Unconventional Paths to Knowledge: Haverford’s Hurford Center for the Arts and Humanities

Hello, and welcome to the Haverford College Admission Blog!  My name is Brandon Henken, and I would like to use my first official posting to talk about my exciting experiences with the John B. Hurford ’60 Center for the Arts and Humanities, an academic center on campus that seeks to enliven the artistic and academic scenes on campus by integrating disciplines in unique ways.  (Check it out here: www.haverford.edu/HCAH/.)  This semester, I have had two intellectual adventures with the Center, and I believe that they both are outstanding examples of the agency students have on campus to be creative and to pursue their interests.

The first experience was a presentation called “Demons, Witches, and Comets” that was presented by a student and a professor.  It was a discussion of evidence systems and knowledge centered on celestial events and accusations of witchcraft.  Of course, this presentation was on Friday the Thirteenth!  The cerebral pith of their presentation was that it is dangerous for a scholar to impose modern knowledge systems and epistemology on those of earlier times; rather than dismiss these older systems, scholars should seek to understand how people thought with them.  I loved the intimate atmosphere of roughly two dozen students and professors listening to a discussion and being able to ask questions to move the conversation forward, knowing that they had respect of their peers and professors.  It was truly a Haverfordian experience.

My second experience is a semester-long student-led seminar called “The Depths of Fear: Cross-Cultural Consciousness of Sea Monsters in Folklore, Mythology, and Popular Culture.”  A shared love of the sea inspired an English major and a history major to formulate and lead this class which will meet five times this semester.  I saw it advertised, and I thought it would be fascinating to use cultural, historical, and literary lenses to explore such an unconventional topic.  So far, it is!  The seminar is a great way to explore new subject matter as a break from my usual coursework.  Our first “voyage” on September 20 featured revelatory discussion of monsters and monstrosity, vastness and void, science and nature, and madness and personality in Herman Melville’s Moby Dick.  (Our reading list also includes Tales of the Cthulu Mythos, The Search for the Giant Squid, Twenty Thousand Leagues under the Sea, The Book of Imaginary Beings, The Odyssey, and The Field Guide to Lake Monsters, Sea Serpents, and Other Mystery Denizens of the Deep.)  Nestled in a cozy room in the library, each member of the seminar contributed a unique perspective to the discussion, and I was enlightened by the new concepts that my peers observed.  There were only seven of us, including the students leading the seminar, so everyone had ample time to share and debate ideas.  I was even able to integrate my knowledge from “Demons, Witches, and Comets” into a conversation about the science or attempt at science in Moby Dick.  Once again, this small group was ideal for discussion, and it was an embodiment of the Haverford culture of intelligent discourse.

The Hurford Center and Haverford College as a whole allow students to explore their passions.  Each semester, students can propose, design, and lead new seminars or make presentations with the support of the Hurford Center so that knowledge generated on campus never goes stale.  We have a thriving, vibrant community where students can showcase their own interests and share them with others, all with the support of the College.

Good luck with applications, and HAVER great day!