Humanities

Modes of Knowing, Sites of Encounter:

Exploring the Human through Text, Image, and Performance

July 9 – 28, 2023

The Humanities cultivate our awareness of the many factors and forces that shape the actions and beliefs of individuals 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.

Students in the Humanities Program will seek to understand the complex connections between vision, performance/experience, knowledge, and truth and the ways in which people have used texts, images, and performance to encounter new and different ideas and realities. We will see how human beings have used drama, history, literary fiction, and the visual and scientific arts to understand, control, and challenge their world.

Students 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. The program culminates with a research symposium where students share the results of their work with each other and the broader community.

Learn more in the Letter from the Director below.

Humanities students lean over a map
Humanities students sit in a circle of desks with laptops in discussion

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 enable us to see through others’ eyes (if only partially), we draw on many disciplines and forms of human expression: from historical documents to religious and philosophical writings to literature to works of art and performances.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. It requires and cultivates patience, curiosity about difference, and empathy.

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 multidisciplinary exploration of Modes of Knowing, Sites of Encounter: Exploring the Human through Text, Image, and Performance

With my colleagues Zaki Haidar in Arabic Language and Literature, Pierre Hecker in English,  and Jacqueline Lombard in Art History and with contributions from Victoria Morse in the History of Mapmaking, we will explore together the ways in which people sought and conveyed knowledge and grappled with doubt, difference, and uncertainty in their texts, on their theatrical stages, and in their images and objects. Through writing, performance, and representation, people created moments of encounter with ideas and realities of power and order; different times and cultures; and values and sensibilities. Sometimes, these encounters served to express and to reinforce ideas and identities, but often they served as means to criticize assumptions and the status quo and to explore–if only for a moment–other possibilities.

In the four research strands, we will examine closely primary sources (in translation), including works by English playwright William Shakespeare (and their modern adaptations and stagings); the writings of Florentine political advisor Niccolò Machiavelli and French jurist and philosopher Michel de Montaigne; modern novels about medieval worlds; and medieval and Renaissance art objects. Through our discussions, we will seek to understand the complex connections between vision, performance/experience, knowledge, and truth and the ways in which people have used texts, images, and performance to encounter new and different ideas and realities. We will see how human beings have used drama, history, literary fiction, and the visual and scientific arts to understand, control, and challenge their world.

Over the three weeks of the Institute, each student chooses a research cohort and, in that context, develops and presents a guided research project in History (including philosophical and political topics), Literature, Theater, or Art History. 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. Along with the research strand, all students in the Humanities Session will participate in activities that will give them focused experiences in work and insights offered by other materials and perspectives as well as a shared set of experiences with and discussions of texts, image, and performance. Supplementary presentations and field trips round out the program activities.

Supporting the students in one-on-one, small group, and full class settings will be both the program faculty–each of whom works with no more than 15 students–and advanced Carleton students who provide additional guidance and mentoring in their cohorts as well as resources for the realities of college life.

We look forward to working with you!

Sincerely,

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

Academic Credit

Summer Carls can earn up to six Carleton course credits (typically transfers as three semester credits) for successfully meeting faculty expectations and completing course requirements. 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

Click on each topic below to view the course description and faculty information.

Power, Knowledge, and Uncertainty in the Renaissance:

The Encounters of Machiavelli & Montaigne

Niccolò Macchiavelli (1469-1527) grew up in one of the vibrant centers of humanistic investigation and artistic creativity—Florence. Exploring 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.

Faculty

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.

Professor Bill North

Become a Summer Carl

Ready to spend your summer with us? Learn how to apply!

Application Opens December 15