Humanizing the Humanities
You've heard about the liberal arts, about Dartmouth's emphasis on undergraduate teaching, small class sizes, the resources of a university, etc. But what does that look like? I'd like to share one example of a class that hits on every single one of those ideas.
Every student has to take Writing 5, a freshman writing seminar designed to ensure that students are on the same page before they move on to higher level courses that require clear, coherent writing. At this point you might be thinking “Kate! Dartmouth told us that there is NO class at Dartmouth that every student has to take!” And that is true! Writing 5, like all of our other distributive requirements, is an umbrella. Under that umbrella, you have courses as varied as “The Pursuit of Happiness” and “Digital Pirates: Anonymous and WikiLeaks” and “Animals in Contemporary Literature.” All of these classes are capped at 16 to ensure that you have at least one small discussion group and a close connection with a professor from the very beginning.
For my Writing 5 requirement, I took “Humanities I: A Dialogue with the Classics,” a special writing class that focuses on classic texts. It was organized a little differently: we had 48 students in the course, but broke into 3 16-person discussion groups at least twice a week. The large group sessions were used for lectures from visiting professors from different departments. The first book on our reading list was Homer’s The Odyssey (edited by Richmond Lattimore, Dartmouth class of 1926). I still remember our first lecture because Professor Pulju, a linguistics expert, began the class by reciting the first 10 lines of The Odyssey IN ANCIENT GREEK. He proceeded to show off a bit, and recite them in other languages. One of our lectures, from a music professor, questioned whether the author really meant “piano” where they had written “harpsichord,” by interrogating the descriptions of the sounds and the historical context of the novel.
Not only did this class introduce me to so many different departments at Dartmouth, and to how interdisciplinary studying at Dartmouth can be, but it also showed me what Dartmouth’s campus has to offer. We spent a class period in Rauner, our special collections library, looking at Richmond Lattimore’s margin notes as he translated The Odyssey and The Iliad. We went to the Hood Museum of Art and explored visual art that engaged with familiar themes from the reading list. As a class, we went to the Hopkins Center for Art and watched the MET Opera Tannhaüser by Wagner. And I want to emphasize that I could have done ALL of these things without going with my professor and my classmates. But, as a freshman who had visited Dartmouth for less than a day, I didn’t know about all of these incredible resources. And I was fortunate to have the most amazing group of students and professors show me what a Dartmouth class looks like.
I could talk forever about Humanities, and believe me, I have! Some of my closest friends to this day are my HUMS pals. Our discussions didn’t end when class did; we would walk together to the dining hall, still debating the importance of noses in male characters. And, if you’re sick of hearing about undergraduate teaching and the emphasis on the undergraduate experience, I just want to let you know that my professor, Professor Dever, was also the Provost of the College. The Provost! And she taught a class of 16 freshman! And she invited us over to her house for our last class. We ate Panera sandwiches on the floor of her living room as her 5-year-old son ran around playing with their pets. We have had dinner reunions almost every term at Dartmouth. So, I am telling you, undergraduate teaching, close relationships with professors, small class sizes, incredible resources: these are not just words! They will be your experiences. And they will change your life for the better.