When Gilman Hall opened its doors in 1915, it was not only a monumental architectural achievement, it was the realization in brick and stone of a revolutionary new idea about scholarship, education, and the intimate connection between the two. Founding president Daniel Coit Gilman's vision for the university called for new relationships between teaching and learning, between students and faculty, and between the creation of new knowledge and conservation of old. Those relationships were fostered in the building that bears his name, bringing together faculty, undergraduate and graduate students, and the library in a way that transformed the practice of scholarship in the humanities.
The renovation of Gilman Hall wil transform it into an incubator for the humanities of the 21st century and a destination for the entire university. At the heart of this new intermingling was the seminar system, symbolized by the seminar table where professors and students would gather to examine and critique each other's work. Gilman Hall made this possible by fostering a collaborative environment that transcended disciplines and crossed generations. These practices eventually spread throughout the country, but they hold a special place of honor at Hopkins, still reflected in the unique community of scholars who are gathered here.
Unfortunately, Gilman Hall no longer serves that community well. Piecemeal adaptations over the years have subdivided the building's spaces and disrupted its natural flow. Gilman is no longer sufficient to house all the humanities departments, tending to frustrate the collaborative work that is the hallmark of Hopkins. The building is confusing, unwelcoming, and dysfunctional. The state of Gilman would seem to imply a terrible and wrong message that the humanities are relegated to second-class status at Hopkins, rather than the truth: that they are at our core.
The renovation of Gilman Hall will be much more than an updating of the campus's flagship building. The work, now under way, will transform Gilman into an incubator for the humanities of the 21st century and a destination for the entire university. The renovation will revive Gilman's grand traditions and maintain its historic exterior while radically renewing its interior and creating the first "green" building on the Homewood campus.
Moreover, our very visible endorsement of and recommitment to the humanities comes at a crucial juncture in our national conversation about higher education. We find ourselves at a moment when what is valued in learning has become ever more narrowed to "outcomes" that one can "assess." We will never measure the meaning of a liberal arts education with computer-read standardized tests. But we believe deeply in the value of the scholarship and learning that take place in the humanities disciplines, and now is the time for us to demonstrate that belief concretely by our actions.
After half a century of talk about a Gilman Hall renovation, we have begun our task in earnest. I encourage you to read more in this and subsequent issues , and I look forward to inviting you to visit the new Gilman Hall in 2010.
Adam F. Falk
James B. Knapp Dean
Light Shines on Gilman Hall
Johns Hopkins to Renovate Gilman Hall
Headlines @ Hopkins
If These Halls Could Talk
Johns Hopkins Magazine