Archive for May, 2009

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Making It Relevant: The Ancient Greeks

May 29, 2009

By Joshua Eskew, a senior at Marian College studying English and communication, and an intern with the Indiana Humanities Council.

“A true friend is one soul in two bodies.” – Aristotle

What makes a good friend? Nobody can answer this question for us, but we can find help when we turn to the literature of the past. When my sophomore Humanities class turned its attention to the ancient Greeks, most students responded with exhausted yawns and weary sighs. After an hour of staring stone-faced at statues of Socrates, many students felt as old and tired as the Greeks themselves. The time has come, though, to dust off those old tomes and direct that thoughtful gaze right back at those marble busts. They, too, had to deal with the pain of a good friend betraying them. They, too, experienced that wonderful joy we feel when we find ourselves with a certain someone. They, too, asked what makes a good friend. Today, we’ll be looking at some of their answers.

I’ve been thinking about Aristotle’s Nichomachean Ethics. If you can get past the pronunciation, you’re doing well. I’d like to draw attention to Book VIII, where he discusses friendship. He talks about three different kinds of friendship: those which are for utility, those which are for pleasure, and those in which both are seeking the same moral good. Think about it this way: the classmate who you’ll borrow notes from, the best friend you’ll go out on a night for the town with, and a husband or a wife, or a child who we dearly love.

You don’t even need to have a beard to scratch to understand how important it is to know our friends. A quick run through your Facebook friends list will probably reveal people that fall into each of these categories. Whether or not we think about it actively, we probably know by intuition where most people in our lives fall. So think about this: Who are those friends you just can’t live without? Who are the people in your life that inspire you to be the best person you can be, whether it be morally, professionally, academically? Who brings out the best you? When we know who these people are, we can give them the love, respect, attention, and appreciation they deserve.

While we probably can’t imagine who Aristotle would’ve had on his Facebook friends list, we can still learn a lot from him and the rest of the ancient Greeks. They can inspire tears of boredom or tears of joy all in the same day. The insights they brought into the questions and concerns that we face today, that have not disappeared with hybrid cars and cell phones, make them a source to consider for all of our lives. 

Suggestions for reading:
The Nichomachean Ethics, Aristotle (Find it online here: http://classics.mit.edu/Aristotle/nicomachaen.html)
The Greek Way, Edith Hamilton
After Virtue, Alasdair Macintye
The Universe, the Gods, and Mortals, Jean-Pierre Vernant

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Why I study the humanities

May 26, 2009

By Christian Hines, a junior at Indiana University and a summer intern at the Indiana Humanities Council

To ardent supporters of the humanities, defending the worth of a degree in English or Art History can feel something like an exercise in futility; for with the rise of the great American industrialist in the 20th century, our nation increasingly became one of workers and producers, rather than poets and philosophers. But in the midst of an economic tailspin, and as American universities scramble to churn out scientists and engineers at the rate of countries like China and Japan, confronting the ultra-utilitarian concept of education and speaking up for the value of the humanities is more important than ever.

The most common accusation lobbed against the humanities is that they are inherently impractical. Now if by “practical” one means that the underlying goal of any educational endeavor should be to stimulate the economy or produce a tangible good, then yes—the humanities have little value. But to embrace such a cynical understanding of learning is to scoff at a long-held and still-valued conviction of scholars, scientists, and even CEOs; namely, that an education should prepare one personally and intellectually for a life of service and leadership. As the late Winston Churchill noted, “the first duty of a university is to teach wisdom, not a trade; character, not technicalities.” 

This isn’t to say the humanities are for everyone. But for those who want to understand the ideas and events that have shaped the world in which we now live, and which we hope to improve, there is no choice but to study the humanities. I’m majoring in history and political thought not because I expect to land a six-figure job out of college, but because I want to form my own conception of society and the state. I want to understand how the human race has arrived at this point in history and develop my own convictions of where it should go from here. I want to form my own thoughts and develop the skills to convey them. 

In short, I study the humanities because I want to think.

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Meandering Indiana 13 – Wayne County

May 22, 2009

Summer is almost here, and Americans are ready to hit the road. Likewise, a citizen setting out from Maryland in the late 1830s could get on the newly built federal highway and drive a wagon straight through to St. Louis. The National Road, as it was called, entered Indiana on the eastern edge around Richmond, passed through many small towns before arriving in Indianapolis, and wound up in Terre Haute where it exited the state.

I’ve driven stretches of this same road (U.S. 40) on days when I-70 just seemed unnecessary. The pavement’s been upgraded a bit, but it’s still a fine way to travel. The National Road also still divides northern Indiana from southern Indiana, according to some historians. Since it runs down Washington Street in Indy, one might also say it divides the northern from the southern half of the city.

Back in Wayne County, the area’s Quaker heritage with its commitment to peace and justice is revealed in traces of the Underground Railroad, such as the Levi Coffin House (Fountain City), and in Earlham College (801 National Road West, Richmond).

I meandered to Wayne County quite deliberately one sunny day–for no other reason than to go sightseeing in Metamora. This tourist-friendly town is known for its historic canal and gristmill, and I also enjoyed the shops and the Side Track Cafe.

