I consider Humanities as representative of the course, as the proper noun suggests the definition of a particular place, person, or organization. Humanities is a program of study allowing for and facilitating discourse between students and professors on topics that force intellectual connection and disagreement. It functions not only as a means for education by external experts but also as a vehicle for self-exploration and personal reflection. In Unit 1, with President Quillen, we focused on the idea and reasoning behind “Equality.” In the beginning of our Humanities course, I was immediately struck by the lack of a “right” answer – within high school courses, an instructor’s desired interpretation was often visible, and grading was based upon agreement with that interpretation. Humanities, however, forces students to consider their own views as equally valid to those of the lecturing professors. As both the lecturer and my section professor, President Quillen was unafraid to leave space for difficult discussions. One of our first readings for her unit, Toni Morrison’s “Moral Inhabitants,” created an internal discourse within my own meditations on human nature – although these thoughts had occurred to me, I had never been forced to consider them. Humanities is the conscious decision to address the unknown and to embrace the lack of conclusive answers. My understanding of the nature of Humanities as a course only grew through the second unit with Professor Robb. His discussion of the Scientific Revolution’s continuities and changes within the evolution of humanism was initially uncomfortable to me – I had not considered the scientific connections to a Humanities course prior to his unit. Through the variety of topics discussed, however, I came to understand the importance of a course that not only discusses many disciplines, but unites them into a common theme. A quote from one of Professor Robb’s first plenary lectures seemed to encapsulate the attitude of the Humanities course – he encouraged us to argue passionately with full participation, not considering the term “lecture” as an accurate representation of Humanities. In Unit 3 with Professor Tamura, our analysis of a variety of viewpoints on the difficult subject of human suffering demonstrates Humanities as a method of discussion rather than a process of instruction. One plenary lecture in particular during this unit evokes this aspect of the Humanities course – the plenary session from November 6th, in which Professor Tamura asked challenging questions such as “What are you worth? What do you owe to society? What does a debt to society truly mean?” The page in my notebook is striking as it contains questions rather than notes, as the session was opened up to small group discussion following the introduction of the questions. This collective discovery of answers and viewpoints on challenging topics truly defines the Humanities. The idea of discourse presented in the other units continued with Professor Wills, as we discussed some of the darkest subjects in our nation’s history. With our discussion of the origins, Biblical justification, and reactions against institutionalized racism, the Humanities community was forced to address topics that are rarely invoked in the wider world. Humanities is discussion of divisive subjects in a manner that respects the viewpoints of others and embraces the unknown.
In Professor Bory’s unit, we expanded our horizons in the discussion of corporeal movement as human connection. In our exploration, we again discussed hidden parts of American history, reaffirming my definition of Humanities. Through our analysis of Bill T. Jones’s Last Supper at Uncle Tom’s Cabin/The Promised Land, we were able to enter into Jones’s life as a gay black man in the era of the AIDS crisis. His striking portrayals of the roots of his race and his sexuality evoke the core of the Humanities – despite my personal lack of connection with his experience, I was able to understand his story and connect with his reality. With Professor Munger, we discussed the impacts of abstraction in art on our understanding of the messages conveyed by the artists. This topic was approached from a perspective that allowed for a variety of student opinions, consistent with the definition of the Humanities community. We each were assigned an abstract work for a presentation explaining the role of abstraction in the conveyance of the artist’s purpose (my presentation is found here). Through this capacity for interpretation, I was able to comprehend each
humanities as a discipline is the exploration of human ideas and the methods by which they are expressed. Humans are unique among other organisms for our ability to articulate, consider, and discuss complex subjects. Through the humanities, we are able to discover the human responses to dilemmas (often similar subjects) throughout history. In President Quillen’s unit, we discussed the humanities with works that formed the foundation for much of modern government by John Locke. We explored responses to his conception of humanity, freedom, and property from the time period in which he wrote, as well as from the present day. We were encouraged to form our own conclusions about his assertions – creating our own conclusions and perpetuating the discipline of the humanities within the course itself. During Professor Robb’s unit, we explored humanities as paradigm shifts throughout time, specifically during the era described as the Scientific Revolution. These shifts encapsulate the humanities, demonstrating the human capacity for discovery and the ability to adjust preconceptions as a result of those discoveries. We discovered a new aspect of the humanities during our work with Professor Tamura – human connection and disconnection from one another. This unit forced us to consider the human characteristic of empathy as well as the ability of humans to dehumanize one another – often to a degree that results in hellish destruction of the lives of others. Lastly, we explored the human ability to justify superiority of one group over another as well as the choices made to combat this superiority, with Professor Wills. This unit was particularly striking and difficult to discuss – the atrocities and dehumanization explored in the previous unit became pervasive throughout government, business, housing, and culture – based upon an arbitrary biological difference. The possibility of humanities as the exploration of the human writings and acts in order to subject another human group to dehumanization is a striking portrait of human nature and the malleability of the mind. Throughout our discussion within this course, we have explored the humanities – a discipline that explores the unique abilities, results, and challenges of human intellectual pursuits.