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CONTACT: Diane Manuel, News Service (650) 725-1945;

Introduction to the Humanities for freshmen

Introduction to the Humanities, approved by the Faculty Senate last May as a replacement for the program in Cultures, Ideas and Values (CIV), appears to have passed one test: Its revised acronym ­ IHUM ­ is an improvement over the unpronounceable moniker that was almost on everyone's lips last spring ­ ITTH.

"It is literally a new beginning," Harry Elam, associate professor of drama and director of IHUM, told the almost 50 faculty members and instructors who gathered for the Area One Program Symposium on Sept. 16. "We're trying to engage students in new ways and make the requirement all the more critical to them."

The redesigned humanities program, which will be phased in over the next three years, ultimately will feature between four and eight introductory autumn quarter courses that will teach students how to do close readings of texts, followed by between six and 12 thematic courses in winter and spring quarters.

This summer 135 incoming freshmen chose "Why Read It?" the pilot course that is being taught by Elam; Keith Baker, professor of history; and Robert Harrison, professor of French and Italian. The other new autumn quarter course, "The Word and the World: Conversations Across Time and Space," attracted 90 freshmen and is being taught by Larry Friedlander, teaching professor of English; Tim Lenoir, professor of history; and Haun Saussy, associate professor of Asian languages and comparative literature.

Midway through autumn quarter, students in those two courses will select one of the following thematic tracks for winter and spring quarters: "The Ancient Mediterranean World," taught by Ian Morris, chair and professor of classics; "Myth and Modernity," taught by Karen Kenkel and Arthur Strum, assistant professors of German; or "Great Works II and III," coordinated by Cheri Ross, former coordinator of the Great Works CIV track and the new associate director of IHUM.

At a meeting with new IHUM discussion section leaders in August, Ramón Saldívar, vice provost for undergraduate education, said undergraduate education is being reassessed at Stanford.

"Traditionally in classrooms, undergraduates absorbed knowledge and received the word of truth," Saldívar said. "Under the new curriculum, students will have the opportunity to be agents and participants."

That theme was emphasized by Lenoir at the Sept. 16 meeting. He said "The Word and the World" is "heavily Web-based" and added that freshmen in his course "will be involved in the co-production of knowledge" so they will have a stake in the lectures. Students will be asked to react to assigned readings on the website and teams of students also will be chosen to critique faculty lectures. Group projects, Lenoir said, will take the place of final exams.

As he outlined the features of IHUM, Elam said the centralization of the new Area One program will be apparent in its new website (, in hiring and evaluation, and in thinking "across the board" about work load and grading in the various tracks. Two new governing bodies will closely monitor pedagogy.

The IHUM legislation stipulates that postdoctoral instructors for the discussion sections be hired in national searches, and in July eight instructors were hired from a field of 270 applicants. At the Sept. 16 meeting some faculty raised the issue of whether lecturers currently teaching CIV will be eligible for the new positions as more classes are added, but no final answer was given.

John Bender, a professor of English who served on the CIV review and design committee, noted that it had been difficult to find postdocs "who could teach both Chaucer and Blade Runner," a reference to the sci-fi cult film that is on the syllabus for "The Word and the World."

Members of the Area One Governance Board, appointed by Saldívar, are Baker, a former member of the CIV review and design committee; Bender; Russell Berman, professor of German studies; Anne Fernald, former chair of the Academic Council Committee on Undergraduate Education; and Rob Polhemus, former chair of the CIV review and design committee;. A science faculty member and two teaching fellows also will serve on the board.

Elam said the art director for Blade Runner has been invited to be a guest speaker for an Area One event in winter quarter, and a symposium in spring quarter will give instructors an opportunity to share their scholarly work.

"We're going to try to do something every quarter to discuss pedagogy and to answer questions about how the new legislation affects CIV instructors," Elam said. "Hopefully, if there was any disaffection that happened in the process of creating Introduction to the Humanities, we can begin to soothe those feelings."


By Diane Manuel

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