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Humanities Research Group

2017 Why Humanities Contest Entrants

The Humanities Mean Courage

Alex-Andre Ungurenasu

 

The humanities are the paradox of our existence,

The pains and joys of passion’s enticing blaze.

It’s not finding the answer to happiness,

Or the meaning of life, or the secrets of the universe,

 

But instead coming upon more questions,

Simple and confusing, unifying and polarizing,

To the point where you’re sixteen and

You’re going through an existential crisis

 

And you want to run away to Italy

And you want to be a bohemian

And you want to live with the hippies in the forest

But you know better than that.

 

It’s the disappointment in your parents’ voice, (Mhm)

The same old lectures and questions (Yup)

About employment, about ‘real life’ (Bleh)

And how you’ll end up living on the streets; (Good!)

 

Or their pride in knowing that you’ll pursue the life

That they never had the courage to,

So they hug you without a word because they know

The hope that they had turned their backs on in their youth

 

And they know it’ll be confusing

And they know it’ll be soul-crushing

And they know it’ll be awe-inspiring

But you know better than giving up.

 

It’s already having the required texts for class

Before they’re even announced,

Because trips to the local Chapters

Are the reason why your wallet’s always empty

 

When you catch the fragrance of an old book,

You caress each sun and time-worn page,

Swallow every word as your eyes gleam with excitement

Even though your rent’s due tomorrow

 

And your bookshelf’s about to give out

And your back aches from carrying your bag

And your bookmark fell out again

But you know better than going digital.

 

It’s not just a study, or a science,

Or a subject, or an art,

Or a scope, or an excuse;

It’s a lifestyle that we shape with our own hands

 

Making what we want out of it,

Giving it the meanings we want

Despite what others might think,

Accepting that we’ll never be right

 

And that we know nothing

And that the world’s not black and white

And that truth is relative

But we know better than calling it ‘surrender.’

 

 

Why Humanities?

Tita Kyrtsakas

 

the song that saunters home with you

         under the glittering night sky

 

grandfather’s painting of two dancers in love

         that hangs above your dresser

 

a quiet poem that hugs your heart

         as you fall into a dream

 

drake rushes through your blood

just as chopin does

 

we are walking histories

         rushing in line for TIFF

tapping our foot to Beethoven at the WSO

         marking the date for Monet at the DIA

        

why the humanities?

you ask

 

as the podcast about broken hearts

folds into your lasagna

 

why the humanities?

as 3D glasses cozy your cheeks

and you are brought

to the justice league

 

why the humanities?

as you sip your tea

classics

religion

and philosophy

seep into your skin

into your story

 

the way we dance

speak

breathe

humanities remind us  

to be

 

 

Why Humanities

Rebecca Marie Daoud

As a science student, I learn to think critically, analytically and practically. I know how to titrate an acid to a base, I can show you how to solve the solutions to an ordinary differential equation and I can explain to you Newton’s laws of Physics and Einstein’s Theory of Relativity.

Nevertheless, the study of science is more than just reading textbooks and solving math equations; it is dealing with real people.  The ultimate goal of a scientist is to seek a better future for humanity as a whole, through advancements in technology and science. Yet, oddly enough, sometimes we become so preoccupied with attaining our individual versions of this goal that we forget the purpose of our primary aim: assisting other human beings.

Now, this is where things get interesting. I am going to ironically attempt to convince you that the study of humanities is the solution to this scientific dilemma.

To begin, by studying humanities, I am able to discover the collective stories of the human race. The stories of triumph and despair, of prosperity and hardship, and of success and failure. I am able to recognize the downfalls of the innovative persons of history, and learn from their mistakes. I am reminded of the shameful intrinsic ability humans have to forget the past.  As a scientist, I am reminded that I as a human, am included in this category. I learn to analyze history carefully and to never repeat the unnecessary mistakes of the past.

