A Home for the Humanities
Because Hamilton [Inspires]
If people cannot write well, they cannot think well, and if they cannot think well, others will do their thinking for them. — George Orwell
The humanities have long been the heart of a liberal arts education, and a critically thinking, liberally educated populace is essential to our democracy.
In the 19th century, Hamilton’s curriculum was devoted entirely to the classics, history, languages, and literature, essentially the study of human civilizations, values, and communication. We remain dedicated to these subjects because they are fundamental to our identity as a liberal arts college and indispensable to the success of our graduates.
But our humanities facilities don’t reflect that devotion. Most of the spaces lack the features that match today’s pedagogy, in particular spaces for students to study and collaborate with their professors and each other, faculty offices that accommodate small-group discussions and interaction, and flexible classrooms conducive to a range of teaching styles. It’s a credit to our faculty who have adapted their pedagogy to teach in spaces that are much less than ideal. One needs to look no further than the educational transformations made possible with new facilities for the sciences, social sciences, and the arts to recognize the enormous potential of a new Center for the Humanities on the Hamilton campus.
Because Hamilton seeks to complete the renewal of academic facilities that was begun at the turn of this century and has thus far addressed needs in the sciences, social sciences, and the arts. This new effort includes a renovation and modernization of existing humanities facilities to address issues of pedagogy, safety, and comfort, and new spaces to put the humanities on equal footing with other academic divisions while replacing the square footage that will be lost to the renovation of Root Hall, Couper Hall, and Benedict Hall. Whether the space is new or renovated, investing in the humanities is about creating facilities that foster the teaching styles and collaboration that are not possible in our existing humanities classrooms.
These facilities will be a clear and confident statement about Hamilton’s continuing commitment to the humanities as a fundamental component of a liberal education and their importance to the College and society.
There is a power in just listening to people.
Novelist and writer Kamila Shamsie ’94 visited Hamilton last April to discuss the experiences of refugees, in conjunction with Refugee Solidarity Month, headed by Hamilton club “On the Move.”
During her talk, Shamsie read parts of a conversation she had with a refugee, “John,” whose real name she could not disclose.
In April, Kamila visited the Hill to meet with students and gave a reading of her seventh book Home Fire. The event was streamed live on Facebook.
The material will fill a hole in the literature for academics, policymakers, researchers, and students about the actual conditions inside prisons.
APWA collects, catalogs and makes fully searchable essays written by inmates across the country and is part of Hamilton’s Digital Humanities Initiative (DHi). Larson, APWA’s principal investigator, is the Walcott-Bartlett Professor of Literature & Creative Writing.
“Doran Larson has been committed to this project for many years, and I’m pleased to see his groundbreaking efforts recognized by the NEH,” said Hamilton President David Wippman. “What began as a means of collecting inmates’ essays has evolved into an extensive digital archive of incarcerated Americans’ writing. This funding will expand the archive’s ability to solicit and digitize new essays,” Wippman said. “Hamilton is fortunate to be the repository of this important collection.”
Larson’s interest in prison writing began in 2006 when he started leading a creative writing workshop at Attica Correctional Faculty. After two years of research, he realized that prison writing is as deeply shaped by the conditions of incarceration as by the biographical background writers bring to their efforts. In 2008 when he launched a seminar on American prison writing at Hamilton, he also found that there existed no volume that offered a broad sampling of writing by inmates. Thus, Fourth City: Essays from the Prison in America, edited by Larson, was born.
Initiated in 2009 when Larson put out a call for essays from incarcerated people and prison staff about what life was like inside, the archive has grown to more than 1,200 responses in paper form and more than 1,100 online.
I believed that oppression based on gender, race, sexuality, etc., were things of the past.
She was a strong feminist and anti-racist and whenever conversation of gender and race came up, she would argue from those perspectives. I would push back and prod her for evidence that I had intrinsic privilege as a white male and that oppression was still alive and well. Thinking back on it, I am not sure why she put up with me for so long. After a few conversations, she suggested books for me to read, and once I started to do that things came more into focus. As I said, I am a science minded person, and it really took writing backed by research and quantitative studies to change my mind. After I began to read feminist research, I saw issues of gender and race everywhere.
Another person who I lifeguarded for was an art teacher, and she told me that she asked her students to grade themselves at the end of the year. My first thought was, ‘Wow — I bet gender is a factor in how students evaluate themselves.’ I spent the rest of my senior year conducting a study of my entire K-12 school looking at how gender affects confidence in different subjects. Having spent my senior year reading up on feminist research, I was eager to take women’s and gender studies in college. I enjoyed my classes and found that they continued to make me see the world in a new way, which prompted me to keep taking them.
The humanities are the heart of a liberal arts education, and people who are liberally educated are essential to our democracy