Professor, alumna collaborate to debut ‘Humanities Truck’
Project aims to bring humanities to the public, tell oral histories of D.C. citizens
Dan Kerr, an AU history professor, pointed to a pile of boxes in his office. The boxes contain the furniture for his pet project: a truck meant to tell the stories of all kinds of people in D.C. in an effort to extend the humanities to the public.
Kerr hopes to reach many different communities in D.C. using his “Humanities Truck.” The furniture will help make the Humanities Truck an area of both “dwelling and mobility,” he said.
Community members and the homeless can “hang out” in the truck’s furniture and around its pop-up tent, allowing for conversations and looking at how people are “engaging in the humanities in their everyday lives.”
The Humanities Truck contains a built-in TV and an oral history studio as well as pop-up exhibit space. Using these features, Kerr, the director of the project, and other collaborators can take photographs in local communities and record oral histories of the residents and homeless population.
Kerr first came up with the idea for the truck in January 2014. Much of Kerr’s inspiration for this truck came from his previous work with homeless people, as well as from the History Truck, a project with similar ambitions in Philadelphia. Kerr hopes his project will take that concept further.
“It was, in some ways, a different project,” Kerr said. “And because it was run by one [master’s] student, it wasn’t really a very high-tech truck. It would go out and use some similar ideas of engaging local communities on local history.”
Carly Thaw, a recent AU graduate, designed the exterior of the Humanities Truck. Thaw used her graphic design skills for the project after deciding to pursue graphic design her sophomore year.
“As college went on, I had to start making choices about what path to take professionally. It became abundantly clear that I had to use art in my professional career,” she said.
Kerr said he approached Chemi Montes, one of the professors who heads the graphic design program, for a student to design the exterior of the truck. Montes recommended Thaw.
“It’s like when you make pasta and the water starts boiling and you put the pasta in and bubbles start coming out. That’s Carly [Thaw]’s energy, there is no way you can cover that up,” Montes said.
Thaw then submitted her portfolio and after an interview with Kerr, she was hired to work on the design of the truck.
“We liked this idea of hearts and brains and circulation,” Kerr said. “It’s very subtle. You wouldn’t notice it from just looking at it, it doesn’t just immediately come out.”
Kerr told Thaw that he wanted the design to be pattern-focused and “crowded.” She immediately thought of using a map design to create this effect.
“I really love maps and I always have,” Thaw said. “The fact that that could potentially be incorporated was super exciting for me specifically.”
The truck’s map incorporates Southeast and some of the less focused-on areas in D.C. It serves both as a captivating image, as well as a representation of circulation.
The truck’s first project was on Sept. 9 at Adams Morgan Day, a popular festival in the District. There are many projects that Kerr and others envision for the future of the Humanities Truck. One such project, he said, includes using a digital projector to project older, historic photographs onto current landscapes in D.C. communities.
“What we are really doing is engaging in a collaborative process of the creation and production of research and scholarship,” Kerr said.
This article originally appeared in The Eagle's October 2018 fall print edition.