Humanities Blast Courses

two hands paging through a book on a table with many books

The fifth summer of Blast Courses will begin in July 2024! If you’d like to be notified about our program offerings for this upcoming summer, email us at [email protected] and ask to be added to our listserv.

What are Blast Courses?

Blast Courses in the Humanities are interactive, free summer courses offered by AGHI since July 2020. All members of the public are welcome to join an online, flexible, and fun group as you dive into five weeks of ideas, questions, and skills centered on a special topic. Early-career instructors lead these gatherings and offer interactive opportunities so that any student, especially those without any prior experience in that subject, can learn, discuss, ask, wonder, gather, and find a community of fellow curious folks just like you.

In short, every Blast Course is:

  • Free to all students—truly, everyone! Adults ages 16 to 116+ are welcome.
  • Interactive—so you can ask questions and get feedback from the instructor, plus join a new community of fellow learners and discuss important ideas with them.
  • Flexible—totaling 2 hours/week, divided into two or more videos (and in some cases, live Zoom sessions), so our classes fit busy adults’ schedules.
  • Online—no travel or textbooks required!
  • Entry-level—no homework, prior experience, or outside pre-reqs needed.
  • Question-focused—asking big, thought-provoking questions about a range of topics, so that no matter what the subject (from ancient myths to current events to timeless art), you’ll find yourself looking at the world around you a little differently.
Banner reading "Blast Courses in the Humanities are returning for Summer 2024. Watch this space." Beside text is a bouquet of symbolic cultural objects representing various humanities fields.

For Instructors—Summer 2024:

This year, AGHI invites proposals from JHU grad students in the humanities (and humanistic social sciences) for courses to run for five weeks in Summer 2024. There will be a proposal workshop before the application closes. We will select 10–12 courses which:

  1. pursue a topic accessible, informative, and interesting for a wide and entry-level public audience;
  2. consider a format which allows for maximum flexibility and some interaction; and
  3. demonstrate connections between course material and ways this course could connect to students’ everyday lives, experiences, and questions.

Prospective instructors should read all application instructors and review the Info Session information in early March. Apply via Interfolio by March 25, 2024. (Details for pre-application Info Sessions below.)

About the program and preparing to apply

For Summer 2024, courses will run for 5 weeks, beginning the week of July 8th and concluding by Friday, August 5th . All courses will meet virtually and will be free to students—intended for adults of all ages, locations, and professional backgrounds. Blast Courses’ aim is to bring together groups of curious people who try to fit a few weeks of a new, far-reaching learning community into their current, busy schedules.

Topics should be entry-level and of broad appeal. Primarily, topics should center on a question or handful of questions that students might like to ask, ponder, and debate over the five weeks of this course. As such, we welcome such courses as “Intro to” or “Crash Course in” a field or subfield, theory, period, movement, medium, etc. Proposals that appeal to an interdisciplinary and mixed-professional audience will be particularly welcome. See our past courses for examples.

*Prospective instructors should note that, because these courses do not culminate in any credit hours or certificate, we promote the program as requiring only optional (and very minimal, if any) outside reading or work.

Info Sessions

In March, AGHI will host a recommended Info Session for all prospective Blast instructors—on Zoom (~1hr). This meeting will go over the basics of the program, expectations, applications process, and a brief workshopping of ideas from attendees about potential course topics.

A recording of the info sessions is available upon request from AGHI—just email us!

Content of Your Proposal

For 2024, two main course formats will be offered, each totaling roughly 2hrs. of class meeting time:

  • A) One asynchronous lecture (~1hr) + one asynchronous Q&A video, responding to interactive questions/activities from students (~1hr)
  • B) One asynchronous lecture (~1hr) + one synchronous, virtual discussion group session (recorded with additional elements to accommodate students who cannot attend) [~1hr]

In addition, we welcome proposals for new formats:

  • C) New formats should describe how you will use ~2hrs. of classtime across 2+ sessions per week, emphasizing interactive options for students who are not available during normal working hours. (Format should not be 100% live/synchronous nor require that students attend more than 2hrs. per week; optional additional sessions are at the discretion of the instructor.)

We aim to fund 10–12 courses for Blast in Summer 2024. All JHU-KSAS grad students, whether ABD or earlier, are eligible to apply. Approved courses will include a $2,500 instructor stipend. (All students should verify their eligibility to receive this stipend with their home department.)

To Apply

To apply, please submit the following via Interfolio by no later than the end of the day on Monday, March 25th:

  • Cover letter (1-2pp.)—outlining your rationale for offering this topic to a non-expert public audience, current status (dept., year, and funding status), prior teaching experience, prior public humanities experience, and preferred (and back-up) course format [A, B, or C: see above];
  • Course outline—sketching 5 weeks of course topics, core questions, general learning objectives/goals, interactive element(s), and proposed schedule; and
  • One short faculty letter of support (≤1p.)

