51 take new humanities courses

Tuesday, September 16, 2008

Browsing this year’s course catalog, many students may have noticed the five classes marked HMAN. These Humanities seminars are being offered by the Cogut Center for the Humanities and are new this fall. Fifty-one students have already enrolled in them this semester, with one class exceeding the 20-student cap.

“We’re all very excited about them,” said Michael Steinberg, director of the Cogut Center. The center, founded in 2003 and named for Craig Cogut ’75 and his wife, aims to support collaborative research among scholars in the humanities, according to the center’s Web site.

This year the center released its usual list of graduate fellows and also named four undergraduate fellows.

One of the fellows, Zohar Atkins ’10, said he first heard of the center when he began attending some of their big events and lectures, but continued his involvement by attending weekly Cogut Fellows Seminars where graduate fellows discuss the progress of their work. “I liked the idea of engaging in intellectual discussion across disciplines with people who hold not only expertise, but passion,” he said.

The HMAN seminars cover a broad range of fields, are taught by professors from various departments, and are available to all juniors and seniors. Professors had to formally apply to teach these courses so the Center could ensure the classes would be unique and interdisciplinary in their approach, Steinberg said.

“We asked people to be creative and experimental in what they teach,” Steinberg said. “After this semester the professors will go back to their own departments with new material, while students will have been exposed to something completely new to them.”

In the case of Assistant Professor of History Vazira Zamindar, her course entitled HMAN 1970F: “Visualizing History: The Politics of Material Culture in Modern South Asia” is a direct representation of her current research.

“My research deals with the history of archaeology in 19th and 20th century South Asia, specifically British India,” Zamindar said.

Besides getting continual feedback on her work, she said another reason she wanted to teach a humanities course was because it would allow her to interact with students outside of her own discipline.

Sheela Krishnan ’10 is a Human Biology concentrator currently enrolled in Zamindar’s class, who came upon the course by chance when looking up classes.

“There’s only one other class on South Asia being offered this semester and I really wanted to take something dealing with the area because of my personal interest and history,” said Krishnan, who identifies as South Asian.

Krishnan is taking the course even though it doesn’t give her credit towards her concentration. Because the Cogut Center is not its own department, however, students can talk to the department in which they are concentrating to get the new courses cross-listed.

History of Art and Architecture concentrator Emily Silverman ’09 said she will take advantage of this opportunity. “I’ve already been talking to my concentration advisor about cross-listing this course to get credit for my major. All I have to do now is send him a copy of the syllabus for approval,” she said.

Silverman, who usually studies European and Renaissance art, said she was initially attracted to the course because it would be something unfamiliar to her.

“I have no background in South Asian art whatsoever, but that’s what makes it so interesting,” she said.

The other Humanities courses offered this semester are: HMAN 1970A: “Eating Cultures: Food and Society” by Associate Professor of American Civilization Matthew Garcia, HMAN 1970G: “A History of Humanness: Scientific and Popular Cultures in the 20th Century United States” by Visiting Assistant Professor of the Humanities Megan Glick, HMAN 1970H: “Specters of Comparison” by Visiting Assistant Professor of the Humanities Nergis Erturk and HMAN 1970K: “The Origins and Contours of American Nationalism, 1780-1900” by Associate Professor of History Michael Vorenberg.

Though Steinberg said there would never be a Humanities concentration, the classes will continue to be offered in future years.

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