The Lifelong Value of Hum 110

I’ve been reading Reed Magazine for many years, and I decided you needed some feedback from the past! Really, I cannot list accomplishments inspired by my education at Reed. But I can send my appreciation to the school for the humanities program.

That program has pursued me with a list of suggested reading over all these years: 1940–2017. My many thanks for that! To be sure, the introduction of that program was too fast-paced, too overwhelming for a naive freshman student! Since then, however, it has been a boon as a guide for stimulating reading material.

In those days I was a “day-dodger”; studying was the order of the day. However, the highlights of the years were the weekend hikes. The one that stands out in my memory is the climb around Eliot Glacier on Mt. Hood.

Being in the classroom as a teacher was the objective of my education. Thus, in the ’40s I ended up in a small coastal town surviving on a limited budget, and then eventually ending up in a sophisticated environment in the city. Yes, marriage was part of the picture, as was the rewarding experience of raising two sons. Now I relish the liberty of my retirement years, listening to recorded books here in Utah—where there is too much sunshine and not enough rain (and a dearth of book learning). My thanks to the humanities program at Reed!

Enny Deutschman Schulz ’40
St. George, Utah

Thank you for your fine Hum 11(0) article. I did Hum 11 in ’55–’56. Prof. Rex Arragon [history 1923–62] was the course’s guiding light and inspiration in those days. Over the decades, I have often thought back upon the course. Two themes recur. First, it was the most important and, arguably, the best of all of the in-school education I have received. This I have always believed, even as early as my last three years at Reed. Second, as my anthropology career took me far afield from the avowed Western Civ orientation of Hum 11, I have come bittersweetly to hope that Hum 11(0) might somehow sample forager cultures and lifeways, how all humans lived for the first 95% of our species’ history because I have come to suppose that forager life ways embodied behavior, knowledge, and experience of unique value to humankind.

Well, one might rejoin, packing another 100,000-plus years of the human career into Hum 11(0) is a pretty big order, isn’t it? Perhaps so, but should anyone be disposed to take a bit of a gander at this, may I suggest three books? From Reed’s own Prof. Robert Brightman ’73 [anthropology 1988-2016], Grateful Prey, Rock Cree Human-Animal Relationships; and from Hugh Brody (Canadian anthropologist, filmmaker, and advocate for native peoples), The Other Side of Eden, Hunters, Farmers, and the Shaping of the World; and Maps and Dreams: Indians and the British Columbia Frontier.

Steve Piker ’59
Yarmouth, Maine

Your article on Hum 110 in the March 2017 issue mentioned “the welsh [sic] epic Mabinogion.” It is not the uncapitalized “Welsh” (which I’m sure must be a typo) to which I am objecting. It’s to both “epic” and “Mabinogion,” particularly as a collocation. Please allow me to explain.

“The Mabinogion” is a handy, but incorrect, term coined in the 19th century (based on a single scribal error), used as an overall title for a collection of eleven medieval Welsh prose tales found more or less together in two late-medieval manuscripts. These tales do not all go together in any meaningful way. They are totally separate, distinct texts, written at different times, by different people, on different topics. This does not—of course—constitute an epic. I don’t know whether the Hum 110 team read the whole “Mabinogion” corpus of eleven tales, or only the four which properly bear the name (sort of). Let me explain this too.

Within this collection of eleven is a group of four tales known to Celtic studies scholars as “The Four Branches of the Mabinogi” (note: not “Mabinogion,” a bogus plural) which do go together and were probably written by a single author, although how exactly the discontinuous narratives are supposed to connect is a matter of considerable dispute. The “Four Branches” are also not an epic, in any sense of the term. They are four medium-length prose tales that have a few overlapping characters: no epic central protagonist, no heroics, no grand sweep of action or history. They are skillfully and beautifully written, with sharply witty dialogue, a serious concern for matters of good kingship and proper conduct, and some tantalizing shadows of pre-Christian myth, but they are scarcely more epic than Jane Austen.

Nevertheless, I’m glad that Hum 110 has featured these tales, even if it was only once. I did my PhD dissertation on “The Four Branches.” Medieval Welsh literature has been my research area ever since.  More students should be exposed to it. But there is no Welsh epic.

Jessica (Hooker) Hemming ’88

Vancouver, BC