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The Humanities Conference 2003

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Presentation Details

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Why Do I Have to Read This?: The Literary Canon and the Liberal Arts

Ann-Maria Contarino.

This presentation will offer an examination of two undergraduate Humanities programs -- one traditional, the other highly unorthodox -- both currently facing the challenge of maintaining centrality and relevance amid diversifying interpretations of a liberal arts curriculum. As instructors in both programs, we will offer our arguments about the threats posed to the future of the Humanities by either an overly-zealous adherence to an exclusively Western canon or by fostering a largely consumerist, utilitarian perspective on higher education.
Saint Anselm College, for example, now celebrates the 25th anniversary of its interdisciplinary Humanities Program and faces its first college-wide assessment of that program. As with similar programs at comparable institutions, the Saint Anselm program maintains a very high level of faculty involvement and enthusiasm, while student interest and support are flagging. We offer here some innovative suggestions for renewing student interest while reinforcing the value of the Humanist tradition.
In contrast, we offer a look at the newly-launched program in Multidisciplinary Studies for adult learners at Cambridge College. Although conceived as a program that would interface only marginally with traditional Humanities disciplines, particularly in the areas of Literature and Philosophy, the program finds its most enthusiastic student response in classes that do in fact focus on traditonal material. Our presentation will offer some insights about this development as well as some suggestions for nurturing this enthusiasm while meeting the needs of adult, professionally-oriented students.
In both case studies, our goal is to underscore the Humanities as essential to the development of critical thinking and global awareness in any student.


Ann-Maria Contarino  (United States)
Department of English
Saint Anselm College

Instructor of English at Saint Anselm College with specialties in Renaissance Literature and Classical Literature. Senior Lecturer at Cambridge College in the Undergraduate Program in Multidisciplinary Studies.

  • Liberal Arts
  • Literary Canon
  • Literature

(30 min Conference Paper, English)