An Intersection of the Arts and Humanities

Eunice Lee is a senior at Hamilton College, double-majoring in Environmental Studies and French. She originally did not plan on attending a liberal arts college, as she wanted to pursue a more art and design-oriented education. However, after speaking with Peter Cannavò, the director of the Environmental Studies program, she realized she could pursue her interest of both environmental studies and art at Hamilton College.

The Environmental Studies program is interdisciplinary, allowing students the creative freedom to develop their own major with a unique focus; I believe that this program was a great way to see the intersection of sciences and the humanities. One part of the program that she especially loved was the Environmental Ethics course. As a philosophy course, Environmental Ethics pushed its students to understand the value of our environment, as well as the ethical issues surrounding environmental politics.

She credits Prof. Peter Cannavò as one of the greatest influences for giving her the opportunity to combine all of her academic interests, as well as her year abroad in Paris in helping her realize herself. Without her experiences at Hamilton, she would neither have been able to find her passion within the political, ethical, social and economic issues surrounding the topic of food, nor been able to further her studies with a Fulbright research fellowship after graduation.

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Developing my writing skills

Writing in high school never made sense to me; my writing style was “write whatever came to mind before I forget it all” and I hoped that the mess of words made sense (which they never did). In fact, I was genuinely surprised that I got into Hamilton. I wasn’t sure what the Admissions Committee found in me, but I was excited to be able to attend Hamilton College.

It was not until I came to Hamilton that I realized my writing was simply my disorganized thoughts spat onto a piece of paper. Every class, my professors had discussions and materials that challenged the way I thought. I had ideas, but I could not convey them. Taking my first history class allowed me to realize just how much help I needed. Deciding to take two more history classes the first semester of my sophomore year allowed me to believe in my own ideas and myself.

I started to develop my own voice, both through writing and in real life. In the past, I never participated in class because I thought I had nothing to contribute. No matter how hard the readings or the class discussions became, I was so driven and motivated to improve. I remember in Women in Modern Asia, I would compete with myself by setting goals for myself each class. One week, I would aim to talk at least once during each class. The next week, I would try to talk at least twice per class. I kept on doing this until I realized that I didn’t need to speak just to speak; I needed to be able to think. But most importantly, no one expected me to contribute continuously unless I had a clear purpose in doing so.

Why Am I Studying History?

I recently visited the Whitney Museum to see a retrospective of Frank Stella’s works. I came to the realization that it does not matter what we are studying as long as one enjoys it. Stella majored in history at Princeton University but during his time as a history major, continued to paint. I couldn’t find much information concerning his choice of history as a major, but I did see that, during our private tour, Stella used his own historical background and the trauma after World War II, to reinvent art. He changed the plane of painting and incorporated the wall into the painting. But by redefining the way we look at painting, Stella became a revolutionary in modern art. I believe that it was because of his diverse background in both history and art that he was able to do so.

For me, I study history because I enjoy studying and learning about the past. Furthermore, I thrive under the encouragement of the professors within the department. I do not intend to pursue a career in history because I realize that I don’t excel in the discipline. For example, I don’t get A’s in history; in fact, I am just an average student within the department. Although it is frustrating to not be able to easily achieve high marks, I refuse to look at the grading system as a way to determine my worth and intelligence. Instead, I frequently revisit old essays written during my freshmen and sophomore year to reassure myself that growth is the most important thing about college. I am at a liberal arts college studying the humanities to grow, not for its grading system. And with that, I am proud that I have improved as a writer and have a new sense of confidence within myself.

Using The Humanities to Challenge Ourselves

The humanities examine the human experience and culture. How can anything be more complex? While the sciences and math are difficult but typically result in only one right answer, the humanities force you to consider different and sometimes conflicting vantages. It takes skill and patience to develop the critical thinking necessary to take on these complex issues. Sure, there may be no correct answer, but in trying to find it, we are able to uncover and express a bigger understanding of others and ourselves. To study the humanities is to handle a variety of different opinions or viewpoints to find which position you find most compelling and then determine how to argue that particular point.

If you leave college with simply the same ideas or philosophy, or you have never doubted your own convictions, then I believe that you have wasted your four years. Whether or not other opinions are right or wrong, I believe that we must learn to understand both sides of any story or develop the capability to properly defend your own side. To articulate your own judgments while respecting your opponent is a crucial skill that many people lack. And why shouldn’t we utilize the space, the students and the professors we have at Hamilton to realize this?

Why Should We Study the Humanities?

I thought it would be best to look more at Hamilton alumni, to see what they have done after graduation and where they have gone. One article sent towards my direction was written by A.G. Lafley ’69, a Hamilton alum who also majored in History. One thing that stood out in particular for me was Lafley’s analogy of the liberal arts as “cross training for the brain.” In short, Lafley’s experience as the former CEO of Procter & Gamble led him to find that the liberal arts allows people to develop their mental dexterity by studying the arts, sciences, humanities, social sciences and languages. While he contends that there is a need for specialization, Lafley says that an education that is too specialized can be limiting in other ways a person can contribute.

I found that this article was very thought provoking, as I believe many students forget the importance of the humanities within a liberal arts college. In trying to do specialize in a specific major or career path, students fail to take advantage of the liberal arts institution and curriculum. Rather than come into Hamilton or any liberal arts institutions with a plan of the exact classes and major you intend to follow, come in with an open mind. Instead, one should take the humanities class that may not have been enjoyable in high school or seem challenging. Students should take advantage of the open curriculum, a unique opportunity that Hamilton offers.

