Hum 110.2.0

Several months into the first year of the new Hum 110 curriculum, many students might be wondering: what is Hum 110 like now?  How has the class changed, how has it stayed the same, and why this new curriculum in particular? Current Hum 110 chair Margot Minardi and last year’s chair Elizabeth Drumm helped answer these questions.

Hum 110 continues to be a required class for all incoming freshmen. It has the same familiar structure: lectures take place Monday, Wednesday, and Friday mornings, with the goal of introducing students to a wide range of disciplines, as professors from a variety of fields in the humanities and social sciences present their interpretations of course material. Conferences take place two or three times a week, providing students personal attention and support from professors and allowing them to delve deeper into the texts. The class has continued to establish inquiry into broad, humanistic questions, including those outlined on the Hum 110 homepage: “How have different people distinguished appearance from reality, nature from culture, particular from universal? How have they made sense of the connection between the individual and the collective? How can we understand the relations between reason and desire, word and deed, the worldly and the transcendent?” The first half of the new curriculum focuses on texts that students have studied in previous years, including Gilgamesh, the Bible, Herodotus’s Histories, and selections from the works of both Plato and Aristotle.

Unlike the previous curriculum, which followed a linear progression through time, the new curriculum is broken up into four sections with a structure based in geography. The sections include the Ancient Mediterranean (with texts from Mesopotamia, Egypt, Greece, and Israel), Athens, Tenochtitlan and Mexico City (with Aztec, Spanish, and Mexican texts), and Harlem. According to Drumm, the course examines how the conception of each place changes over time, whether over a long time frame, like the period from Tenochtitlan to Mexico City, or a shorter one, such as that of the Harlem Renaissance. The new curriculum allows students to compare the ways in which people in each context approach humanistic questions, and generally increases the number of questions which staff can propose. The curriculum also allows for experimentation in methods of study as students are introduced to new types of sources, including film and music. The new curriculum also gives students a greater opportunity to ask questions related to race, ethnicity, and gender — for example, by studying the works of female writers — questions which, according to Minardi, have only been present in the study of the humanities for the last fifty years. The Religion Department has decided not to lead lectures or conferences in the second semester due to its attempt to cover a degree of space and time that they believe is incompatible with the practice of religion as a discipline. For more information on this issue, see Elai Kobayashi-Solomon’s article “Losing Faith” in the September 14 issue of the Quest.

According to Drumm, in 2008, a Hum 110 program review questioned whether study in the Mediterranean alone limited the range of inquiry into the humanities. The Hum curriculum has been modified three times over the past ten years, reflecting the staff’s concern over these potential limitations. Staff members developed this year’s new Hum curriculum over the course of thirty meetings or more, in a process accelerated by student protests. Students were also given the opportunity to contribute to the discussion and development of the course in an online poll.

This summer, Reed College received a $1 million grant from the Mellon Foundation to support the new course, allowing some staff members to travel to Mexico City, and all staff members to participate in summer seminars with specialists, during which the professors also discussed methods of teaching the material and the types of questions they wanted to ask in lecture. For example, they discussed how best to approach the modern-day Mexican Revolution given the tension between the people’s relationship with the Spanish who destroyed Tenochtitlan in the process of creating Mexico City and the people’s indigenous roots. The new funding also allowed Reed to hire a new humanities professor and provide resources for new course material in the library, according to Reed Magazine. The effects of these resources will be seen next semester when the new course material is introduced.