Learning the World Through Play

Feb 6, 2019

Throughout life, the notion of play comes up often. We play the field, play the stock market, play by ear. Play enters myriad aspects of living. Play is also this year’s theme for Texas Tech’s Humanities Center and students, faculty and staff, and Lubbock residents can all benefit.

Allison Whitney, a co-director of the Humanities Center, says play has a ton of different meanings.

"It's a term that has some application to virtually every discipline, and every way of thinking," she says. "It involves ways of learning, if you think about how children figure out the world, well through play. And that extends to adulthood as well. It's a theme that we hope will allow people to think creatively and to provide a road to lots of different ways of thinking."

But there are others ways that play enters our lives virtually every day, says Michael Borshuk, the center’s other co-director.

"There's this idea sometimes that play is just completely a superfluous activity," he explains. "That it doesn't have any practical meaning, but it's also one of the ways we most often learn or we engage each other."

The academic departments and programs involved in the center are anthropology, architecture, art and art history, classical & Modern Languages & Literatures, English, History, Media & Communication, Musicology, Philosophy, Sociology and Theatre & Dance.

The Humanities Center’s mission is to foster research environments across many academic disciplines.

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"At the Humanities Center," Whitney says, "what we're trying to do is create a space for scholars who think about all these different issues in humanities, and also different fields too--like in the sciences and social sciences can come together and pool their knowledge, and bounce ideas off one another, and then come up with more nuanced, more interesting conclusions." Borshuk says, "We sort of push past some of the boundaries that traditional university departments maintain. So, we're putting different methodologies and conversation with each other. Different scholars can enhance their research or sort of think about their work and conversation outside of their own very specific discipline. We're also trying to encourage an awareness of how scholarship relates back to the cultures that we're understanding. One of the big missions with that is trying to bring more and more people in to hear what we're doing."

Events for the theme of PLAY include a guest lecture series, a film series, and an anticipated interdisciplinary conference at the end of March. Each will address PLAY as psychological phenomenon, facet of social development, business, metaphor, or umbrella manifest in such things as gaming, professional sports, or the performing arts.

Speakers already on the schedule for next semester include Andrew Zimbalist on Feb. 21. He’s an economics professor at Smith College who is a sports expert. He authored "Circus Maximus: The Economic Gamble Behind Hosting the Olympics and the World Cup."

Actor B.D. Wong, who once played a forensic psychiatrist on Law & Order’s Special Victim’s Unit, is scheduled to speak sometime in April in conjunction with this year’s theme.

"He's fantastic," Whitney says. "He will be here to give a talk about Play in many different senses. Obviously as an actor, he'll talk about playing roles, but he's going to expand on the concept further."

This Saturday, the Museum of Texas Tech in a partnership with the Humanities Center, opens an exhibition called “We Used to Play That!: Video Games for a Globalized World.” It will look at the history, culture and consumer impact of video games. The exhibition runs through early June.