Thirty-two students from three colleges at Cornell will make up the first cohort of Humanities Scholars in a program that will start in the fall, offered by the College of Arts and Sciences.
The rising juniors – who come from A&S, the College of Agriculture and Life Sciences and the College of Engineering – are majoring or minoring in 20 disciplines in all, and have an interest in humanities research.
“We had a very robust number of applicants with interests that range from music to economics to archaeology to mechanical engineering, which is fantastic,” said Durba Ghosh, professor of history and faculty director of the Humanities Scholars Program.
Students in the program undertake independent, interdisciplinary undergraduate research in the humanities. Program faculty and postdoctoral associates provide a supportive community through a series of curated courses, structured mentorship, special programming and research opportunities and funding.
Alexa Saylan ’22, a comparative literature major, said research in the humanities is even more important in today’s world, given divisions within nations and the global pandemic of COVID-19.
“In times of anxiety and sadness, we turn to the humanities – music, film, the arts — more than ever,” she said. “And the humanities teach us to appreciate diversity and differences, but also to understand that we’re unified in a lot of ways.”
Humanities Scholars will take part in a gateway seminar and mid-level seminars focused on research methods, and complete a capstone project they’ll present at a conference each May.
“We have also cross-listed courses that we think meet the learning goals of the program – courses in which students are asked to do oral presentations, original research and projects that call on them to think and write critically,” Ghosh said.
Students have access to research funding and summer stipends if they’ve accepted unpaid summer internships, and they will have space to work at the A.D. White House. The program, funded through an anonymous $6 million alumni gift, is the first to offer undergraduates the opportunity to immerse themselves in the work of Cornell’s Society for the Humanities.
“The humanities are the story of other people’s creations. They are eye-opening and I wake up every day and feel the effects of that,” said Clara Drimmer ’22, a humanities scholar who is majoring in history. “It’s kind of amazing to see there’s a community of people who value the same things I value.”
Drimmer and Saylan are students in Ghosh’s humanities research methods class this semester; they say it has helped them feel more confident to begin their own research projects.
“I am appreciating that research is more of a dialogue than some glorious end product,” Saylan said. “It’s having the ability to continue to understand ourselves and the world we’re living in. The process of research is a journey.”
While their formal work begins in the fall, Ghosh and staff have been working to create virtual events this spring semester to help the students get to know each other.
“This is a painful time but I think a lot of interesting literature and creative projects will come out of this,” Drimmer said. “I hadn’t thought of this time as something to be examined, but this pandemic puts things in perspective. It gives us a chance to examine our privilege and think about what we need versus what other people need.”
Kathy Hovis is a writer for the College of Arts and Sciences.