Humanities Highlights

Discovery Is…

Learn about the cutting edge faculty research taking place at Johns Hopkins University Krieger School of Arts and Sciences. Topics include Egyptian archaeology, African American authors, filmmaking, and sociological studies.



How Chester B. Himes Became the Rage in Harlem, and Beyond

From The New York Times book review.

In a 1942 essay for Opportunity, the journal of the Urban League, the novelist Chester B. Himes warned his readers, “The character of this writer is vulnerable, open to attack, easy to be smeared.” Lawrence P. Jackson’s captivating biography of Himes confirms this appraisal, as Himes is far from invincible, never a hero and rarely even a sympathetic figure. Though Himes had a penchant for mistreating himself and others, he was also brilliant and courageous in his depiction of the absurdity of black American life and the violence of white supremacy.


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Johns Hopkins and CCBC receive $1.7M from Mellon Foundation to support humanities education

From The Hub:

The Andrew W. Mellon Foundation has awarded a combined $1.725 million to Johns Hopkins University and the Community College of Baltimore County to support collaborations between the two institutions on humanities curriculum and pedagogy.

The two schools will partner to implement a new initiative called Humanities for All, designed to inspire students by deepening the learning experience; enriching course content; focusing on recruitment, retention, and transfer; and strengthening faculty connections between CCBC and JHU. A Mellon Scholars Program will be established to give CCBC students research opportunities and interaction with faculty and graduate students at Johns Hopkins.


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Student-run online medical journal earns funding in online voting

From The Hub:

Five proposals submitted this spring to Johns Hopkins’ Idea Lab crowdsourcing website will receive funding by virtue of garnering the most support in online voting.

In its third year, the Idea Lab offered three areas in which ideas were welcome from the Johns Hopkins community: The Ten by Twenty Challenge to support individual excellence, the Diversity Innovation Grants to promote inclusion, and the Hopkins Eco-Smart Acorn Grant to drive sustainability.

In second place, with 784 votes, is a student-run online medical journal called The Hippocrates Med Review. The journal’s creators, who launched a website in January, say they hope to provide “a world-class forum that showcases a holistic view of medicine as told by the brightest minds in the medical field.”


Roman de la Rose

Textual scholar Stephen Nichols makes the case for digitizing manuscripts

From The Hub:

Call it the Villon epiphany. François Villon was a 15th-century French poet. His work has been passed down in many hand-scribed manuscripts, but none of them are originals in the author’s hand. On an autumn day in 1980, Stephen Nichols was in Paris studying different parchment manuscripts of the poet’s Le Testament. Like all textual scholars of the day, Nichols, who is now a Johns Hopkins professor emeritus in the Department of German and Romance Languages and Literatures, often worked from a modern critical edition of Villon’s work; that is, a text assembled from multiple sources by scholars and meant to represent the definitive version that Villon intended. “I was astounded to see the way the texts had been prepared and presented in the critical edition, which tied them up very nicely and gave them endings,” Nichols says. “In the [actual medieval] manuscripts, I couldn’t find those endings! I suddenly realized that editors, starting in the early 19th century, couldn’t stand that a literary work didn’t have a nice ending. And I realized that I was looking at evidence that in the Middle Ages, people had a high tolerance for just reading poems that didn’t have to have a neat beginning, middle, and ending.”


the good breast

Media studies professor produces film that explores various aspects of breast cancer

From The Hub:

Bernadette Wegenstein, a Johns Hopkins professor of media studies and filmmaker, recalls working on her new documentary, The Good Breast, and feeling a bit hesitant to put too much of herself into the film.

Yes, her voice is heard asking questions, since she’s the director. And her considerable research shaped The Good Breast, which is a deep dive into understanding surgical breast cancer interventions in a cultural context. But could she also be more of an onscreen presence shaping the cinematic experience?


Katherine Robinson

Writing Seminars alumna wins prestigious award to study poet Ted Hughes

From The Hub:

Katherine Robinson uses three different translation dictionaries in her work, but she isn’t learning a new language. She’s learning a very, very old language—Middle Welsh, which predates the language of Shakespeare by centuries.

Robinson has been familiarizing herself with the medieval language as part of the prep work for her dissertation research, which she’ll undertake as part of the prestigious Gates Cambridge Scholarship program. Established in October 2000 by a donation from the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, the Gates Cambridge Scholarship program welcomes students from outside the U.K. to pursue a full-time postgraduate degree at the University of Cambridge.


Lawrence Jackson

Lawrence Jackson joins English and History departments as Bloomberg Distinguished Professor

From The Hub:

For writer and historian Lawrence Jackson, joining Johns Hopkins University was an appealing homecoming for several reasons.

Beyond the emotional resonance of Baltimore—Jackson grew up here, still has family here, and has written frequently about the city—there’s the academic proximity to the roots of many research topics that intrigue him, including the histories of Billie Holiday and Frederick Douglass.


History professor Nathan Connolly takes his expertise to the air waves

From The Hub:

Johns Hopkins University historian N.D.B. Connolly will soon become a co-host of the national radio program and podcast BackStory with the American History Guys.

BackStory brings historical perspective to current events. Connolly joins the program, which airs on dozens of stations nationwide, including D.C.’s WAMU, beginning Feb. 3. He joins co-hosts Ed Ayers, Brian Balogh, and Joanne Freeman.


