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Summer Humanities Institute

Sunday, July 26 - Friday, August 14, 2015

Dear SHI Students and Families,

Describing the intellectual perspective 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, progress, 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.  It is a project that draws on many disciplines and many forms of human expression: from historical documents to religious and philosophical writings to literature to works of art and performances.  Its sources and its questions lead Humanistic inquiry to place particular emphasis on skills of analysis, interpretation, and criticism. It teaches us how to observe and interpret small details to gain larger insights, and how to trace ideas and actions back to their origins.  It cultivates our awareness of the multiplicity of factors and forces that shape the actions and beliefs of an individual or group through time.  Most of all, it strengthens the capacity of our imaginations 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.

In the Carleton Summer Humanities Institute we will develop these skills—along with a variety of techniques to share the results of our research with wider audiences—through an exploration of the legacies of ancient Rome in Renaissance Europe, a period often identified as the beginning of the modern world.  With my colleagues Pierre Hecker in English and Theater and  Alison Kettering in Art History, we will explore together the ways in which people in England and Italy during the 15th-17th centuries came to understand, adapt, and employ the diverse intellectual and artistic legacies of ancient Rome to shape and inspire their own societies. We will examine, in other words, the ways in which Rome provided not a simple model to be imitated unthinkingly but an articulate partner in a very contemporary dialogue about power, values, identity, and community.

Over the three weeks, you will develop and present interdisciplinary, guided research projects in History (including art historical topics) or literature and theater, and will acquire and learn to use effectively tools and techniques of research, interpretation, and presentation essential to achieve the goal of humanistic research: to understand with depth and complexity the nature of human thought, action, and expression.  Carleton’s rich Library and Special Collections as well as the facilities at the new Weitz Center for Creativity will offer terrific contexts in which to study, debate, and discover. At the end of the seminar, participants will present their work in a multi-faceted mini-exhibition and performances of a piece from the body of Shakespeare’s Rome-inspired works.

We look forward to working with you!


Bill North

Associate Professor of History and Director of the Summer Humanities Institute

Carleton College has long upheld a tradition of providing equal opportunity to all people. The following nondiscrimination statement is stipulated in the Minnesota State Statutes: As required by state and federal law, Carleton College does not discriminate on the basis of race, color, creed, religion, sex, national origin, marital status, sexual orientation, status with regard to public assistance, age, or disability in providing employment or in its educational programs and activities.

Summer Academic Programs