Humanities Course Descriptions

PLEASE NOTE: Humanities Courses for the upcoming 2022 Session will be posted in March 2022. The following are courses, information, and some of the seminars that were offered during the 2021 Session.

Up to 140 humanities students will be selected from among a large pool of highly qualified applicants representing all regions and demographics of the commonwealth. Applications are initiated through your school guidance office and gifted coordinator. If interested in our SRGS program, see those persons.

The Governor's School for the Humanities encourages students to explore the ways that "modern society requires, encourages, and restricts individuals as they seek realization of their creative potential. Students explore [the] humanities in the digital age through history, literature, philosophy, anthropology, political science, economics, sociology, psychology, and media." 

A goal of the Humanities program is to ameliorate partisan divisiveness and promote civil discourse in our community. Our program brings together students of varied ideological perspectives and encourages enlightened conversation through diverse topical courses, seminars, guest lectures, and informal discussion groups. 

United by our 2022  theme of "Community & Solitude", this year's multidisciplinary academic programming allows for both depth and breadth of inquiry.

Core and Afternoon Seminar Courses

Humanities students participate in two morning ("core") courses that meet for the duration of camp. Core courses encourage sustained study about focused topics in the humanities.

Additionally, Humanities students enroll in four differnt week-long courses ("afternoon seminars") that meet after the lunch hour. Topics for afternoon seminar courses rotate weekly, thus encouraging Humanities participants to explore an even greater variety of subjects in anthropological, sociological, philosophical, historical, political and religious thought. 

More information about the 2022 Humanities curriculum can be found below. Please note however, that this schedule may be subject to change.

Core (Morning) Course Descriptions

Participants in the Humanities program enroll in two "core" courses; these courses meet Monday through Friday during all four weeks of camp.

Comedy and Community: Comedy’s Role in Bringing us Together and Defining What Makes Us Human

Instructor: Dr. Matthew Turner

Although comedy has always existed in the margins of society, it is central to our human experience.  Since the earliest days of Greek theater, communities have gathered to share the experience of laughter.  Comic figures are frequently marginal characters, fools or outcasts who do not fit into mainstream society or its narratives.  Yet these marginal characters bring us together as a society.  Comedy has frequently served as a social corrective that helps define what is acceptable and what is not.  It points out follies and failings and mocks them.  In this way, it helps us define what it means to be human, what is allowed and what isn’t and how we should act as part of society.  During the era of COVID-19 people were separated as never before with lockdowns, masking, and a media mania that painted others like disease vectors instead of humans.  We were no longer allowed to gather at the theater. Despite that, we still were able to establish and enhance communities with the sharing of comedy online through text, audio, and video, and strengthen and create new communities of people relating to each other. In this class we will study comedy to understand how comedy functions, creates meaning, and creates community.  We will explore philosophical theories of comedy (even though they are rarely funny) starting in antiquity and moving up through the present era with the study of semiotics.  We will look at examples of comedy in literature, the visual arts, sculpture, music, theater, and film, as well as on the Internet.  Students will be able to strive not only to understand and appreciate the structure and logic (or illogic) of comedy and its role as creator of community in society, but will also work to create and demonstrate or perform their own comic works.


Emotional Literacy, Fluency, and Intelligence

Instructor: Dr. Tay Keong Tan

Emotions are a vital and irreplaceable aspect of our natural intelligence. They are timely and faithful messengers that offer important information for living our lives, enhance our social skills, relationships, and professional competencies, and strengthen the understanding of ourselves and the world around us. The course uses multidisciplinary perspectives and case studies to explore the world of emotions. It applies psychological analyses, neuroscience discoveries, and esoteric arts to enhance the understanding of the nature, functions, and impact of emotions. Topics include the language of emotions, their connection to our human needs, and the strategies for their effective regulation and expression.


Environmental Heroes

Instructor: Dr. Laura Vernon

Students will explore what it means to put a human face on environmental issues by studying a host of environmental issues from humanities and social sciences perspectives. During the course, students will learn about environmental heroes and the impact their work has had on protecting the environment, inspiring important debates, and influencing public policy. The course will end with students seeing themselves as environmental heroes and the ways they can individually take action that will collectively make a difference in the places where they live, learn, and play.


Game Studies: History, Theory, Culture, and Design

Instructor: Dr. Jamie McDaniel

This course will focus on the history, theory, culture, and design of video games and tabletop (board) games. Students will develop game prototypes using a variety of game mechanics, examine the persuasive elements of “serious” games that use rhetorical strategies to make arguments, investigate the evolution of games in different countries, and explore the influence games have on representations of gender, race, and disability in contemporary culture. Activities will include:

  • Developing a game prototype using The White Box, a learning, planning, and prototyping tool for tabletop game designers co-produced by Gameplaywright and Atlas Games
  • Playing and analyzing serious games, such as the anti-advergame McDonald’s Video Game, which critiques the necessity of corrupt business practices perpetuated by international corporations
  • Compare and contrast game traditions in different parts of the world, such as Ameritrash and Eurogames
  • Explore how games neglect to represent diverse identities or depict them in primarily negative ways
  • Examine events and texts in contemporary gaming culture, such as the recent Gamergate controversy as well as the popular blog Not Your Mama’s Gamer

Political Engagement: Building Political Communities from the Local to the Global

Instructor: Dr. Scott Dunn

This class will focus on the role that citizens play in the democratic process, with the practical goal of helping students become more engaged and inspire their fellow students to do the same.

