By Eryn Finnegan Editor-in-Chief
After months of anticipation and speculation, UMF professors, students and community members gathered in Emery Arts Center to learn which culturally significant works will be taught next school year as the next phase of the New Commons Project begins.
The project was initially met with 155 submissions from 12 counties across the state. From 155, the submissions were narrowed down to 25, and from there to the final 12. The final 12 submissions range from novels to television shows to albums and are meant to showcase cultural works that Farmington and the state of Maine in general finds important and that needs to be taught now.
The final 12 nominations are the American Canoe, Persuasion by Jane Austen, The Simpsons, poetry collection Dirt Road Home by Cheryl Savageau, jazz musician John Coltrane’s album Alabama, street artist Banksy, The Wire, Beethoven’s 6th Symphony, the FEDCO Seed Catalogue, rapper Kendrick Lamar’s album DAMN, James Baldwin’s essay The Fire Next Time, and the novel Inside Out and Back Again by Thanhha Lai.
Kristen Case, a UMF English professor and the head of the New Commons Project, commented that almost every selection had the aim of teaching the audience a lesson. From there, the submissions were narrowed down to two categories: those that teach us lessons such as raising awareness about a political or social issue, and those that teach us values such as love and especially empathy.
“You told us that these works should teach us how to empathize with one another,” Case said as she beamed at the audience. “You told us we should reflect on powerful social critiques, such as James Baldwin’s essay and Kendrick Lamar’s album, acknowledge works that were groundbreaking for their time, such as the canoe, or that they should be personally helpful.”
Astra Pierson, the student representative on the New Commons committee, also commented on some of the works, noting that many works held regional significance as well as personal beauty.
“You told us that we need these works because they teach us about the world, break traditional forms, exercise freedoms, and take risks,” Pierson said. “These nominations provide critiques, speak to this place [Maine] and landscape and people, and help us make it through the hard times.”
Christine Darrohn, another English professor, is optimistic about the works chosen and is thrilled about the broad range of mediums and people represented.
“I’m so excited to see so many different ethnicities and countries and orientations represented!” Darrohn said. “There are so many different pieces and the things you could teach about each of them are endless.”
Prior to the unveiling of the final 12, UMF hosted poet and essayist Lewis Hyde, who spoke “in defense of the cultural commons” and offered his insights into the project, noting that some of the works may run into copyright issues.
Starting in September, The New Commons Project will be taught amongst various entry level courses, as well as its own dedicated class: “Topics in Humanities: The New Commons,” listed as HUM-277H on the mycampus schedule planner under the category “humanities.” According to Case, the methods of teaching these works will range anywhere from writing essays to performing music in concerts based off of the material.
The New Commons Project is made possible by a grant from the Mellon Foundation and the Maine Humanities Council.
To learn more about The New Commons nominations, visit the website at http://newcommons.umf.maine.edu/.
By Eryn Finnegan Editor-in-Chief
UMF recently announced that it will offer a unique array of summer courses called the Nature Term, which will focus on the outdoors of western Maine across multiple subjects.
The Nature Term is the result of a collaborative effort between Academic Provost Eric Brown and Associate Provost and Dean of Arts & Sciences Nic Koban. The term includes both academic and recreational classes that will begin on June 1st. Koban called the program “an attempt at increasing summer enrollment.”
“Eric Brown and I were kicking around a bunch of different ideas,” Koban said. “What Eric had in mind was something to attract people to come to western Maine. We have mountains and lakes and all sorts of opportunities. He felt we could offer some classes that would take advantage of Maine’s natural beauty.”
So far, the program boasts 19 classes that range from four week academic courses such as three creative writing workshops in fiction, poetry and memoir, Environmental Art and Ecological Psychology, to one week recreational activities such as hiking and canoeing. Students will be able to take some classes simultaneously, such as an academic course in the morning followed by a recreational activity in the afternoon.
“We wanted a really flexible four weeks where students can come and learn how to fly fish or learn to kayak and have it coupled with a more traditional academic experience,” Brown said. “What if you could take a four credit writing course and work on your novel in the morning? What if in the afternoon you could go hiking or biking or fly fishing? Those things can mutually inform one another.”
Koban is particularly optimistic about a one week full immersion Swahili course in preparation for a travel course to Tanzania and a course in filmmaking offered by Assistant Professor of Creative Writing Bill Mesce, noting that the latter would be difficult to have during the regular academic year.
“What I love about [Bill’s course] is that the class will go through the entire filmmaking process. They have to write the script and scope out locations and film it and edit it, all in four weeks,” Koban said. “That’s hard to do in the winter when you only meet every other day. I think it’s really neat and I think people would love it.”
