Apocalypse now! Humanities course explores the theme through history and culture
D uring the Summer 2020 Semester at HFC (which begins Tuesday, June 9), Dr. Michael Hill will teach Humanities 101: Introduction to the Humanities. As a sign of the times, the theme of this section of HUM 101 is “the apocalypse as represented in human culture.”
The goal of this course is “to increase students’ knowledge of the humanities and introduce students to the major figures, historical periods, and themes in the history of humankind.”
“I prefer courses designed around a theme, because they are more engaging both for me and students. In this case, we use apocalyptic culture throughout the ages to explore era-specific, genre-specific, culturally relevant, and identity-based representations within the study of the humanities. Our first topic, for example, is the flood myth. We read multiple ancient flood myths, compare stories about Noah’s Ark across the three Abrahamic religions, and examine how floods and the Noah story are used as symbols in pop culture,” said Hill, who has taught English and humanities at HFC for 14 years.
In the Winter 2020 Semester, Hill’s humanities course covered topics pertaining to flood myths from around the world:
· Traditional deluge myths and the Abrahamic flood stories
· The Sunday school song “Arky Arky”
· The song “I Hear the Rain” by the Violent Femmes
· The Ark Encounter in Williamstown, KY
· The flood as an environmental message, “Noah Warns Us”
· Editorial cartoons using the Great Flood as subject matter
“The course is based on covering human prediction and culture through multiple apocalypses. Last semester, we went through the deluge, to millenarianism, to war/nuclear war, to genocide, to natural apocalypses, and to zombies,” said Hill. “We used the apocalypse to explore culture in general, not just to study the apocalypse. In the war section, for instance, we cover the philosophy of ‘Just War Theory’ as we talk about how war might destroy us all.”
These topics will be covered in the summer semester as well, said Hill.
“If the apocalypse comes, beep me” – Buffy Summers
One aspect of the course that Hill says students particularly enjoy is the mix of traditional humanities genres like ancient literature, classical music, and art found in museums, and popular culture.
“In HUM 101, we study works like war comic books, pop music about the end times, and TV shows like Buffy the Vampire Slayer (which dealt with the apocalypse on a weekly basis) and The Walking Dead as cultural productions that are as important as any classic painting or symphony,” said Hill.
No stranger to the apocalypse
Hill has been teaching classes designed around the apocalypse since 1999. He earned his bachelor’s and master’s degrees in English from Eastern Kentucky University in Richmond, KY and his doctorate in education from the University of Toledo in Ohio. He also completed graduate coursework at Wayne State University, where he first taught a class about the apocalypse.
“I’ve done the theme of apocalypse a few times in composition courses since then, but I figured Humanities 101 was a perfect opportunity to revive it,” he said. “I had no idea how relevant it would become.”
When students walked into Hill’s HUM 101 class at the beginning of last semester, they were bewildered at first. Then again, says Hill with a laugh, students are often a bit bewildered when they take his classes.
“They quickly adapted and went with the flow. I asked my Winter 2020 students if I should continue using the theme of the apocalypse for Summer 2020 and they overwhelmingly said yes. Not only did they enjoy it, they said the course helped them process some of the stresses, worries, and culture of the current global pandemic,” said Hill.
Humanities 101 coursework
HUM 101 has no prerequisites. Student work consists of a reading/experiential journal for each unit of the course, two exams, one project/essay, and one informal presentation.
“There is a lot of work, but most of the work is self-regulated by the students. Here’s an interesting outcome of this approach: My Winter 2020 HUM 101 class was one of the most engaged, productive courses I’ve ever had. Students wanted to do the work, because they enjoyed learning for learning’s sake. Ultimately, I try to make Humanities 101 an enjoyable, engaging course rather than a difficult grind,” said Hill.
Because classes are only being offered online for the summer semester, students will access many online resources and lecture experiences, as well as opportunities to discuss those experiences on discussion boards.
“The online version of Humanities 101 will be an exciting, multimedia experience,” said Hill. “HUM 101 is a great course to help students learn about the cultures that impact their lives and to help them learn how their own interests and abilities fit into college study. My version of HUM 101 might well help students know the danger signs if our current apocalypse gets any more... well... apocalyptic.”
There is still time to sign up for Humanities 101 and other Summer 2020 courses at HFC. The semester starts online June 9. Register here. If you are not yet enrolled as an HFC student, we welcome new students and guest students.