Moreover, by studying humanities, I am exposed to the reality of the effects of my actions on the lives of others. That I can either improve or hinder someone’s quality of life by every decision I make, whether it be large or small. As a scientist, I learn that if the way I decided to achieve the scientific advances I wish to pursue hurts humanity (even if only a minority), then this initiative immediately becomes counterintuitive and destructive. Thus, I learn I must evaluate carefully my decisions.

I hope to have convinced you all that my goal as a scientist can never be truly achieved without acknowledging the thorough interconnectedness of science and humanities.

 

Stigma Surrounding the Humanities:

An Ongoing Battle Across the Globe

Mina Wiebe

Parents and educators seldom discourage young children from embracing the beauty and wonder of creativity. “What a beautiful drawing! You’re going to be an artist someday!” they declare, their voice oozing with pride and encouragement. And yet, this encouragement so often subsides or even ceases to exist altogether as the child nears adulthood. The child reaches adolescence and graduates to high school, suddenly causing the pathway of humanities to transform into what is perceived as a “jobless and unfulfilling” education and career pathway. Now it is no longer encouragement and praise that the child receives when discussing their love of history, art, writing, culture, music, or anything else pertaining to the Humanities. Rather, they are met with worried declarations from parents and educators who claim to offer “a voice of reason” or “a realistic view of the world”. What was once valued and praised in youth, is now deemed “unrealistic” and “unattainable”; what was once an ambitious dream of “what I want to be when I grow up” is now labelled “a bad life choice” and “a dangerous gamble”. 

If for example, I were to receive a dollar every time someone mocked me for going into the Humanities, (with their suggestion that I will never get a job following graduation), I would use the resulted abundance of money to happily showcase my English degree by writing and publishing an encyclopedia in which the content would list every nationally beloved art work, film, song, photograph, language, etc. The book’s plot twist would reveal of course, that all of these beloved things are shaped by the Humanities- perhaps then emphasizing its undeniable significance and impacts that have shaped civilizations and societies across the globe. There is no denying that without the Humanities, humankind would indeed lack so much of the ever-growing, extraordinary existence that we are so lucky to possess within our various cultures.  

The Humanities play a vital role in societal existences across time and geographic location. It is in fact, a necessity that allows human creativity, emotion, and creation to thrive. A world without the Humanities would inevitably be a dull, meaningless world that I and many others would want no part of. A world without the humanities is a world without art, dance, music, acting, literature, writing, study of culture, language, history, and so many other wondrous components of the lives we all live. The vitality of the Humanities is made clear through the notion that without these things, there is no joy- no purpose. Thankfully however, this purposeless world does not, and will not ever exist; pursuers of the Humanities will adventure on with mind, soul, and body, in order to think, imagine, and create a world that is habitable in an emotional regard. I proudly stand with the Humanities, both out of passion for it and desire to support and emphasize the importance, legitimacy, and significance of what it has to offer to the world.

In conclusion, the Humanities are important to me, and to the rest of humanity- whether they realize it, or not. My dream is that someday, everyone will come to appreciate the Humanities, and rid it of its mythical stigma surrounding the nonsensical notion that it lacks importance and relevancy in both education and career paths. Someday parents and educators around the globe will encourage high school students and young adults to pursue the Humanities, allowing them to follow their dreams and advance our world through creative outreach.

 

Why Humanities

Marisa Bordonaro

2017

is caught by

mechanical bars

The future is guarded by computers

But still, each day, each year, I climb,

reaching for my degree,

hoisting myself over endless essays, evidence

of a past preserved within pale pages

But the “true mystery” isn’t mine to discover

apparently. Eyes creep over me like they’re reading lines of jumbled jargon,

meaningless to everyone but me: the subject.

I am their thesis.

Through foggy spectacles, they squint at me,

a creature enamoured with the words of Shelley

but unworthy of being a Victor Frankenstein,

and ask—no—ponder,

“Why the humanities?

The humanities are dead.”

 

Everyone drinks in the question—corrosive enough to stir even Socrates

If the humanities are dead, then who killed them? And how?

The world’s setting has altered; aid arrives electronically

faster than a pen or a sword

But does this make the pen meaningless?

