Humanities Moments

Humanities Moments

We’ve all had “humanities moments” — when our lives were made richer, more poignant, and meaningful because of the insights the humanities provide.

Finding Freedom from the Familiar

Contributed by Hollis Robbins, Johns Hopkins University
Gilgamesh

Description

In 1979, at age 16, Hollis Robbins found herself enrolled at John Hopkins University. Though she was there as part of a program for girls who excelled in math, she signed up for a humanities lecture class. In that day’s class, drawing upon the epic of Gilgamesh, a guest lecturer expounded on the theory of “mimetic desire,” or the idea that we borrow our desires from other people. Unbeknownst to her, the speaker was none other than famed anthropological philosopher René Girard. Yet, Hollis disagreed. In her opinion, culled from reading stories such as those of Herman Melville and Charles Dickens, people actually like “very strange things.” They are drawn to things that are different from themselves.

Today, as a professor of literature, her conviction holds strong, supported by experiences such as teaching Melville’s Moby-Dick. She finds that contrary to present-day despair about their “slow attention spans,” students want to reach across centuries to worlds unfamiliar from their own.

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Title

Finding Freedom from the Familiar

Description

In 1979, at age 16, Hollis Robbins found herself enrolled at John Hopkins University. Though she was there as part of a program for girls who excelled in math, she signed up for a humanities lecture class. In that day’s class, drawing upon the epic of Gilgamesh, a guest lecturer expounded on the theory of “mimetic desire,” or the idea that we borrow our desires from other people. Unbeknownst to her, the speaker was none other than famed anthropological philosopher René Girard. Yet, Hollis disagreed. In her opinion, culled from reading stories such as those of Herman Melville and Charles Dickens, people actually like “very strange things.” They are drawn to things that are different from themselves.

Today, as a professor of literature, her conviction holds strong, supported by experiences such as teaching Melville’s Moby-Dick. She finds that contrary to present-day despair about their “slow attention spans,” students want to reach across centuries to worlds unfamiliar from their own.

Date

1979

Contributor

Hollis Robbins, Johns Hopkins University

Identifier

robbins-finding-freedom-from-familiar

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