80s pop icon Thomas Dolby, Homewood Professor of the Arts, talks about the future of sound

From the Winter 2016 edition of Johns Hopkins Magazine:

Two decades before the Oculus Rift became the first sophisticated and relatively affordable virtual reality headset to hit the market, Thomas Dolby created “The Virtual String Quartet.” As part of the Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum’s Virtual Reality: An Emerging Medium series, Dolby had museumgoers don VR headsets upon entering a gallery. In the headset’s virtual space, computer-generated musicians played Mozart’s String Quartet no. 18 in A Major as you stood among them. Move about and what you heard changed. Approach the violinist, for example, and the violin became more prominent.


Michael Harrower

Near Eastern Studies faculty member Michael Harrower and students conduct research in Ethiopia

From the Fall 2016 issue of Arts & Sciences Magazine:

How do you uncover an ancient city? Just ask Michael Harrower, assistant professor of Near Eastern studies. In 2009, he traveled to northern Ethiopia and started exploring and talking to the locals. He was led to a prominent hill and immediately realized it was an archaeological treasure: the ancient Aksumite town of Beita Semati, which dates back to the third to seventh centuries. With grants from NASA, National Geographic, and the Archaeological Institute of America, Harrower now takes graduate and undergraduate students to Ethiopia every year to excavate the site, explore the surrounding area, and examine the long-term role of water availability in the rise and decline of Aksumite civilization.


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Film & Media Studies program becomes national contender among film schools

From the Fall 2016 issue of Arts & Sciences Magazine:

When Linda DeLibero began teaching in Johns Hopkins’ Program in Film and Media Studies (FMS) in the late 1990s, the program consisted of a desk in the English department on the first floor of Gilman Hall, three faculty members, and roughly a dozen students. No class was complete without an unwieldy television anchored to a rolling cart with shelf space underneath for a VCR; larger screenings were held in the darkness of the blue velvet-draped Donovan Room with its overflowing storage room. “It was like Fibber McGee’s closet,” remembers program director DeLibero. “Any equipment we had—16 mm cameras, a couple of video cameras, anything—it was just all in there.”


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Philosophy students tell us why they love their major

From the Fall 2016 issue of Arts & Sciences Magazine:

Students tell us why they love their major, in three sentences or less.

“The most important lessons I have learned from philosophy are to listen; to take into account other arguments, even if they do not appeal to me; and to not be limited by dogmatic thought.”
—Ioana Grosu ’17


Near Eastern Studies students learn an ancient language

From the Fall 2016 issue of Arts & Sciences Magazine:

Picture a clay tablet embedded with a series of signs made up of spiky triangular wedge shapes joined to vertical or horizontal lines. To an untrained eye, the signs might look like a row of trees, a small fish, the seed head of a dandelion. In reality, though, the signs are non-representational, and their meanings have no relation to these fanciful interpretations. This is cuneiform, the ancient writing system invented to write Sumerian (ca. 3200 B.C.) and later associated with several ancient Near Eastern languages.


How did a classics major end up working for the United States Navy?

From the Spring 2016 issue of Arts & Sciences Magazine:

What to do with a PhD in classical studies when you realize you don’t want to enter academia? As it turns out, you have more options than you might think.

Such was the discovery of Kristina Giannotta ’03 (PhD), now branch head of histories for the Histories and Archives Division of the Naval History and Heritage Command. It’s a role that marries research and culture with management, and Giannotta says her graduate studies at Johns Hopkins prepared her surprisingly well for this government career. Now in the position of hiring and managing historians, she makes a point of recommending that current grad students take advantage of every opportunity—travel, fellowships, new languages—to grow outside of academia as she did, saying those skills make all the difference in a potential employee.


A conversation with Professor Bill Egginton about the complexities of Don Quixote

From the Spring 2016 issue of Arts & Sciences Magazine:

William Egginton says he isn’t tilting at windmills when contending that the conventional wisdom about Don Quixote doesn’t even scrape the surface of Miguel de Cervantes’ 17th-century masterpiece.

“People think it’s about idealism or windmills, or it’s a work of satire,” says Egginton, the Andrew W. Mellon Professor in the Humanities and professor of German and Romance languages and literatures. “It’s so much more rich and complex. It’s really about understanding and interpreting reality, and sometimes getting it wrong, and asking the question of why are you getting it wrong and for whose interests. Cervantes is working on many different levels, with a gusto and fluidity that the most accomplished writer or filmmaker of the 20th century would have trouble matching.”


Students from the Program for Museums and Society help plan a unique exhibition

From the Spring 2016 issue of Arts & Sciences Magazine:

Sometimes, as 11 undergraduates learned during the spring semester, the most interesting thing about a book is not the words it contains, but the actual book itself. When, exactly, is an object a book, and when is it not? How does the physical book relate to its content? How does the way we use a book change our experience of it?

Those undergrads—whose majors range from art history to archaeology to the sciences to international studies—took a deep look at such questions in a course offered by the Krieger School’s Program in Museums and Society and taught by Rena Hoisington, senior curator of prints, drawings, and photographs at the Baltimore Museum of Art. The collaborative course, called Paper Museums: Exhibiting Books at The Baltimore Museum of Art, was funded by the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation.


The Hopkins Review quietly becomes a force among university literary magazines

From the Spring 2016 issue of Arts & Sciences Magazine:

It takes a certain amount of courage to publish a serious, print-based literary magazine these days. Readers have too many claims on their increasingly fragmented attention, and anyone with access to a computer or a smartphone can publish his or her work online as soon as it’s written. How can a small journal make its voice heard in the midst of so much digital clamor?

Like print books and independent bookstores, however, the literary magazine will not die. At the Krieger School, a small but well-regarded venture, The Hopkins Review, not only persists but shows signs of thriving, thanks to strong institutional support, robust creative and business partnerships, and a clear and evolving editorial vision.