The Humanities Institute supports faculty-student Collegiate Seminars, which are informal, co-curricular reading or activity groups that meet regularly over the course of a semester to consider selected interdisciplinary topics. The Institute aims to support collaborations that anchor students’ fresh, open-mindedness with a faculty member’s knowledge, experience and networks, and to bridge the divide between students’ social and academic lives.
Here is a list of the most recent Collegiate Seminars:
Faculty Conveners: Mary Foskett (HI Director, Professor of Religion) and Miaohua Jiang (Professor, Mathematics)
This collegiate seminar was designed to give international, particularly Chinese, students at Wake Forest University the opportunity to explore the following questions: What are the aims and purposes of a liberal education? Have you ever wondered why Wake Forest University students are required to take divisional courses? Or why biology majors must take courses in literature, and art students have science requirements? What is the meaning of Wake Forest’s motto, pro humanitate? The informal meetings of this collegiate seminar were an opportunity to learn more about both the liberal arts and Wake Forest, and also to allow a small group of faculty and students to get to know each other over the course of the 2012 fall semester.
Science in Fiction
“The goal of my ‘Science in Fiction’ Collegiate seminar was to promote the idea that scientists need to be (and often are) humanists, and also that ‘science literacy’ may be promoted by general science reading (in contrast to technical science reading),” says faculty convener Amanda Jones. “We discussed two books that featured chemists as central characters: Cat’s Cradle by Kurt Vonnegut (about science-triggered apocalypse) and Generosity by Richard Powers (about the genetic basis of happiness). The seminar was advertised broadly to all undergraduates performing summer research on campus, and I hoped a good mix of science and non-science majors would participate. The response to the advertisement was strong and enthusiastic, and the group was made up of exclusively math/science students, i.e. students who were already very scientifically aware. Transitioning from busy academic-year schedules, to full-time focused research can be challenging and isolating. The reading group provided a much needed external activity and the students were clearly eager for this type of engagement. Our discussion of Cat’s Cradle led to fascinating and fun discussions about scientist responsibility and the supposed scientist/public divide. Surprisingly, most of our discussions of Generosity focused on the psychological and artistic aspects of the story. In retrospect, and consistent with Wake Forest’s liberal arts mission, this should not have been a surprise. In fact, it confirmed what I had initially set out to demonstrate, that these ‘scientifically minded’ individuals had great breadth of interest and strong artistic sensibilities as well. In the future, I hope to communicate this message to younger students who might otherwise be ‘turned off’ by science if they perceive it to be too technical.”
Faculty Convener: Tom Phillips, Program Director, Interdisciplinary Humanities Program)
The seminar on “Medical Humanities” began with a reading and discussion of Susan Sontag’s Illness as Metaphor / AIDS and Its Metaphors, an astute non-fiction account of the historical and recent appropriation of language to describe/define diseases and those with diseases. From this provocative platform we are turning to fictional accounts of medical practice (short stories by Anton Chekhov and William Carlos Williams) to compare the imaginative uses of language and story to account for disease. Faculty convener Tom Phillips has remarked on how much he has “enjoyed the bright reading and earnest commitment of the students.”
Pro Humanitate Student Seminar
According to convener and Wake Forest Presidential Fellow, Bradley Shugoll, the Pro Humanitate Seminar has been off to a great start for Fall 2013. “We have had the chance to meet twice so far. In our first meeting, we talked about the value of reflection through the poem, ‘Action and Non-Action’ by Chuang Tzu. Then, we discussed the difference between charity and justice by reading ‘The Limits of Charity’ and Bertolt Brecht’s poem ‘A Bed for the Night.’ Both evenings afforded the opportunity to take a break from the stress of the day to engage deeply with a text and apply it to the work the students are doing as members of the Service Theme House. Our goal is to use humanities texts as common object to guide reflection that will enhance the student’s understanding of the complex nature of community engagement.”