Huddleston Farmhouse Inn Museum (photo: William Eccles)

Huddleston Farmhouse Inn Museum (photo: William Eccles)

Another day I was at the Huddleston Farmhouse Inn Museum to meet with the Historic Landmarks Foundation staff about an exhibit project sponsored by the Indiana Humanities Council. This historic site–with its house, barn, smokehouse, and springhouse–is sometimes listed as in Cambridge City and sometimes as in Mt. Auburn, but it’s not hard to find. For, as our nineteenth-century travelers discovered when looking for a place to stay, you can’t miss it. It’s at 838 National Road.

Read more of Nancy’s travels across the state, here.

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The Top Ten Places in Indiana to Experience the Humanities

May 13, 2009

By Amy Vaughan, Director, The Indiana Office of Tourism Development

With June quickly approaching, I am optimistic about Indiana’s summer travel season. As I think about my own trip ideas for this summer, I am struck by how much there is to do in Indiana to celebrate the humanities. 

Here’s what comes to my mind:

1. Bloomington – One of Indiana’s best food towns, visit Farm Bloomington, Restaurant Tallent and the Scholar’s Inn, for a world class meal.  And don’t forget to stop on Fourth Street’s Restaurant Row to try ethnic fare.

2. Columbus – Stop at the Columbus Visitors Center and take its guided driving tour of a city Smithsonian magazine called “a veritable museum of modern architecture.”  Visitors can see more than 70 buildings and pieces of public art from I.M. Pei, Eliel Saarinen and Dale Chihuly.

3. Conner Prairie’s New Balloon Exhibit – A recreation of an 1859 mail delivery test in Lafayette, the tethered helium balloon ride combines the adventure of climbing 350 feet in the sky with learning about the history of flight in Indiana.

4. Elkhart County Quilt Gardens Tour – This driving tour features more than 16 gardens and 16 hand painted murals.   (Visit in mid-July for the best blooms.)  All of the gardens have been created to replicate Amish quilt designs.

5. The Indiana Repertory Theatre – Founded in 1972, the IRT is one of the leading regional theatres in the country.  I’ve been wowed by performances of To Kill a Mockingbird, A Christmas Carol and Pride and Prejudice. 

6. The Indiana State Fair – With everything from the world’s largest boar to gourds shaped like David Letterman, the state fair is my favorite Indiana spot in August.

7. The Indianapolis Museum of Art – One of the tenth largest general art museums in the country, the museum’s world class art collection and 152 of gardens and grounds are well worth the visit.

8. New Harmony –The site of two utopian communities, New Harmony offers a rare mix of architectural gardens, historic buildings and unusual public spaces.  It’s an unusual gem tucked away in southern Indiana.

9. The West Baden Dome at West Baden Springs Hotel – It’s been called the Eighth Wonder of the World.  An amazing display of design ingenuity, the dome is breathtaking to see.

10. White River State Park – It offers a rich mix of concerts, events, exhibits and gardens at the Indianapolis Zoo, the Eiteljorg Museum of Native American Art, the NCAA Hall of Champions and the Indianapolis Indians.

And these are just a handful of the many great options in Indiana.  I’d like to know, “Where’s your favorite place in Indiana to get your dose of the humanities?”

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Who are the most famous moms of literature?

May 6, 2009

For Mother’s Day, I thought it would be fun to write about some of the most famous moms in literature. But when I started to write, I found myself struggling to come up with influential moms. I have to admit that the first fictional mom that came to mind was Norman Bates’ mother–and that was because of the movie, not the book. Next, was Cinderella’s step-mom, Mrs. Bennet from Pride & Prejudice and Hamlet’s mother Gertrude (I wonder what my mom would say about my stream of thought!). Then, I started retrieving more positive memories: Momma Berenstain from the Berenstain Bears series, Mrs. Weasley from the Harry Potter series, Marmee from Little Women, and Ma from Laura Ingalls Wilder’s books.

Who are your favorite (for better or for worse) moms of literature? (Extra credit goes to those with Hoosier ties!)

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Civics, Immigration, and the Month of May

May 1, 2009

Who are Asian Americans? Derived from different countries and cultures, some are recent immigrants, some are resident aliens, some are naturalized citizens. Many of us are, simply, Americans.

Let’s think about this for a minute. How do you get to be an American? The one sure-fire way is to be born here. That’s somewhat odd, really. In a country that has had no qualms, in the past, about passing anti-minority legislation, we have managed to hold onto the principle that anyone born on American soil is an American citizen — thanks to a Supreme Court case known as United States v. Wong Kim Ark.

In 1898 the U.S. Supreme Court upheld the Fourteenth Amendment to the Constitution by ruling that a Chinese man named Wong Kim Ark was indeed a U.S. citizen because he was born in San Francisco. Passed in the aftermath of the Civil War, the Fourteenth Amendment states that “All persons born or naturalized in the United States, and subject to the jurisdiction thereof, are citizens of the United States and of the State wherein they reside.” Although the amendment was intended to secure the rights of African Americans, it has also been interpreted to apply to other ethnic groups whose civil rights have been challenged.

So on this first day of Asian Pacific American Heritage Month, I am pleased to note that the Indiana academic standards for high school U.S. history include a mention of Wong Kim Ark (USH.2.3). In Hoosierati recently we’ve been talking about immigration, history, and civics. Here’s a good example of how these lessons matter, to some people, in real and lasting ways.

NOTE: Our Resource Connection partner, the Gilder Lehrman Institute of American History, has an interactive resource that lets you be the judge on this and other civil rights cases.