The Center offers an array of fellowship and grant programs designed to support research and scholarship at all levels of the university community, including undergraduates, graduate students, assistant professors, associate professors and senior colleagues. With generous support from Joan and Peter Avenali, we are also able to sponsor two visiting scholars per year as part of the Departmental Residency program.
The Center also supports more than 60 interdisciplinary working groups on a wide range of topics—ranging from Hip Hop Studies to Orientalism, from Latin American Colonial Studies to New Media—as well as co-sponsors a wide number of lectures and conferences with other departments and units on campus.
In addition to these established programs, the Townsend Center plays an integral role in the development of new and innovative programs that take an interdisciplinary and forward-thinking approach to scholarship. The Project on Disciplinary Innovation, commonly known as Course Threads, encourages undergraduates to pursue a cross-disciplinary education by bringing to light some of the hidden “threads” that connect courses across existing majors and departments. Among the Center’s newest programs is the creation of the Townsend Humanities Lab, a virtual laboratory space supporting research and collaboration through online research tools.
The Center’s public programs, including the Avenali and Una’s endowed lectures and the Forum on the Humanities and the Public World, serve as a catalyst for the discussion of important issues on campus and in the surrounding community. Distinguished visiting scholars and artists have included Nobel Laureates John Coetzee and Seamus Heaney, architect Maya Lin, photographer Sebastião Salgado, Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist Seymour Hersh, former U.S. Poet Laureate Robert Pinsky, and acclaimed pianists Alfred Brendel and Leon Fleisher.
The Center is located in Stephens Hall and is situated administratively within the College of Letters and Science. Guided by a faculty advisory committee, the Center is run by a Director, an Associate Director, and an office staff. The Center is funded largely by income from the Doreen B. Townsend Endowment.
The Townsend Center is a member of the Consortium of Humanities Centers and Institutes.