Humanities Blast Courses

AGHI’s summer program, Blast Courses in the Humanities, is back for Summer 2021! We’re offering 8 new courses free to all members of the public, taught online by up-and-coming Johns Hopkins experts.

To see our Summer 2021 course offerings, check out descriptions and registration links below. Courses start Monday, July 5, and many classes have a maximum capacity, so sign up soon!

These five-week, online humanities classes offer entry-level explorations of topics ranging from “Medieval Irish Sagas” to radical movements to “Reading Poetry for Everyday Life.” Classes are intended to offer adult students with busy schedules a chance to learn something fun and interesting without homework or high-intensity classes. Instead, Blast Courses allow students to get familiar with a new subject over about 2 hours/week.

Some classes include a live class discussion at a pre-arranged time: be sure to check if the class you sign up for is all pre-recorded or includes some group meetings. ALL Blast Courses are interactive—including even the fully recorded classes, in which instructors will ask students for their questions about the week’s ideas and topics, then post a Q&A video at the end of the week responding to you. Students need to provide an email address upon registration so their instructor can send these weekly links to videos, handouts, and/or any other material as you take this five-week BLAST through a topic!

What Blast Courses Offer

We believe that the humanities are all about making connections, both in our thinking and in our contact with other people. All students are welcome to sign up for a Blast Course: no prior knowledge is required, and participation is up to you! At a time when many of us want to learn for fun but don’t have time for a full course or lots of homework, Blast Courses are designed to introduce you to a topic as taught by some of the most enthusiastic and informed sources around.

These five weeks are supposed to be fun and thought-provoking, but you will also gain skills you’ll be able to use once the class is over. Whether it’s about how to read a poem or why TV shows keep repeating the same stories, we want to share the amazing research and interests of young scholars in the humanities—and share it with the community beyond our usual students.

Our Scholars’ Specializations (New for Summer 2021)

Full course descriptions below:

* NOTE: Live times for all classes may be adjusted to meet student needs. Let your instructor know if there’s a better time for you and, if they can adjust the meeting, they will. If you know you will not be available during any live class times, consider signing up for either “Surgery, Herbs, and Amulets” and/or “Introducing Gilgamesh,” both of which are interactive but fully pre-recorded courses.

Any questions or concerns? Email – and be sure to mention which class(es) you have a question about!

Full Course Descriptions (NEW Summer 2021)

“Exploring Uncanny Valleys in Contemporary Literature”instructor: Grousdanidou – When artificial humans too closely resemble human beings, an eerie feeling may arise in human observers – the ‘uncanny valley’ effect. Something to be avoided in robotics or animation, in literature this effect can be endlessly fascinating. Tales of science fiction, horror, and the supernatural often use doubt about the human or non-human status of characters to structure imaginary worlds. What are the different ways that works of literature can exploit the ‘uncanny valley’ effect? How do such effects evolve over time? What does the emergence of ‘uncanny valleys’ in literature indicate about the anxieties of contemporary culture? What can our engagement with artificial humans in fiction tell us about how we think of our own humanity? How do considerations of race, gender, and class contribute to these engagements? How can emotional entanglements with fictional characters help us critically reflect on aspects of our reality? [Register Here]

“Surgery, Herbs, and Amulets: A Social History of Ancient Medicine”instructor: Dr. Zhang – How did ancient societies respond to pandemics? What kind of care did female patients receive in Antiquity? Should “medicine” be concerned about healing only the body? If not, what is the boundary of medicine? In this five-week course, we will explore the answers to these questions by drawing on materials from the ancient Mediterranean World, with a special interest in ancient Egypt. This course also covers some of the most influential criticism of the study of medicine, so that the class participants can reach a more socially and culturally sensitive understanding of medical practices in both ancient and modern societies. [Register Here]

“Medieval Irish Sagas”instructor: McClurkin — This course will cover selections from five Medieval Irish sagas spanning all four cycles of Irish mythology: the Mythological Cycle, the Fenian Cycle, the Historical Cycle, and the Ulster Cycle. Though we will be exclusively reading excerpts from Irish sagas, this course will also provide students with an overview of the European saga tradition broadly, placing the Irish Cycles alongside sagas from Iceland, Wales, Finland, England, and the Northern Caucuses. This class assumes no prior knowledge of European sagas or European medieval literature. [Register Here]

“Reading Poetry for Everyday Life” instructor: Michalek — We will read a survey of English-language poetry from the earliest anonymous English- language poems to the present. These poems include a variety of voices: famous poets and obscure, canonical, and marginalized voices, different genders, sexual orientations, poetic styles, and nationalities. Along the way, we will supplement our readings with critical theories on poetry by Matthew Arnold, Ezra Pound, and the Ancient Greek critic Longinus to learn how poets manipulate sounds, words, and images—how they use various rhyme schemes, meters, language, and allusions—to convey meaning beyond what is said through language alone. The poetry we read will therefore be “fodder,” in a sense: “fodder” to read critically and discuss in class what gives these poems their richness. We will read a wide range of authors very closely. [Register Here]

“Letters from Prison—Homegrown Terrorism and Basque Nationalism”instructor: Mushro – This course will embark on an analysis of the Basque nationalist movement, starting from the age of Napoleon Bonaparte, leading to the height of the ETA, and ending with Euskadi’s participation in Tsunami Democràtic from 2019 to present day. No prior knowledge of the theory of nationalism or the history of the Basque Country is needed, as the instructor will provide a thorough theoretical background as well as historical background of the formation of the Basque nation. Similarly, no knowledge of Basque or Spanish is necessary, as all materials for reading and viewing in-class will be translated. [Register Here]

“Introducing Gilgamesh” – instructor: Chapin — Gilgamesh is one of the most recognizable figures from ancient Mesopotamia. Since its rediscovery in the late 1800s, The Epic of Gilgamesh has been adapted and alluded to countless times and in countless media, ranging from Brucci’s 1986 opera Gilgameš to an episode of Star Trek: The Next Generation to the game Sid Meier’s Civilization. Gilgamesh will even appear in the upcoming Marvel movie The Eternals. But who really was Gilgamesh? “Introducing Gilgamesh” will introduce both the individual and the epic to which he gives his name. Over five weeks of asynchronous recorded lectures and asynchronous question-and-answer sessions, Gilgamesh and his epic will be presented in their historical and cultural context. The rediscovery of the epic will also be discussed, as well as its impact on the modern world. No outside reading will be required. [Register Here]

“Science and Utopian Fiction”instructor: Cram – Faster-than-light travel, cloning, nanotechnology, and the colonization of outer space: this course introduces students to science and utopian fiction as a literature of ideas. The course will sample two utopian novels that imagine future worlds and the human beings who inhabit them: Pauline Hopkins’ Of One Blood, a proto-Afrofuturist story that challenges colonial history and inspired Marvel’s Wakanda, and Ursula K. Le Guin’s “ambiguous Utopia,” the 1974 novel The Dispossessed. Along the way, the course will consider the history of the genre and the wider social significance of technology, literary form, and human imagination. By the end of this course, students will not only gain familiarity with two representative texts of twentieth-century American science fiction and utopian literature, but will build their critical reading skills to ask questions about the relationship of literature to society, and how stories shape our understanding of the world. [Register Here]