We will explore questions such as the following:

  • What responsibility do we have to engage with the political system?
  • What kinds of participation are effective and appropriate? 
  • Why is it important to engage at all levels of the political process?
  • Are younger people less engaged with politics than older people?
  • What is the best way to discuss politics with people who disagree with us?
  • Is the recent upturn in political engagement the start of a new trend, or a short-term response to current events?

In addition to exploring the role that individuals play in the democratic process, this course will examine structural issues that may encourage or inhibit political participation such as gerrymandering, political polarization, and changes to the media landscape.We will examine these topics by exploring a wide range of sources, ranging from classical conceptions of democracy to recent social scientific research. Students will come away from this class with a better understanding of the political system and the role that citizens play in it. The class will also collaborate on ideas to get people more involved in the political process.

Solitude: The Self, Community, and Ideal Life

Mr. Michael Zarella

 “That is why I go into solitude—so as not to drink out of everybody’s cistern. When I am among the many I live as the many do, and I do not think as I really think.”

~ Friedrich Nietzsche, Daybreak

 “Remember that the solitary mortal is certainly luxurious, probably superstitious, and possibly mad: the mind stagnates for want of employment, grows morbid, and is extinguished like a candle in foul air.”

~ Anecdotes of the late Samuel Johnson, Hester Lynch Thrale Piozzi

 Great thinkers from Plato and Lao Tzu to Wordsworth and Virginia Woolf have left us with a variety of opinions about the conditions, aims, and value of solitude. This course will explore these various conceptions of solitude to examine what they imply about the self, community, and the ideal life. We will also draw from our own experiences of solitude and community as we reflect upon what various conceptions of solitude imply about the kind of beings we are: our mind and body, our nature as distinct but social beings, the ways we flourish, and more.

Afternoon Seminar Course List

Humanities participants enroll in four different afternoon seminar courses--one for each week camp is in session. Topics rotate weekly.

Afternoon Block Courses & Seminars

Advertising in a Digital Society

Dr. Courtney Bosworth

Digital Content Creation: How do you create content in the digital world to achieve communication objectives? Students will learn about the different models of communication including AIDA and ACCA that build the audience from awareness and attention, to being interested in the communication, and finally agreement with the communicator. Students will design informative and persuasive digital messages using various online tools.

Apocalypse, Utopias, and the Future of Community

Mr. Johannes Grow

Concerns about democracy, pandemics, climate change, utopias/dystopias, and the future of society and communities are not recent phenomena. While current problems ranging from the pandemic to concerns about the very future of our political communities seem novel to us who are experiencing them, science fiction literature and film have grappled with some of these very challenges for quite some time. We will read, discuss, and watch some classic and modern science fiction literature and film and then investigate how the future imagined by these texts and film can help us navigate the present. The importance of science and political fiction is perhaps that it demonstrates that our future is not set in stone.

A Brief History of Rock ‘n’ Roll

Dr. Caroline Alphin

We will explore rock ‘n’ roll in historic and cultural contexts to consider the effects it has had on community, social identity, diversity, power, traditions, and cultural appropriation. This course will also consider the creative and aesthetic influences in human experience and cultural expression, along with significant music figures, movements, and trends in artistic, political, social, technological, and industrial developments in the U.S.

Caring, Fighting, and Thinking: Will Robots Make Life Better for Humans? 

Dr. Caroline Alphin

We will approach Human and Robot Interaction (HRI) through a humanities lens, borrowing from English, film studies, political philosophy, moral philosophy, and philosophy of mind.  Specifically, we will discuss whether robots will make life better for humans as we think about ageing and care work, wage work, making war safer, and human consciousness, among other topics.  

Comedy in the Age of the Internet

Dr. Matthew Turner

 In this class we will study comedy in the age of the internet to learn how comedy functions and creates meaning.  We will explore how comedy on the internet compares to the existing comic tradition and to discover if comedy is really different in the age of the Internet.

Death Rituals in India

Dr. Eric Rothgery

This seminar exposes students to practices not often seen in America—death rituals in India.  We examine 5,000-year-old Hindu cremation practices in Varanasi, Muslim families shrouding and burying corpses in graveyards in Hyderabad, and Buddhist “sky burials” in Nepal.  We see how communities prepare for the long solitude of death.


Mr. Michael Zarella

Friendship is a special relationship, but what constitutes genuine friendship and how does it relate to other intimate relationships? This course will explore conceptions of friendship from thinkers such as Aristotle, Emerson, and Simone de Beauvoir to help us think through what friendship implies about us as individuals and social beings. Along with exploring the nature of friendship as such, we’ll discuss the nature of friendship in the age of social media.

