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Student-run Humanities Week April 6-10 Celebrates ‘Stuff Humans Do’

Apr 03, 2015 |

A “Plant Your Dreams” garden, a “Humanitea” Party with local children and a moonlight circus of aerialists and fire-twirlers will be featured as part of the student-run Humanities Week at the University of Virginia, which begins Monday.

The event’s online description reads, “Humanities Week strives to represent and explore the things humans do and experience. A hallmark of humanity is creation; with this in mind, the Humanities Week group creates a space in which we host events that celebrate people and their passions.” Faculty, staff and community members are invited to join in the free events during Humanities Week, sponsored by the Institute of the Humanities and Global Cultures.

(See the week’s full schedule here.)

One of the institute’s three student interns, Brian Porter, put it more briefly. “We’ve intentionally defined ‘humanities’ as broadly as possible – our joking definition is ‘stuff humans do,’” he said. “I think the planning for this year has gone especially well, in part because we’ve had a small but dedicated group coming to the meetings every week. Of course, everyone is welcome and we want as many people involved as we can get – more people equals more ideas – but having a small but consistent group has allowed for a lot of discussion and development of ideas.”

Porter and fellow interns Katie Abbott and Emily Tonks make up the advisory group, the Undergraduate Humanities Initiative. The interns are “motivated and connected” to student groups and the U.Va. community, said Angela Nemecek, the institute’s program administrator.

Each year, the students involved think of a distinct way to define the green quad in front of Dawson’s Row where the institute is located, next to New Cabell Hall and behind the Office of African-American Affairs in the Luther P. Jackson House. This year, a student group will make a blanket fort, complete with Legos and other toys, as its “humanities environment.”

“I think a blanket fort incorporates the shared human experience of childhood in a very direct way that doesn’t happen a lot in college,” Porter said.

Several events will appeal to the young and the young at heart. Big Brothers and Big Sisters with their “littles” will host the Humanitea Party Wednesday to read their favorite children’s books to guests, including stuffed animals. Tea and snacks will be provided between 11 a.m. and 1 p.m. outside Dawson’s Row (rain venue: Bryan Hall Faculty Lounge, room 219).

The humanities environment also will be expressed in the culmination of a four-week short course, “The Garden as Metaphor,” led by Barbara Bernstein, a part-time instructor in studio art.

“I had participated in Humanities Week last year and was thrilled with the students’ engagement and interdisciplinary approaches,” Bernstein said. Based on previous years, she anticipated having seven to 10 students. Almost 50 students enrolled, and more were turned away.

“Creating a garden offers the solace and attention sorely needed in times of transition and healing,” Bernstein wrote in describing the short course. “In addition, planting, nurturing and cultivating are also metaphors of how ideas are generated and distributed. This course offers students the rewards of experiencing both: the physical manifestation of transformation by sowing plants, along with its symbolic representations through culture: language, images, music, etc.”

The course’s opening event, “Plant Your Dreams,” takes place on Monday from 2 to 5 p.m. Students, faculty, staff and community members are invited to learn about, transplant and take with them one of the hundreds of aromatic and culinary herb seedlings and small plants available. There is no cost for any of the materials or plants, but participants should bring small containers, as well as their dreams – “for renewal that is both hopeful and helpful for themselves and the community,” Bernstein said.

Humanities Week will also welcome scholarly speakers and hold several poetry readings, including a poetry slam, poems in foreign languages and emergency poems (faculty and students reading “the poem you can’t do without: a beloved object, a restorative, a mantra, a momentary stay against confusion, a special touchstone”).

Some participants will take on James Joyce’s “Ulysses,” reading it aloud cover to cover starting at noon on Wednesday in the McIntire Amphitheater. Since the international “Bloomsday” celebration of the novel is held June 16, when summer session is just beginning, Humanities Week seemed like a good alternate occasion to include the annual activity of reading the 265,000-word modernist masterpiece, said doctoral student Jesse Bordwin, director of Undergraduate Development in English. Once the daylight fades, or in the event of inclement weather, readers will relocate to Bowers Library on the second floor of Bryan Hall.

Moonlight Circus, together with the U.Va.-based Virginia Acrobatics Club, will entertain at a reception capping the week on April 10, from 6:30 to 9:30 p.m., in Nameless Field next to Memorial Gymnasium. Their skills include the use of aerial silks, lyra (or the aerial hoop), acrobatic partner balancing, fire-spinning, hooping and dancing. Members range from scientists to artists, teachers to students, all coming together for the love of expression through the circus arts. For this event, they will also give lessons to those interested.

One thing Porter likes about this year’s celebration is the diverse participation of organizers, including undergraduates, graduate students, faculty and others into the events – “a pretty solid mix,” he said. “I think that’s really cool.”