The Value of the Liberal Arts

I do not particularly remember how Hamilton College came up on my college application list, but I do remember my strong desire to attend Hamilton for its liberal arts curriculum that emphasized writing.

I grew up with parents who told me that they regretted that they had not attended a “traditional college” and wished that they had the experience of being a college student when they were my age. While they hoped I would pursue a college degree, a liberal arts college was not what they had in mind. Still, they reluctantly agreed to allow me to attend Hamilton. As a small liberal arts college not associated with a major university, Hamilton lacked the international recognition they desired for me.  The concept of a liberal arts education was foreign to them and they were further skeptical that Hamilton, or any other liberal arts college, would provide me with a secure future.

This idea that Hamilton is nothing like a “traditional” college may be rooted in the misconception that the liberal arts consist solely of humanities fields, such as English, History and the Fine Arts. While the humanities are a core part of a liberal arts education, the liberal arts also includes a breadth of inquiry into many disciplines including sciences, social sciences, politics and foreign languages. By exploring different meanings and cultures, the humanities introduces a worldly perspective on the human experience. In fact, the “traditional” and noteworthy institutions of which my parents had heardlarger institutions and colleges in the Ivy Leagueall offer liberal arts curriculums. The focus of a liberal arts education is to broadly prepare students with the strong communication and critical thinking skills that are required in any professional field involving teamwork and leadership skills. Many parents fear that a liberal arts education restricts students to careers in the arts and academics. However, by encouraging students to deeply explore a breadth of studies related to the human experience, a liberal arts education does not limit students, but rather provides a deeper insight that may allow them to pursue a multitude of paths.

An Introduction

Last month, my mom called me in a panic, wondering how I would possibly survive after college given my course of study.  At first, I was annoyed.  But, then it caused me to panic. I began doubting my education and my choices. What am I going to do after graduation? Why did I come to Hamilton College?  Should I have majored in history?  Is what I am learning valuable?

I applied to Hamilton College partly because there was not an additional writing component. I only had to submit the Common Application personal statement. In high school, I was terrified of writing. English class was difficult for me; I could not understand how to write a thesis sentence, nor did I ever participate in class. Formulating arguments and articulating them verbally or in writing was daunting. Yet, I ultimately chose to study at Hamilton College because I knew that it was the right place to cultivate my writing and communication skills.

My first history course, Europe & Its Empires, started out as a disaster. I took it because I had AP credit and wanted to transfer the credit, which required me to take a history course. The class was overwhelming and difficult. When I received a C- on my first paper, my fear of writing was reinforced.  I explained to my professor that I genuinely did not know how to write. Surprisingly, he was understanding and reassured me that freshmen typically start off with unrefined writing skills. He said that it was fine that I did not know what I was doing because I was willing to do the work to improve.

I would never have realized the confidence to apply to the NY6 Think Tank had I not chosen a humanities concentration.  I did not consider becoming a history major, until my professor expressed his confidence in me, which in turn, fostered a belief in myself.

During my years at the Hamilton, I have been introduced to people from different backgrounds. My humanities foundation has taught me the importance of understanding my individual experience as the child of Chinese immigrants within a larger context while the discipline of history taught me to explore events of the past in its specific context. Studying the past allows me to understand the present broader world. The development of critical thinking and writing skills is already translating to various aspects of my life, enabling me to communicate with those whose backgrounds and life experiences are different from mine.

Having no previous experience of this uniquely American model of higher education, immigrant parents, like mine, are suspicious that a liberal arts college will not provide the employment and financial security they seek for their children.  Admission was not enough to persuade my parents initially.  It was only after lengthy debates with them that they completed their own research about Hamilton and reluctantly allowed me to attend the college of my choosing.  I can’t say that I have yet won their approval.

I propose to use my own “coming to Hamilton” story, along with those of faculty and staff at Hamilton, to enable first generation Americans and their families to understand the opportunities provided by a liberal arts education. I hope to create and provide materials for county districts with concentrated immigrant family populations throughout the East Coast. These families are generally uninformed about the American higher education landscape, especially with regards to the liberal arts and humanities.

My project will consist of bi-weekly blogs that will detail a personal story of my own or draw from experiences of interviewees and how they would make a successful argument to their communities. I hope to highlight academic choices in the humanities, related internships experiences and post-Hamilton plans. Eventually, I will publish these blog posts into a pamphlet to be distributed to various high schools. My goal is to provide more information for Hamilton’s Admission website that will demystify liberal arts and the study of the humanities to encourage more applicants from first-generation immigrant families.

Through a blog and pamphlets, I will encourage conversations between children and their parents about the possibilities of the humanities in a liberal arts education. I also intend for my materials to spark conversation among first-generation immigrant students in their high schools. By expanding the kinds of conversation about colleges that takes place in high schools among first generation Americans, I hope to alert more students like myself to consider humanities in college. Although I have not yet graduated and am still over a year away from facing the job market, I can already see changes in myself that are profound. While a liberal arts education cannot guarantee a specific job immediately after graduation (but then, no university can guarantee that either!), I want to encourage others to take advantage of this path in American higher education to develop confidence in themselves and the skills to pursue their future goals.