Go to Page 1 go to page two Page 3, you are here go to page 4 Link to Reed Mag  Home next page

Humanities 110

Last year, a first-year student sent flyers to all his classmates announcing a special guest lecture. Doug Galbraith then donned a wig and suit to deliver a mock lecture about Thucydides. About 30 students showed up, and Galbraith swears he saw some taking notes. “In the end I think everyone thought it was funny,” says Galbraith, a sophomore from Texas, adding, “A lot of the people who didn’t go later said they wish they had.”

Humanities class

Hum 110 also bonds its two dozen or so professors, who are drawn from a wide range of disciplines—literature, classics, art, history, religion, philosophy. The faculty meets regularly to plan for the course. “So how is your Hum conference going?” is a regular topic of hallway conversation. All the professors who teach the course attend all the lectures and are free with their compliments and critiques.

“You see the white-haired and wizened alongside the ones who are teaching for the first time,” says Nathalia King, professor of English and humanities. “Hum is one of the most collegial experiences I’ve enjoyed. There’s a sense of camaraderie, of being involved in a shared endeavor.”

Hum has remained virtually intact since the 1940s, when faculty members devised the team-taught course as an overview of classical Western civilization. The basic structure has stayed the same—lectures followed by small conferences where students, not professors, assume responsibility for leading discussions. The close relationship students develop with their conference professors lasts over time; many students later return to their Hum professors when selecting an outside reader for their senior theses.

The course’s interdisciplinary approach sets it apart from similar “great books” programs at other schools, says Gail Sherman, professor of English and humanities and chair of the humanities program. The professors look at these works not simply because they’re “great” but because they offer insights into bigger concepts in history and culture and politics. “It was unique in the 1940s, and it is still unique,” Sherman says.

Indeed, a Reedie transported forward in time from the 1940s would recognize practically every book on the fall reading list. The course begins with Homer’s Iliad and marches straight through Hesiod, Sappho (and other lyric poets), Herodotus, Aeschylus, Sophocles (and other playwrights), Thucydides, and Plato all the way to Aristotle’s Nicomachean Ethics. The second semester has changed more over the years. In past incarnations, for example, the course covered the Italian and English renaissances. The current version, in place for over a decade, focuses on Rome. The semester opens with Livy’s Early History of Rome and proceeds through Augustus, Virgil, Ovid, Tacitus, and Seneca before moving through the Old and New Testaments and Jewish and Christian philosophers and finishing up with St. Augustine’s Confessions.

The material might seem stodgy or old-fashioned to some, but that doesn’t necessarily make the course an anachronism. “The central theme in all the texts is the search for truth,” says Ann Delehanty, assistant professor of French and humanities. “The search for truth is always relevant.”

next page

Go to Page 1 go to page two Page 3, you are here go to page 4 Link to Reed Mag  Home