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Humanities 110

Mateo Burtch ’82 can recall attending lectures in the chilly basketball court in the gym. He learned to wear a sweater in class and learned “a whole way of thinking that embraced critical analysis, thorough research, original thought, and collegial disputation.” Burtch adds, “The Iliad is one of the best arguments for reading the Dead White Male canon, for it shows us just how much, and how little, civilization has changed in 3,000 years.”

“The course absolutely defines your freshman year,” says Gavin Kentch, a junior from Alaska. “It is eye-opening, epiphanic, revelatory, what-ever flowery adjective you like.”

Kentch’s mother, Susan Orlansky ’75, still holds fond memories of Hum. On a recent family vacation to Greece she recognized two fallen warrior statues that were the subject of a paper she wrote 30 years ago.

“It completely brought me back to my time at Reed,” says Orlansky, now an attorney in Anchorage. “A lot of my college experience blurs together after all these years, but Hum still stands out.”

And unlike many required courses at other schools, Hum ain’t easy. The course grounds students in classic works of literature and teaches them to read deeply, to think big, and to listen as well as to argue.

A kind of campus cult has grown up around Hum. A couple of students sitting in commons heatedly arguing about Plato’s Republic over lunch might draw a crowd as passing students listen in or, more likely, jump into the action. And there are all the inside jokes, of course. If someone makes a casual joking reference to Hesiod, everyone gets it even if they might think the speaker somewhat pretentious.

Wally Englert
Wally Englert  

The fall starts off with Wally Englert, Omar and Althea Hoskins Professor of Classical Studies and Humanities, leading the lecture hall in a rousing singalong of the Iliad’s first line in Greek. When Englert was on leave last year, student veterans of Hum 110 recreated the event in a Paideia class so that year’s freshman class wouldn’t miss out on the experience. And every spring ends with the freshman class putting on a performance of skits poking gentle (and sometimes not so gentle) fun at the course and professors.

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