As a senior pre-med minor and political science major, Lizzie Kay has never lacked reading material during her time at Johns Hopkins. Among the texts she’s read in the last seven semesters are books like Principles of Modern Chemistry and The Presidency and the Political System. But with much of her required coursework behind her, Kay decided to do something totally different this semester: read novels.
One of 70 students in Professor Amanda Anderson’s 19th-Century British Novel class, Kay just finished reading Jane Austen’s Pride and Prejudice and is now deep into Charlotte Brontë’s Wuthering Heights. Next up? Mary Barton by Elizabeth Gaskell, Adam Bede by George Eliot and Charles Dickens’ Great Expectations. Kay couldn’t be happier. “I finally have the room in my schedule and the opportunity to take an English class,” she says. “This is sort of like an excuse to get to read novels.”
The class is one of two Gilman Lecture Courses in the Humanities being offered this semester by the Krieger School. There are no prerequisites. And the course is open to all undergraduates, not just upperclassmen. The series of courses, begun in Spring 2005, is designed to give undergraduates the opportunity to explore the humanities as taught by some of the school’s most distinguished faculty, according to Paula Burger, vice provost and dean of undergraduate education.
“The strength of the Krieger School of Arts and Sciences in the humanities is well known to our faculty and to scholars elsewhere, but not as widely known to our students and prospective students,” Burger says. “We wanted to develop a set of marquee courses, rewarding and interesting courses that over time would come to be known as extraordinary. We want these to be courses students take for the sheer joy of discovering something interesting, whether they are humanities majors or not.”
Previous offerings have included Richard Halpern’s Shakespeare (Then and Now); Remaking Gender in the 20th Century, taught by Mary Ryan; and William Rowe’s Early Modern China. In addition to Anderson’s class, the other course offered this spring is Steven Campbell’s history of art class, Leonardo, Michelangelo, Raphael.
At first, the lecture for 19th-Century British Novel didn’t look all that different from any medium-sized lecture class in Maryland Hall. Then an informal poll showed that it was probably more diverse than most. About one-third of the class were comprised of freshmen and sophomores, one-third were juniors, and a dozen or so were seniors. Less than half were humanities majors.
That fact wasn’t lost on Anderson. Chair of the English Department, she views the Gilman Lecture Courses as a way to bridge gaps among students of different majors. “This is an attempt not only to generate a broad community of interest in the humanities but to address the issue of community in general,” she says. “We’re trying to create venues where one is likely to run into other people with similar interests.”
And if after taking her class or one like it a student is inspired to major in the humanities, Anderson would be thrilled, she says. “I personally aspire to get more English majors,” she says.
At a recent meeting of a discussion group for the British novel class the conversation about Pride and Prejudice was lively and informed. About 20 students worked with teaching assistant Claire Jarvis to determine why Lizzie’s independence was valorized at the end of the novel and how Georgiana differed from Kitty. They mapped out on the blackboard which characters were independent (Darcy, Lydia, Lizzie) and who could be influenced (Bingley, Kitty).
Andrea Dodrill, a junior English major, confessed that she had already read the novel a handful of times before taking the class. She wasn’t complaining. “How could you ever get tired of Pride and Prejudice?” she sighed. All around her there were nods of agreement.