Approved courses will be selected by early- to mid-April, to run in July–August. For all questions, please email [email protected] and mention “Blast” in the subject line.

Past Courses

Summer 2023

  • “1000 Bread, 1000 Beer: Food & Drink in Ancient Egypt,” Instructor: Dr. Morgan Moroney (Near Eastern Studies)
  • “Insurrection & Conspiracy: America & Ancient Rome,” Instructor: Juan Dopico (Classics)
  • “Listening to the Past: Clues to the Social Lives of Ancient Egyptians,” Instructor: Alison Wilkinson (Near Eastern Studies)
  • “The Meaning of Extinction: Cinema and the End of the World,” Instructor: Brad Harmon (German/Modern Lang. & Lit.)
  • “Nature Poetry,” Instructor: Martin Michálek (Classics)
  • “Power, Pleasure, Personhood: Indian Painting, 1500-2000,” Instructor: Meghaa Ballakrishnen (Art History)
  • “Reform or Revolution: Political Rebellion in German Thought and Literature from Plato to Star Wars,” Instructor: Luke Beller (German/Modern Lang. & Lit)
  • “The Stories Maps Tell: Ancient Civilizations to Modern Readers,” Instructor: Paige Paulsen (Near Eastern Studies)
  • “Writing Poetry of the Environment,” Instructor: Samantha Neugebauer (Writing Seminars)

Summer 2022

  • “The Atomic Age Today,” instructor: Ruoyu Li (Political Science)
  • “Ancient Poetry at the End of the World,” instructor: Martin Michalek (Classics)
  • “Fast Fiction,” instructor: Eric Emmons (Writing Seminars)
  • “A Voyage and the Marvel: Discovering Maryland in the 17th Century,” instructor: Ambra Marzocchi (Classics)
  • “Glory of an Ancient, Storied Land: Tolkien and the Ancient World,” instructor: Kathryn H. Stutz (Classics)
  • “Cut and Paste: Remediating the DIY Archive through the Creation of Cyber-Zines,” instructor: Lauren Mushro (MLL)
  • “Where Are We at Home? Literature of Exile,” instructor: Marta Cerreti (MLL)
  • “Tomorrow Will Be Too Late: Reading The Second Sex,” instructor: Thomas Mann (Political Science)
  • “Talk Like an Egyptian: Introduction to Ancient Egyptian Hieroglyphs,” instructor: Maarten Praet (Near Eastern Studies)
  • “The Production of Forensic Space in Crime Fiction,” instructor: Antonia Grousdanidou (MLL)  

Summer 2021

  • “Exploring Uncanny Valleys in Contemporary Literature” – instructor: Antonia Grousdanidou [Dept. of Modern Languages and Literatures]
  • “Surgery, Herbs, and Amulets: A Social History of Ancient Medicine” – instructor: Dr. Lingxin Zhang [Dept. of Near Eastern Studies]
  • “Medieval Irish Sagas” – instructor: Daniel McClurkin [Dept. of English]
  • “Reading Poetry for Everyday Life” – instructor: Martin Michalek [Dept. of Classics]
  • “Letters from Prison—Homegrown Terrorism and Basque Nationalism” – instructor: Lauren Mushro [Dept. of Modern Languages and Literatures]
  • “Introducing Gilgamesh” – instructor: Michael Chapin [Dept. of Near Eastern Studies]
  • “Science and Utopian Fiction” – instructor: Mitchell Cram [Dept. of English]

Summer 2020

  • “Modern Painting and Prostitution” – instructor: Meghaa Ballakrishnen [Art History]
  • “How to Read Poetry” – instructor: Joel Childers [English]
  • “Science and Utopian Fiction” – instructor: Mitchell Cram [English]
  • “What is Knowledge?” – instructor: Cara Cummings [Philosophy]
  • “Discriminating Taste: Understanding the French Approach to Fashion, Conversation, Food, and Art” – instructor: Nicole Karam [Modern Languages and Literatures]
  • “Latinx Immigration and Literature: Interpreting the Border” – instructor: Alexandra Lossada [English]
  • “The Northern Irish Troubles: Literature of Conflict” – instructor: Daniel McClurkin [English]
  • “Bad Mothers in Literature, On Screen, and Across History” – instructor: Sarah Ross [English]
  • “Conceptualizing the Pandemic: Emergency Humanities during COVID-19” – instructor: Arpan Roy [Anthropology]
  • “Astronomy and Astrology in Ancient Egypt” – instructor: Lingxin Zhang [Near Eastern Studies]