While Yale is already known for having one of the best collegiate humanities programs in the country, faculty in the program continue to work toward its improvement.
This academic year, three new initiatives in the Humanities Program were launched. The first, called “Living Texts,” seeks to connect classical texts included in Directed Studies with modern interpretations illustrating their relevance and contemporary nature. The second, called “Callings and Pathways,” aims to reconnect recent graduates of the Humanities Program with current students to highlight potential career paths after graduation. Lastly, the “Citizens, Thinkers, Writers: Reflecting on Civic Life” program will invite a dozen New Haven Public Schools students this summer to a two-week seminar connecting historical writings on civic life to contemporary life in New Haven. Humanities Program chair Bryan Garsten said the goal of all three initiatives is to make the Humanities Program a place that focuses on a number of aspects of a college education.
“We’ve always been interested in encouraging more intellectual community, and since a lot of the humanities majors have taken Directed Studies before, they’ve experienced what it’s like to take three courses at the same time with more or less the same people,” Director of Undergraduate Studies for the Humanities Norma Thompson said. “The most remarkable thing created out of DS is that intellectual community and we’ve been trying to find some ways to recreate that in the humanities major.”
Inspiration for these programs drew from a number of sources, with many stemming from student interest. Garsten said members of the Humanities Program’s Student Advisory Committee all expressed support for the new initiatives. When students express a desire for some kind of extracurricular event, Thompson said, faculty listen and see how far those ideas can be taken.
Hannah Carrese ’16, a member of the advisory committee, highlighted the solicitation and involvement of student opinions as one of the cornerstones of the initiatives. Caroline Sydney ’16, another committee member and a staff columnist for the News, said what is most important to her about the new programming — even more so than the subject matter — is the fact that it brings together people in the humanities major. Taylor Holshouser ’18, who also serves on the committee, said the body has worked to ensure ideas come from the students.
Still, not everyone agrees that the new initiatives are the best method to foster a sense of community among students. Harper Keehn ’16, another member of the committee, said rather than having formal programming, it would be better to host casual events like dinners where students can freely meet and talk to one another. Everyone is already so busy, he said, and even though the speakers might be worthwhile, there may not be enough time for students to come together and bond over an event.
“There have been conversations for a number of years about things we can do to make the intellectual environment as fresh and lively as it can be,” Garsten said. “Students seem interested in having a strong cohort when they major in the humanities, so these events are meant to foster that.”
Both Thompson and Garsten said the annual Humanities in Action Conference, which features recent humanities major alumni who may have followed unconventional career paths, was part of the motivation for the three new initiatives. Analogous to the conference, Thompson said “Callings and Pathways” will bring back alumni for smaller and more intimate events outside of Humanities in Action.
Directed Studies DUS Kathryn Slanski said “Living Texts” aims to serve proposals from students and faculty for extracurricular programming related to literature studied in DS. Slanski added that some of the resources allocated to “Living Texts” is being used to bring writers, artists and filmmakers to campus for talks, workshops and performances. The inaugural “Living Texts” event took place in December, when 35 students and 11 faculty members were provided with subsidized tickets to attend the School of Drama’s production of Aeschylus’ Oresteia.
“While the texts we study are timeless in that they continue to speak to readers today, we’re excited about these new Humanities-funded opportunities to engage with them as they are received, dusted off and reworked by contemporary creative artists, thinkers and writers in the context of our own times,” Slanski said.
Garsten, who is spearheading the planning for the “Citizens, Thinkers, Writers” seminar, said the course was inspired by the political philosophy-focused Freedom and Citizenship Program for high school students at Columbia University. Slanski, who sat in on Columbia’s seminar, will teach the pilot program at Yale alongside Garsten in July.
Director of Education Studies Elizabeth Carroll said similar programs to attract high school students have already been established in the sciences, citing the Yale Pathways to Science programs as an example. It is important to bring in similar opportunities in the humanities as well, she said.
“My main thought on the new [“Citizens, Thinkers, Writers”] project is that it’s a terrific opportunity for local students, and I am glad to see the Humanities Program engaging with New Haven in this way,” said Carroll, who advised Garsten and his team on the project.