Dean Cristle Collins Judd: How Bowdoin Is Enhancing the Humanities

Cristle Collins Judd

Cristle Collins Judd


A grant from the Andrew Mellon Foundation is helping the  College launch an ambitious cross-disciplinary initiative encompassing various facets of the humanities. Dean for Academic Affairs Cristle Collins Judd writes of the opportunities that await students in three inaugural course clusters.





During these last busy days of classes as we gear up for final exams and commencement, we are also hard at work preparing a number of exciting new opportunities for students when they return to campus in the fall.

With a generous grant from the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation, Bowdoin is embarking on an initiative that will support thematic instruction across the humanities.

Together these activities will enrich the experience of students across traditional disciplinary boundaries and nurture a stronger intellectual community among faculty and students in the humanities and humanistic social sciences.

Through this initiative, areas within the existing curriculum will be coordinated as multi-year “course clusters” connected by a common theme (for example, the “Civil War Era”), creating collaborations that provide a path for students to explore such a theme from many perspectives over the course of their Bowdoin education, in conjunction with—or alongside—their majors and minors.

Each cluster of courses will offer new opportunities for students to engage with faculty research, provide support for independent student research, and incorporate symposia and lectures involving distinguished visiting speakers. Together these activities will enrich the experience of students across traditional disciplinary boundaries and nurture a stronger intellectual community among faculty and students in the humanities and humanistic social sciences.

The three inaugural clusters, The Civil War Era; Mediterranean Studies; and Medieval–Renaissance–Early Modern Studies, are described below. Chosen earlier this year through a competitive review of proposals from faculty, each of these course clusters reflects shared research and teaching interests among faculty from a range of disciplines and departments.

The Civil War Era

Bowdoin enjoys enormous respect for its historic connections to the American Civil War, and we have a number of faculty members whose research and teaching focus on this critical period of American history and central event in the national experience.

Gen. Oliver Otis Howard (Bowdoin Class of 1850)

This cluster includes faculty and staff from the departments of art history, English, Africana studies and history, as well as the George J. Mitchell Department of Special Collections and Archives and the Bowdoin College Museum of Art.

In addition to many course offerings and a series of invited speakers, the Civil War Era cluster will include a summer research trip for students who are interested in developing this research as advanced work through seminars, independent studies or honors projects.

Students and faculty will to travel to Washington, D.C., and its environs for a two-week research trip that will include exploring the holdings of various national archives, visiting historic battlefields, and touring critical points of interest.

Student researchers will also have an opportunity to undertake a scholarly textual editing project with materials in Bowdoin’s special collections, such as the Horatio Fox Smith Civil War Journal and Letters.

Faculty coordinators for this course cluster are Patrick Rael and Tess Chakkalakal. (Alumni and parents who would like a taste of the opportunities this course cluster will offer are invited to join this summer’s Alumni College, The Afterlife of the Civil War, August 8-11, 2013.)

Mediterranean Studies

The Mediterranean, a crossroads and meeting point for many cultures and religions, is a region that has generated vibrant and dynamic research.

The limestone cliffs of Bonafacio, a commune on the southern tip of the island of Corsica in the Corse-du-Sud department of France.

The limestone cliffs of Bonafacio, a commune on the southern tip of the island of Corsica in the Corse-du-Sud department of France.

Our Mediterranean Studies course cluster will foster intellectual exchange among faculty and students and will explore many aspects of Mediterranean cultures—contemporary and historical—and their central importance to the liberal arts.

Faculty participants come from the departments of classics, Romance languages, film, art history, music, philosophy and religion.

In addition to drawing together many existing and new course offerings, this cluster will generate student research projects and capstone presentations alongside a program of associated exhibitions and film screenings.

Goals of this cluster include greater integration of students’ study-abroad experiences with their Bowdoin courses and a broader context for their engagement in the cultures of the Mediterranean.

Faculty coordinators for this cluster are Barbara Weiden Boyd and Davida Gavioli.

Alumni may also get a taste of this experience through a cruise with Associate Professor of Classics and Associate Curator for the Ancient Collection Jim Higginbotham June 10-20, 2013, titled Ancient Lost Cities of the Mediterranean: A Voyage From Barcelona to Dubrovnik.

Medieval–Renaissance–Early Modern Studies

This cluster will introduce students to the diverse offerings the College provides in the history, literature, art and culture of Europe from the Middle Ages through 1800.

Over the last decade, Bowdoin has assembled an exceptionally strong group of faculty who specialize in pre-modern European topics.

Dionisio Calvaert, "Annunciation."

Denys Calvaert, "Annunciation," c. 1595, oil on copper, from the collections of the Bowdoin College Museum of Art.

They regularly organize reading groups, mentor postdoctoral fellows, and lecture in each others’ classes.

The “Med-Ren-Early Modern” course cluster provides greater structure to this intellectual collaboration, coordinates and strengthens the range of courses offered in this area, and creates new opportunities for increased student participation.

In addition to courses, lectures, performances, and individual student research projects, faculty will create a series of workshops for faculty and students on topics of shared interest, such as paleography.

There are also a number of projects already underway to further integrate resources from the Museum of Art and the Mitchell Special Collections with this thematic area of the curriculum.

Participating faculty are drawn from the departments of art history, classics, English, history, music, religion and Romance languages. Faculty coordinators are Dallas Denery, Aaron Kitch and Meghan Roberts.

In preparation for these clusters, a number of faculty groups will be working this summer to develop new curricular offerings and strengthen existing ones along with creating other associated programming.

There has been strong interest by the faculty in each of these course clusters, and we anticipate that we will continue to add new clusters to this initial set over the coming years.

We are excited by this development in our curriculum and look forward to launching a website this summer illuminating these and other opportunities for student study and research in the humanities.


  1. This is excellent news. It embodies the liberal arts, and I’d love to see more of this. The College should also consider a landscape studies segment combining the natural sciences with cultural geography. I have long thought that Brunswick and environs provides a particularly rich setting in which to do so.

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