On Friday the 30th of September, the Bachelor of the Humanities program welcomed alumni and their families back to Carleton to celebrate the program’s 20th anniversary. Faculty and former students caught up with each other at an informal pub-night and a gala dinner, and seven alumni turned the tables on their former professors by giving a series of TED-style talks on their current experience and expertise from the front of their old lecture-hall. A family picnic and an opportunity for current students to connect with alumni as mentors rounded out the weekend.

The Divine Comedy, s, XV, Dante writing, Gothic art, Miniature Painting,

The Divine Comedy, s, XV, Dante writing, Gothic art, Miniature Painting

In the mid 1990s, a group of professors who were unhappy with the state of Canadian liberal arts education decided to found the College of the Humanities at Carleton. They followed the elite Great-Books model pioneered by American institutions such as the University of Chicago and St. John’s College, which emphasizes primary texts and small discussion groups.

After extensive discussion at all levels of the University, the College of the Humanities opened its doors in 1996, under the direction of Professor Peter Emberley, with a mandate to recruit some of the best students in Canada and to give them a deep and comprehensive liberal arts education. The elite model of the Bachelor of Humanities was soon followed by other limited-enrolment programs at Carleton, such as the Arthur Kroeger College of Public Affairs.

“I cannot imagine a more gratifying environment to teach in. The students are really brilliant. They do the reading. They attend the lectures. They speak up in discussion group. What more could you want?” remarks Professor Erik Stephenson, who teaches the Core-Humanities Seminar in Ancient and Medieval philosophy.

The Iliad, The Odyssey Book CoverBachelor of Humanities students concentrate on key disciplines such as religion, philosophy, literature, history, and political theory, through a series of Core–Humanities Seminars, each taught by two professors, including small discussion groups. But they supplement this core with required courses in Greek and Roman literature, the early history of the Abrahamic religions, the history of art, the history of music, British and European literature, and modern science.

Unlike most liberal arts programs, the Bachelor of Humanities has a significant Eastern component, and its students study the great Hindu texts such as the Bhagavad-Gita and Chinese texts such as the Tao Te Ching with as much excitement as they study Plato’s Republic or Dante’s Divine Comedy. In all of their courses the focus is on reading primary texts, and students graduate with first-hand knowledge of Homer, Plato, Augustine, Dante, Chaucer, Shakespeare, Voltaire, Mary Shelley, Nietzsche, Hannah Arendt, Heidegger, and many others.