Transcribe the half-broken smile on a grieving mother

granted a translation of an ancient verse

Psalm 73:26: My flesh and my heart may fail, but God is the strength of my heart and my portion forever.

 

Can healing only mend the body?

Speak over the ninth-grade girl

working to reconstruct her

mind and body

through psychiatrists and spoken word,

remolding the perceptions of an audience

forced to listen,

to see.

How can a body be healed by the dead?

 

When the last chapter closes, should we burn the book?

Have we finally oppressed its purpose?

You don’t need to ask the historian

who shouts at us all, spitting stars, points

to moth-ridden textbooks

Don’t let the dust cloud your eyes—remember!

Reminding us

of a past that we vow never to repeat

but always do.

 

So, if the humanities are dead, then how do its subjects breathe

life and soul into those who inhale its dust?

Writers, linguists, theologians, philosophers, musicians, historians…

the witnesses of human nature

before their books are burned not through fire, but derisive words—

the only fitting method for writers

 

Investigating claims

of literature and human beings

takes a new set of lenses

to look at a valley of ashes with a new perspective

The humanities only enliven the investigation, so surely

they can find their own killer

 

But there is no body found dead

Just a mass of new investigators

working with sciences, maths, technologies

to break outside their cages

and grab each other’s hands

through countries, centuries, and disconnection

You ask, why the humanities?

They save our future.

 

What do the humanities mean to me?

Luc Ethier

The humanities for me are what helps us shape the world as humans and how we engage with it. As stated by scientist E.O. Wilson, he described humanities as “the natural history of culture, and our most private and precious heritage”. Humanities is one of the main ways to understand one another through our history, our different languages and are diverse cultures. As an individual that has travelled to many countries in Europe, being immersed with a large mixture of cultures has allowed one’s self to see how different and unique every country is and the rich culture that comes with it. Without humanities we wouldn’t be able to understand our world. Through exploring this subject, we are given the opportunity to think creatively and critically, to question, and to reason. We gain new insights for everything, from traditional meals of every region of a country, to paintings from world renowned artists, to politics from the world’s leaders.

Humanities isn’t solely about the learning of others, it is also a discovery of one’s self in the process. Humanities allows us to look deep into ourselves and recognize all the amazing differences that make us who we are. Humanities teaches us empathy, it reveals how people make moral, spiritual and intellectual sense of our current situation. It pushes us to find meaning in life, because a life without any meaning is not worth living. It allows us to become better people, we learn how to fight racism, minimize conflicts and take an extra step towards helping the world find peace. It allows us to better communicate with others. By understanding cultural differences we become more observant of others and have an in-depth understanding of social cues, making us find a deeper meaning to the way others communicate.

Lastly, the humanities are the stepping stones to help us determine the future. Our knowledge of our current situation helps us shape the future into what we believe is where we should be headed. The humanities has helped us to realize the power we as humans have to shape and change the world. Humanities is about our social world that we have created and through this social world we have organized to create structures that govern human relations for better and for the worst. By understanding all of these factors we are able to have a clearer understanding about our humanity and decide what kind of world we want to build.

Why do I care about the humanities? Because humans are fascinating!

 

Why Humanities

Dominic Pizzolitto

Why humanities? The very question betrays the extent to which the discipline has become obsolete in contemporary society. It is unmistakably reminiscent of the perennial question that faces every student of the so called ‘liberal arts,’ namely: “Oh, interesting! And what do you plan to do with that degree?” The sad truth is that the humanities are no longer important; the soul does not participate in the march of progress. Of course, this has not happened all at once. The humanities will not end with a formal decree and or be done away with in the public square via the swift drop of the guillotine. No, this would alert the people to the reigning inhumanity of the present order. Much better to let them die slowly, of ‘natural’ causes. There is nothing more natural than the law of economics, and since the humanities do not have any use-value, they will promptly be extinguished from the marketplace, the divine ruler of all value. As the cost of education rises, and the job market for graduates with humanities degrees diminishes, rationality dictates that prospective students will choose degrees better suited for a proper role in the workforce. It’s a foregone conclusion really, graphical analysis puts the death of the humanities around February 23, 2063. In spite of the vulgarity of the above sketch, I am committed to the belief that it represents an accurate picture of reality today. To corroborate this story one has only to look at the trajectory of enrollment trends. So for those of us on our deathbed I say this: Do not go softly into that dark abyss! If this is reality, then we must change reality! Commit to the futility of your craft, and repudiate the sober advice from your family and friends when they encourage you to “Do something practical.” Now, more than ever, we need the humanities, because we are faced with their opposite. We are the ones that know what humanity is, was, and can be. It is up to us to preserve that image for the rest of the world.

