Humes and humanities can be defined collectively under one definition: conflict and connections. At first glance, one might think this is a joke because this is the course name. Indeed, it is, but this does not mean that it cannot be used to define Humes. After all, the course warranted the name for a reason. A second challenge to this definition may come from the use of one definition for two words. This too is true and offered not to say that the words are the same and are interchangeable, in fact, this would be incorrect, but to say that humanities and Humes together can be defined as conflict and connections, because humanities can be described as learning about conflicts in non-STEM fields and Humes as a community comprised of connections between students, fellows, and professors.
Humanities & Conflict
The academia world is often regarded as being comprised of two parts: the STEM fields and the humanities fields. Opposite in many regards, they both are comprised of multiple areas of expertise. Within Humes this first semester, the fields we studied included Philosophy, French & Francophone Studies, Theatre, and Gender & Sexuality Studies. Although each unit taught on different topics, I found the presence of conflict in each and since each of these units is a field in the humanities, I believe this common theme to be the definition of the humanities.
In unit one, Dr. Robb directed his philosophy unit towards discussing epistemology, objective truth, and conceptual schemes. Each lesson and reading was directed towards these themes in hopes of informing our understanding of these topics as well as developing classroom discussions. It appears to me that although a plethora of philosophical problems exists, resolutions to them do not because of conflict. Competing sides to debates prevent a solution from being attained. For instance, the discussion surrounding the nature of knowledge has led philosophers to formulate opinions on the definition of knowledge and what serves as a justification condition. Some philosophers align themselves with empiricism, others with foundationalism and fallibilism. These conflicting ideas prevent philosophers from agreeing upon a solution. It is the prevalence of conflict within this humanity’s field that has led me to identify it as the definition of the humanities.
Professor Green’s theater unit also carried this idea of conflict. It was first displayed in our reading and discussion on Augusto Boal’s forum theater. A type of theater production, its purpose was to discuss and resolve a society’s social injustices, a conflict between a perpetrator and a receiver. Conflict was also exemplified in some of the theater productions we watched as a class. For instance, Anna Deavere Smith’s play, Notes from the Field, portrays the problems that plague education systems that contribute to the high imprisonment rate for people of color, a conflict that continues today. Hence, the conflict underlying classroom discussions and materials have led me to define the humanities as the study of conflict in non-STEM fields.
Diverging from the first two units in discussing more violent conflicts, the French & Francophone Studies that would comprise unit three reviewed the tragedies and injustices done to two black Venuses, Sarah Baartman and Josephine Baker. Living under a master/slave dynamic, Baartman experienced conflict with her master, wanting to stop portraying herself like an animal in shows, her master forced her to continue. This conflict of interest sprouted physical conflict involving her master and audience members. An entertainer as well, Baker experienced conflict in her constraint to how she could portray her body and feminism. Furthermore, class discussions took the conflict experienced by these two women as a history of conflict for a lot of black people, both past and present, consequently, highlighting the key role of conflict within this humanity’s unit.
Similar to unit three, Dr. Tamura’s unit four discussed the bloodshed and terror of the Rwandan genocide. Fueled by the conflict between the Hutu and Tutsi, a civil war engulfed the country and led to the genocide that would take the lives of 800,000 and harm many more. This discussion of history, a subtopic to humanities, and the conflict that ignited such carnage illuminates the conflict nature that underlies the humanities.
Collectively, the humanities taught in Humes share the idea of conflict within their topics. Thus, I define the humanities as focused on researching the conflict present in non-STEM fields.
Humes & Connections
My time in the Humes program this fall semester has been nothing but exceptional in large part because of the community within Humes. During Sapre Aude, I frequently heard fellows refer to Humes as an unofficial cult and this startled me to say the least. However, I do see the resemblance between the two: both have a strong sense of community. Despite Covid restrictions, there is an almost family-like connection between humesters, fellows, and professors that fosters a strong sense of community, one where everybody has each other’s back. These connections were created in Sapre Aude, small cohort groups, and activities. For instance, in Professor Green’s unit, humesters were paired up to share personal stories and convey the emotions behind them through poses. Besides being a fun, educational acting exercise, this activity helped us learn more about our peers and bond and connect. Unit three’s Lemonade album breakdown similarly established connections. Having an in-person cohort meeting to discuss the presentation of our song choice, I found it was during this time that I better connected with my cohort members. The non-classroom environment allowed us to be ourselves, crack jokes while still connecting over Humes. This time was one of many that established connections amongst humesters and fellows that would contribute to the sense of community. However, community membership is also extended to professors. Between conversation hours before class and paper meeting discussions that have often transgressed into discussing life in general, I feel like I know the Humes professors and they are not just an authoritative figure I cannot talk to. Consequently, this strengthens the sense of community within the program. In effect, I find community as the foundation of Humes, intertwined with classes, learning, and people, and thus my definition for Humes.
Appiah, Kwame. Thinking It Through: An Introduction to Contemporary Philosophy. Oxford University Press, 2003. 39-61.
Boal, Agusto. Theatre of the Oppressed. Pluto, 2000. 120-156.
Kechiche, Abdellatif, dir. Black Venus. 2010; France: Mk2, 2010. Online streaming.