From Radio to Podcasting: Changes in the Art of Audio Storytelling

Dr. West Bowers

Through the recent rise of popularity in podcasting, audio storytelling has experienced a renaissance unseen since the birth of radio. This course examines the history of storytelling through various audio formats, the development of podcast genres, and production techniques used to create high-quality podcast stories. We will learn how to tell stories in various ways with a focus on how to best present information in a way that is highly informative, entertaining to listeners and leads to changes in the ways the listener views the world.

The Life and Legacy of Rachel Carson

Dr. Laura Vernon

Students will study the life and legacy of Rachel Carson (1907-1964) and perform a close reading of selected texts from her books. Her most influential book was Silent Spring, published in 1962 to warn the public about the environmental and human health effects of pesticides. Silent Spring is now considered the “classic” that launched America’s modern environmental movement and made ecology a popular cause of our time. [Not recommended for students taking Environmental Heroes with Dr. Vernon as a “core” course.]

Literature and the Ethics of Progressing Technologies

Andrew Akers

It was not long ago that you had to wait an entire workday just to speak with your significant other or your family, but now you can speak to the world, almost instantly, with the swipe of a finger. The past fifty years have shown us an explosion of rapidly developing technology that affords us luxuries, opportunities, and conveniences of which our ancestors could only dream. In this course, we’ll briefly survey some literary classics and films that explore the complexities of future technologies that are quickly becoming everyday norms for us. Particularly, we’ll discover the ethical concerns and curiosities these authors/creators explored in the realm of imagination and apply them to our changing reality.

Model United Nations

Dr. Paige Tan

In Model UN, we will work on international affairs, research, negotiation, leadership, collaboration, and public speaking. Then, we cap off the week with our own mini–Model United Nations where students simulate a United Nations committee by representing a country and negotiating solutions to real-world problems.  Continuing with Model UN after Governor's School, students could form a club at their high school or join a club at university and travel to multi-school conferences and compete for awards.  Students and parents can learn more about what Model UN is through this United Nations Association of the USA video:

Mother Nature’s Impeccable Personality and Ingenious Practices

Dr. Tay Keong Tan

Seminar Description: In Nature, all things are interdependent and intricately connected as a community. Students will explore how Mother Nature keeps everything in balance, through Her many ingenious and sustainable designs from eons of natural selection. They will discover how Her practices and innovations can be adopted to solve humanity’s problems.

Music as Poetry: Exploring Meaning and Message in Song

Mr. Andrew Akers

Musician Tom T. Hall is credited for the viewpoint that “a song is a poem set to music.” While most students react to poetry with a grunt of frustration, almost everyone loves a good song. This is because we love the way music speaks to us, and we love the way music makes us feel. In this course, we’ll listen to the best music from the past and present (all selected by you), and we’ll study just what it is about these songs, the sound they convey, and words they speak to us that has such a profound effect on everything from our thoughts to our emotions. At the end of this course, you should leave with a new perspective on music, poetry, and the way in which humanity interacts with them.

Politics and Pop Culture

Dr. Scott Dunn

From protest songs to “The West Wing” to “Saturday Night Live,” politics has always made for good entertainment. We’ll examine the role entertainment plays in the political process and the effects it has on audience members. Most importantly, we’ll watch some fun TV and listen to some fun music!

Sport for Social Change

Dr. Tiesha Martin

This weeklong course is intended to introduce students to the many ways that sport can serve as a vehicle for social change. Through class discussion, readings, and in class activities, the course will provide students with an overview of how sport can be and has been traditionally used to address social issues at the local, national and international level. Additionally, this course will familiarize students with practical aspects of sport for social change programming. Topics will include sport and gender equity, sport and race and ethnicity, disability sport, sport and health inequality, and corporate social responsibility in sport

Truth in Advertising

Dr. Courtney Bosworth

What is truth in advertising?  Does advertising really seek to deceive its audience?  What is “puffery” and is it really just a form of deception?  Can advertising really make us do things without us knowing?  Is subliminal advertising real?  And are there ethical standards in the advertising industry?  Students will learn how to identify what advertisers are trying to achieve through communication and to understand who they are targeting with those messages.

Viewing Community through Documentary

Dr. West Bowers

With newfound popularity on streaming services, documentaries are more accessible than ever before. This seminar will look at documentaries that encourage viewers to change the way they view their communities and the world. Through screenings and discussion, we will explore the potential for progress that documentaries have to offer.

Wither the Community? Social Capital in the Age of COVID-19

Dr. Chapman Rackaway

Online trolling, protests turning into riots, and a creeping acceptance for authoritarian government have made many think that the political world is place where they are not welcome.  Why have we lost so much of our faith in our neighbors and our society?  This course will explore social capital, the sense of trust and community that makes democracies strong, why we are losing it, and how we may reinvigorate the social bonds that make American democracy strong.