Koban and Brown both emphasized that the program will be open to people beyond the UMF community, with Brown also hopeful that the focus on Maine’s natural beauty will pull students and community members away from online classes and back to campus.
“We’re really trying to leverage our place and bring students to campus and people around the state,” Brown said. “They may already be on the way to Maine, they may just be driving through or visiting family for a few weeks. Either way, this can offer a rich learning experience.”
Brown added that in addition to these new courses, some are expanded versions of existing courses. “One of the first things I had Nic [Koban] do was work on this term based on what we were doing already. There were already a lot of courses that aligned with the [natural] theme like field science courses and nature writing, but they weren’t concentrated or motivated,” Brown said. “We worked to build the content around the idea of being outside and wanted to create new content.”
Brown and Koban are looking forward to finding out how many people will enroll in the program, which courses will be popular and how the classes will overlap.
“I’m interested to see how many students are truly taking advantage of the mix of classes,” Brown said. “We hope it becomes a mainstay. I’m interested to see how this structure’s first iteration works. I can’t wait to see it come to life.”
For more information, contact Nic Koban at email@example.com.
By Eryn Finnegan – Assistant Editor
UMF recently hosted a symposium to celebrate the legacy of author Henry David Thoreau in honor of his 200th birthday. The event featured guest speakers and UMF professors presenting a roundtable discussion, scholarly and creative works and a documentary.
Thoreau was an environmentalist and transcendentalist who most notably authored the book Walden and the essay Civil Disobedience. Thoreau’s works often investigated the environment and politics, and how people interacted with both.
Kristen Case, a UMF English professor and mastermind behind the symposium, believes Thoreau is still a relevant voice in society today. Upon realizing that UMF had nothing planned to honor the revolutionary writer, Case embraced the task of putting together this symposium.
“[The symposium] was an occasion to introduce the community to ideas and scholarship and activism that is still happening around his work,” Case said. “I wanted to show students that this stuff isn’t just [something to] read for a class, but it’s a real conversation that is happening out in the world.”
Case joined music professor Steve Pane for a collaborative performance that showcased their connections to Thoreau’s work and ideas. Case read her poetry, inspired by Thoreau’s journal entries, and Pane accompanied her on piano. Pane also performed a solo piece.
Filmmaker Huey, director of the documentary Henry David Thoreau: Surveyor of the Soul, shared many of Case’s thoughts, particularly about bringing Thoreau to a contemporary audience.
“In so many documentaries about historical figures, you never make it much past when they die,” Huey said. “I didn’t want to do that… I wanted to talk about the impact he had today.”
Surveyor of the Soul featured interviews from The Walden Project, a youth group aimed at teaching high schoolers Thoreau, Thoreau scholars and a fitting soundtrack comprised of “tunes Thoreau would have sang around the fire.”
Guest speaker James Finley, a Thoreau scholar and English professor at Texas A&M University, echoed similar sentiments about Thoreau and his legacy.
“He sees that environmentalism and social justice are very much related to each other,” said Finley. “I think in this era of climate change, [he’s] more relevant than ever.”
Case stated that she seizes any opportunity to teach Thoreau, saying, “he’s a great and timeless writer,” and that “he has a particularly resonant message for people who are college aged, who are thinking about how to spend their lives.”
Huey and Finley both attested to this point with their own experiences of how Thoreau came into their lives.
“He was the real deal to me,” Huey said. “Even though he had been dead for over 100 years, when I read [his poem] Smoke in college, everything just clicked.”
Huey went on to add that “he [wrote] about things that concern young people.”
“I first read Thoreau in high school,” Finley said. “Walden got me thinking in ways I hadn’t before. I needed that as a 16-year-old.”
Case was overall thrilled with how the symposium went and considers it a success.
“People have stopped and talked to me and sent me emails,” Case said. “I’m glad it was a diverse day, a lot of disciplines and a lot of different forms of presentation [were represented]. I wanted it to have something for everybody.”
Kalyn Grover, a sophomore Rehabilitation Services major, said that although she was required to go to the event, she still found it interesting and enjoyable.
“I went to see Steve Pane’s performance. I thought it was interesting how he related his art form to an entirely different kind of art,” Grover said.
Case stated that she will be traveling to Paris and Sweden to take part in more Thoreau celebrations, and noted that similar events are happening all over the world.
“I think Thoreau is relevant for a lot of reasons, and I hope the symposium highlighted some of those things,” Case said.