The Arts of Power and Knowledge

July 10 – 29, 2022

The Humanities cultivate our awareness of the many factors and forces that shape the actions and beliefs of individual or group through time.  Most of all, it strengthens our capacity to enter into the lives and thoughts of others so as to understand more fully, subtly, and sympathetically “what makes them tick,” a capacity that ultimately helps us be and do better in every aspect of our lives. -Professor Bill North
Humanities students looking at maps
Humanities students watching final presentations

Letter from the Director

Dear Students and Families,

When describing the goals that shaped his work, the seventeenth-century philosopher Benedict Spinoza remarked: “I have labored carefully, not to mock, lament, or execrate, but to understand human actions.”

This project—to understand human actions in the fullness of their origins, development, and consequences and to comprehend the dynamic world of ideas and sensibilities that inspires and is inspired by them—lies at the heart of the Humanities. To allow the myriad and diverse voices from the past to speak and to see through others’ eyes, we draw on many disciplines and forms of human expression: from historical documents to religious and philosophical writings to literature to works of art and performances. Such humanistic inquiry requires a unique blend of the skills of observation, analysis, interpretation, imagination, empathy and criticism. Our work teaches us how to examine and interpret small details to gain larger insights, to see the variety that exists within categories and generalities, to dismantle stereotypes and understand their making, and to trace ideas and actions back to their origins and forward to their effects.

The Humanities cultivate our awareness of the many factors and forces that shape the actions and beliefs of individuals or groups at a single moment or over time. Most of all, they strengthen our capacity to enter into the lives and thoughts of others so as to understand more fully, subtly, and sympathetically “what makes them tick,” a capacity that ultimately helps us be and do better in every aspect of our lives today.

In the Humanities Session of the Carleton Summer Liberal Arts Institute, we will develop these skills through multi-disciplinary exploration of The Arts of Power and Knowledge.

With my colleagues Clara Hardy in Classics and Victoria Morse in History and the History of Mapmaking, we will explore together the ways in which people in the premodern world sought knowledge, struggled to persuade, and grappled with doubt, difference, and uncertainty through texts, images, speeches, drama, and maps. With these media they came to represent, criticize and transform different forms of power, identity, and value in their worlds and challenge traditional notions and sources of truth. We will closely examine primary sources (in translation), including works by Athenian tragedy writers Sophocles and Euripides; the writings of Florentine political advisor Niccolò Machiavelli and French jurist and philosopher Michel de Montaigne; and maps and discussions of geography drawn from global contexts. Through our discussions, we will seek to understand the complex forms and functions of power and identity and the connections between vision, knowledge, and truth. We will also see how human beings have used drama, history, mapmaking, philosophy, and the visual and scientific arts to understand, control, and challenge their world.

Over the three weeks of the Institute, each participant will have a full week working in each of these disciplines. In addition, you will choose a research cohort and, in that context, develop and present guided research projects in Rhetoric and Drama, History (including philosophical and political topics), and the History of Mapmaking. You will learn to use techniques of research, interpretation, and presentation that are essential to achieve the goals of humanistic research: to understand with depth and complexity the nature of human thought, action, and expression and to convey this understanding to others.

We will pursue our learning goals in large and small group settings, in one-on-one meetings during research sessions and in office hours; on field trips, and with other activities. We very much look forward to working with you!


Bill North
Professor of History and Director of the SLAI Humanities Program

Writing Sample Requirement

Humanities Writing Sample

Each applicant to the Humanities Program must submit a writing sample along with their online application. The writing sample must be submitted during application process and an application will not be considered complete without the writing sample.

The writing sample should be a recent sample of your best academic writing for review by the Humanities Program Admissions Committee. Your writing sample should be a minimum of two pages long, typed and double spaced. The essay may be on any topic of your choice and should be of an academic nature. While not required, we suggest a literary analysis or research paper. If you have questions about the qualification of a writing sample please contact our office. 

When uploading the document to your application please note the following are supported file formats: .txt (plain text); .doc or .docx (Word); or PDF (portable document file).

Academic Credit Information

Summer Carls can earn Carleton course credits for successfully meeting faculty expectations and completing course requirements. Students will receive 6 Carleton credits (typically transfers as three semester credits) for successful completion of this program.

In addition to receiving written feedback about course performance from faculty, students will receive one of the following three possible grade designations: satisfactory (S), credit (Cr), or no credit (NC). Formal academic transcripts are available upon request for Summer Carl alumni and will reflect the name of the course and grade earned.

Academic Structure

Of the multiple course topics listed on this page, Summer Carls will explore some topics in morning classes and one topic in an afternoon research group.

View SLAI’s Academic Structure Guide to learn more about how you can shape your program experience to fit your interests this summer.

Courses and Faculty :

Power, Knowledge, and Uncertainty in the Renaissance:

The Worlds of Machiavelli & Montaigne

Niccolò Macchiavelli (1469-1527) grew up in one of the vibrant centers of humanistic investigation and artistic creativity—Florence. Immersing himself in the classical past and observing a tumultuous present, Machiavelli brought new perspectives and questions to his analysis of governance and the role of perception and knowledge in the accumulation, use, and loss of power.  Like Machiavelli, Michel de Montaigne (1533-1592) entered a world in the midst of dynamic changes. Protestantism, the European encounter with the New World, the printing press each dramatically, sometimes violently, shook traditional sources of truth and structures of authority. A jurist and scholar, Montaigne used observation, scholarship, wit, and humane sympathy to challenge verities and easy coalitions of power and knowledge.

In this course, we will explore how these two individuals understood the connection between knowledge, power, and identity and the ways in which their contemporaries were seeking to cope with new knowledge, uncertainty, deception, and controversial.

Students choosing history as their primary field will pursue individual curated research projects that will culminate in a research essay and a public presentation based on this research.


Bill North

Professor Bill North

Fascinated by history, religion, and the classical tradition at Princeton University, Bill North went on to receive his Ph.D. in medieval history from the University of California, Berkeley in 1998. After a post-doctoral year pursuing Byzantine history at Dumbarton Oaks in Washington, DC, North came to Carleton in 1999.

At Carleton, Bill teaches courses on the later Roman Empire, Byzantium, the early and central Middle Ages; medieval Latin and Greek; and maintains an active interest in Renaissance humanism and the methods and meaning of the recovery and study of the people, both ancient and contemporary. In each of his courses, he is excited to explore the opportunities offered by the interdisciplinary collaboration that is an essential part of the humanities.

Bill is a fellow of the American Academy in Rome and at Carleton co-directs an off campus study program in Rome with his colleague Victoria Morse. In his research and teaching, he is particularly interested in the dynamics—institutional and intellectual—of controversies, the creation and maintenance of institutional and political cultures, and the role of the past in creating and dismantling structures of authority and knowledge.

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