The Human(ities) Experience

Hampshire alums have used their backgrounds in the humanities to build a wide variety of innovative careers. That includes returning to the academic sphere to themselves teach the humanities, and in ways often strongly influenced by their studies at the College.

Arielle Saiber 89F
Arielle Saiber 89F
, an associate professor of romance languages at Bowdoin College, was asked to build its Italian program, a task she says she’s enjoyed immensely. “The teaching I do here is definitely inspired by my professors at Hampshire and the way courses were run there,” she says. “My goal as a professor-scholar is to give students the opportunity to take responsibility for their learning. I design my assignments to give them the chance to take ownership of the material to which they’re being exposed, and to become serious critical thinkers.”

Saiber came to Hampshire intent on becoming a physician, but it wasn’t long before her interests led her in a different direction.

“After my first semester, Hampshire helped me realize that the questions I was really interested in were ‘whys’ and not ‘hows,’” she says. “I loved science courses, but I saw I needed to explore more-abstract, unanswerable questions.” She ended up studying philosophy and added Italian literature to the mix.

Passionate about the Italian language and culture since high school, she took courses at Smith College that cemented her interest and led her to spend her third year at the University of Bologna. That decision was reinforced by her interaction with literature and critical theory professor Mary Russo.

“Here I was at Hampshire, one of the newest colleges in the United States, with a desire to go to one of Europe’s oldest,” says Saiber. “I did four philosophy courses there. It was amazing, and Mary was a huge support in preparing me for that year.”

Russo also inspired her to think about academe as a profession, she says: “Many of the courses I’ve taught at Bowdoin have been inspired by those of Mary Russo, as well as by her vision for critical analysis and cross-disciplinary exchange.”

Saiber brings to her teaching a variety of approaches, ranging from utilizing canonical and traditional methodologies and content, to employing the newest and most experimental.

“Because I went to seven schools before ninth grade, as my family moved a lot, I became quite aware of different pedagogies and teaching styles. I can’t help but think about the ways teaching and learning happen,” she says.

She was certain Hampshire was the college she wanted to attend. “I was fascinated by the curriculum and the idea of a self-motivated and -designed education,” she says. “Even though I loved formal, structured learning and tradition—two things that took me to Yale for my PhD—I loved that Hampshire allowed me to explore the world of knowledge in multiple, varied ways.”

Julie Beth Napolin 96F
For Julie Beth Napolin 96F, teaching at Eugene Lang College at the New School for Liberal Arts in New York has been something of a return to the environment she experienced at Hampshire.

“My students are very similar to the kind of student I was, so it’s easy to relate to them,” she says.

Hampshire wasn’t always easy for her, and it wasn’t until she started taking classes and collaborating with philosophy professor Christoph Cox, in her third year, that she began to feel less adrift in her academic focus.

“His work was foundational in a field that would now be called sound studies,” says Napolin. “I built my Div III with him, and was a TA for his course Contemporary Music and Musical Discourse, which became a book [Audio Culture, co-written with music professor Daniel Warner]. I use that book in my own class.”

Involvement in the alternative-music collective was a similarly important part of her Hampshire experience. “It made me realize that cultural objects are there for you to interact with. Good cultural critics are involved in the culture they’re writing about,” she says.

Napolin realized she wanted to be an academic during her fourth year at Hampshire, while interning with a record label in Chicago.

“I decided I didn’t want to be in the promotion or booking part of the music world,” she says. “I missed academics so much, and in Chicago I applied for the GRE. But putting together events still filters into my academic work when I’m putting together a syllabus or bringing speakers to campus.”

Teaching at the New School, she says, is “kind of the brass ring. In college and graduate school I studied a lot of work that came from there.

“The funny part is that I didn’t bank on how much it would feel like I was going back to Hampshire,” she says. “It’s fascinating. Every night there’s something to do in the city involving colleagues or students who are in the vanguard of their field. There’s constant collaboration. It’s a dream come true.”

Napolin says her varied interests at Hampshire didn’t prepare her for most traditional graduate programs. Fortunately, there was an upside to that fact: “Hampshire excellently prepared me for nontraditional programs that were very competitive,” she says. “When I got my job at the New School, I posted the Frank Sinatra song ‘My Way.’ At the end of the day, I did all the things you’re not supposed to do and it worked out. I got the job that needed that kind of person. Hampshire kind of determined my whole trajectory.”

Jason Middleton 91S, assistant professor of English and director of the film and media studies program at the University of Rochester, realized he wanted to pursue an academic career after becoming excited about learning again while at Hampshire.

“I think Hampshire is the only place I could have gone,” he says. “I didn’t like high school but I really liked college. It got me reading like I did as a kid, and helped me rediscover a lot of the pleasure and joy I had in learning.”

Much of that interest came from being pushed by his professors to research and analyze texts in ways he never had before.

“A big part of literature classes was reading secondary texts in areas such as feminism, Marxism, and deconstruction in addition to primary texts. All of that was a revelation to me,” he says. “It showed me new ways of thinking about art, literature, and the world around me. The great thing about the Hampshire education was that professors were asking us to rise to the challenge of reading and debating.”

He takes that approach in his own classrooms now.

“I look at a class not as a set of requirements, but as the start of an ongoing process. That structure worked for me,” says Middleton, whose latest book Documentary’s Awkward Turn: Cringe Comedy and Media Spectatorship, will be released in December. Much of the content, he says, was originally presented and fine-tuned in his course Documentary and Mock Documentary. “Hampshire definitely helped me figure out how to think about scholarship creatively and in an original way.”

Transforming Ideas, Pursuing Humanities
June 6–8, 2014

Make plans now to attend!
Workshops, roundtables, informal conversations, performances, and exhibits focus on a theme when Div IV brings together the Hampshire College community. For alums, Div IV is a chance to revisit the student experience and engage in the critical inquiry and intellectual excitement of studying at Hampshire. For everyone connected to the College, it’s a time to explore ideas and learn from one another.

This year’s theme is Transforming Ideas, Pursuing Humanities. Our keynote speaker will be Ken Burns 71F, a member of the national Commission on the Humanities and Social Sciences.

For more information, please contact the alumni and family relations office, at alumni@hampshire.edu or 413.559.6638.