 

A Letter to my Past Self

Aline May Nguyen

Dear Aline at 18,

I wish I could tell you how your years of post-secondary education are going to unfold. I know there’s a lot going through your mind right now. I know that you have just told your parents about your decision to abandon your pursuit for a degree in biological sciences and a career in the medical field. I know that your passion for teaching has steered you in a different direction and I admire your courage for choosing to follow your heart by immersing yourself in the study of the arts and social sciences.

I’m sure you’re probably wondering, though, how the arts and social sciences will prepare you for your dream career as a teacher. While I have no intention of ruining the surprises that life has in store for you, I will tell you that majoring in French Studies and minoring in Psychology will be one of the best decisions you will ever make. You will be challenged to think critically as you study the works of some of the best authors in history. You will question the extent to which various psychologists’ experiments have impacted our society. You will exhibit a curiosity about different cultures that will propel you to participate in a three-month exchange to a country halfway around the world. Experiences like these, although difficult at times, will expose you to the skills that you will need to not only teach, but to explore every beautiful aspect of this world and the role that you play in it. You will return home as a different person, a better person than the one who left. Most importantly, you will realize that the academic discipline that you have devoted your time to studying was in everything that you have done in the past, are doing in the present, and will do in the future.

My word of advice to you, a future educator, is to bear in mind that teaching students is more than just showing them how to conjugate verbs or how to write an argumentative essay on the nature-nurture debate. Whether your students are analyzing a case study or visiting a museum, always encourage them to approach every learning opportunity with curiosity. Motivate them to think critically, to ask questions, to appreciate different cultures, and to never stop learning. In doing so, you will help them to understand what you will understand in due time: why the humanities matter.

Best of luck, my dear. You’ve got this.

All my love,

Aline at 23

 

Maps to Humanity

Alexa DiCecco

         Before there was google maps (in a time when getting lost was "all part of the vacation, hun"), there were paper maps. They came in neat, folded little packages that somehow never folded back the same way again after they were opened. Coffee stains were prominent lakes on these maps, and donut sugars sprinkled many a mountain.

         Now picture another kind of map--except, on this map, there are no lakes, or rivers, or towns--no colours, or markers, or directions--only highways made of ink following strange and unpredictable patterns (that I've heard might take the strange and unusually foreboding name of grammar)--but it is a map, and some of the greatest places have been discovered there. Middle Earth came alive at the edge of a page. Westeros and all its feuding houses sprung up on pages as white as winter. Hogwarts and its many hallways moved around almost too quickly to catch on paper.

         And it is not just places that are found on these strange maps of ink. Every trace or feeling that humanity has had to offer can be found on a piece of paper--and these books and poems and stories we tell, fictional and non-fictional, have always acted as maps to discovering just what it means to be human. They are roadways and signs and billboard helping us to find our way around this world--they are the Nuremberg and Helsinki Codes of Ethic, they are peace treaties, they are advertisements for blood donations or can drives--and sometimes these maps have no words at all, sometimes they are pictures, or paintings--sometimes they are canvass or stone--and they are telling us not only where we are, but the amazing places that humanity can go.  

         And for me, these blank or ink-stained pages are the essential guide-book to finding my way back to myself--because I never feel more like myself than when I have a paper, and a pen, and a story--and all the world within my reach, and all the stars a touch away--

         Do I dare?