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Summer Humanities Institute

Sunday, July 23 - Friday, August 11, 2017

Dear SHI 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, 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  It is a project that draws on many disciplines and many forms of human expression: from historical documents to religious and philosophical writings to literature to works of art and performances.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, imagination, and criticism. It teaches us how to observe and interpret small details to gain larger insights, to see the variety that exists within categories and generalities, and how to trace ideas and actions back to their origins.  It cultivates our awareness of the many factors and forces that shape the actions and beliefs of an 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.

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 themes of Power, Love, and Imagination in the Renaissance, a period often identified as the beginning of the modern world.  With my colleagues Pierre Hecker in English and Theater, Juliane Shibata in Art History & Studio Art, and Victoria Morse in the History of Cartography (mapmaking), we will explore together the ways in which people in England and Italy during the 15th-17th centuries understood and used different forms of power; ideas and institutions of love and marriage; and their visual, historical, and spatial imaginations to shape, inspire, and control their own societies. We will examine, in other words, people in Renaissance Italy and England—and in particular, William Shakespeare and Niccolò Machiavelli—trying to understand the “glue” of identity and interest that brings and holds people together—whether as families, cities, or nations—and the various tools and techniques that can be used to make and break these bonds.

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 and to convey this understanding to others.  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, perform, debate, and discover. At the end of the seminar, participants will present their work in a public symposium that will include a poster presentation and dramatic performances.

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