Norwich Humanities Initiative will tap power of humanities to develop citizen scholars

As they head through their academic majors and, eventually, toward graduation, Norwich University students may ask themselves “Who am I?” — A future biologist? Mathematician? Engineer? Military personnel member? A new humanities initiative might answer, “Yes, you may be all of those things, but first, you’re human.” 

And humans, and humanities, are full of perspectives, as the Norwich Humanities Initiative will show.

The initiative, aided by a $35,000 Humanities Connections Planning Grant from the National Endowment for the Humanities, will teach students to consider new perspectives through interdisciplinary courses. College of Liberal Arts faculty will pair with faculty from the College of Science and Mathematics and the College of Professional Schools to team teach the first round of courses, which includes one in the fall semester — Narrative Medicine — and three in the spring semester—Geoarchaeology of Lost Cities; True Crime; and Game Theory: Art of Strategy. 

“Our faculty has such creative ideas and such a desire to try new things. We got an exceptional number of high-quality proposals.”Amy Woodbury Tease, director, Norwich Humanities Initiative

Professor Amy Woodbury Tease landed the NEH grant to launch the initiative and will work to secure an implementation grant to sustain it. She said a faculty team received 17 proposals for courses after a campuswide call and evaluated them for interdisciplinary scope, intellectual quality and academic rigor before choosing the pilot four. 

Choosing was hard, she said. 

“Our faculty has such creative ideas and such a desire to try new things,” said Woodbury Tease, who will serve as the initiative’s director. “We got an exceptional number of high-quality proposals.”

Woodbury Tease said the initiative aligns with Norwich’s 200-year old mission to develop students into “useful citizens” and provide a liberal arts education that will “enable graduates to act as well as to think.” Furthermore, she added, the initiative fits Norwich founder Capt. Alden Partridge’s desire to present STEM learning (science, technology, engineering, and math) alongside humanities. 

An initiative goal, Woodbury Tease said, is helping students approach problem solving from several routes. Degree program course demands, she said, can make it easy for students to get siloed — engineering majors, for example, might interact mostly with other engineering majors. But these courses will mix students from different academic disciplines and encourage collaboration. Team-teaching professors will model collaboration up close. 

“Being invited to explore a problem through someone else’s area of expertise makes you a better citizen, but also a better scholar,” Woodbury Tease said, “because it means you’re open to channeling your own discipline in a new way. You may be looking at a problem and say, ‘You know what? Maybe my approach isn’t the right one in this case.’” 

Dr. Patricia Ferreira, an English professor who will co-teach Narrative Medicine with Professor Paulette Thabault, the School of Nursing director, said humanities training can pay off in a plethora of nonmedical careers. A student call-in contestant on a recent episode of the NPR news quiz show “Wait, Wait…Don’t Tell Me,” showed this, she said, by replying to the “What do you do?” question by saying he worked for a bank but was majoring in history and English. The response made the live audience laugh and momentarily vexed host Peter Sagal.

Sagal’s reaction suggested he found the humanities and banking an incongruous pair. Ferreira didn’t. 

“Banks need those kinds of students who can think creatively and jump out of the boxes they’re in,” she said, “They learn more than one answer to problems, they learn to assess which answer is going to work best. The ability to think of more than one answer is really needed now, in many professions.” 



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