Fear the Humanities? Same: How I Survived a College History Class
I have known a simple fact for most of my academic life: I would rather take an exam than write a paper.
Both fortunately and unfortunately, one of the great beauties (and annoyances) of Dartmouth is the distributive requirement. We’re required to take classes in different fields of study to graduate (as is expected of a liberal arts education). This field of study is pretty broad -- something like "natural sciences" or we can generally take any class within a certain subject.
Since my academic major/minor interests are in economics, engineering, and studio art, I fulfilled distribs like social science, technical applied science, and art long ago, but I’ve had a hard time checking off the TMV (traditions of thought, meaning, and value) distrib. The TMV distrib tends to get assigned to classes in the philosophy and history departments. Seeing that empty checkbox while degree planning at the beginning of this fall -- I decided it was about time I took a college history course and signed up for Gender & European Society with Professor Simons (History 42).
I was pretty apprehensive going in. The history department is notorious for long readings and endless papers. And while I’ll never stop raving about my Writing 5 class, I’m mostly used to writing social science papers that air on the shorter side.
But the class itself didn’t end up being a disaster! Actually, I really enjoyed it. And ironically, my favorite part of the course was the final research paper. We could choose to research any topic we wanted that related remotely to what we’d learned in class. This flexibility was a blessing, but it also meant that I needed to put extra care into selecting a good topic.
I knew pretty early on in the research process that I wanted to write about fashion, so I started my research there. As I skimmed through a massive pile of books, I noticed that many of them mentioned on particular family -- the Medicis, a prominent Florentine banking family. After looking into their history a bit more, I decided to focus my argument on their employment of dress during the Italian Renaissance. I spent an excessive amount of time in the library digging into Medici biographies, Florentine banking history, and popular upper-class Renaissance fashion. I’m not a big research buff, but I found research pretty fun (although at times laborious). I became invested enough in my research paper that I actually presented it to the class -- something I never would’ve imagined myself volunteering to do at the start of the term.
Taking classes outside of my general interests and major requirements pushes me to step out of my academic comfort zone and ultimately expands my way of thinking. I may not have wanted to take a history class, but I’m glad I did. While I’m still an exam girl at heart, I learned not to fear research and writing in the humanities, and I also now have a disproportionate (but impressive) amount of knowledge on the Medici family’s style.