Dean's Message 2014-2015

Faculty of Humanities

Dean's Message 2014-2015


William Wordsworth, one of my favourite English poets, arrived at Cambridge University in 1787 at age 17, and completed a BA in what we would call Humanities. In remembering that period of his life years later in his autobiographical poem The Prelude, Wordsworth describes his undergraduate experience this way. “Here,” he says,

                  have I retraced my life
Up to an eminence, and told a tale
Of matters which not falsely may be called
The glory of my youth. Of genius, power,
Creation and divinity itself
I have been speaking, for my theme has been
What passed within me....

Wordsworth is not exaggerating when he makes these epic claims for his experience — both inside and outside the classroom: it is part of what in the German tradition would be called Bildung, or formation, the way that a university education is supposed to form and indeed transform you.

That’s because in studying at university, you are steeping yourself in something that’s bigger and deeper and older than you are. In Humanities, that means language, literature, philosophy, classics, history, music, drama, art. All of them the stuff of “genius, power, / Creation and divinity itself.”

A Brock Humanities degree gives you that transformative experience — not just a body of knowledge but a gateway to life. Not just content but form. And not just skills but virtues that will last you a lifetime.

What I mean by that is that the critical skills you learn in Humanities may equip you to run a major bank, argue in court, respond in question period, teach or curate or design or direct (and these are all real-life examples of Humanities graduates); but the virtues I hope you discover at Brock are closer to what Sir Philip Sidney at the end of the 16th century saw as the “ending end of all earthly learning”: “virtuous action,” he called it, where virtuous evokes its root virtus as a kind of power in character. I think of it as the power to imagine, to express, to reason, to create, to love.

Do you know another word for virtuous action? It is simply our University’s motto, Surgite. It means push on, go forward in life, take what you experience here at Brock and go out into the world.

And there’s never been a better or more propitious time to do it. This year Brock turned 50 years old! We have retraced our life as a university up to an eminence here on the Niagara escarpment, and the prospect before us is awesome.

We are nearing completion in downtown St Catharines on the new home of our Marilyn I. Walker School of Fine and Performing Arts, and we are on track to open next year. We have just created a new program in interactive Game Design in conjunction with Niagara College, and will be accepting students for September 2015. We have a new program in Creative Writing, also starting in 2015, that combines practical workshops with digital technology. We are strengthening ties with our friends across the river at the University at Buffalo through our unique joint Master’s program in Canadian-American Studies.

And our centre of gravity is still in strong and caring teaching, innovative research, and community engagement, whether that community be the Niagara region, the country across the river, or the globe.

Wordsworth’s description of his experience at university resonates as much now in the 21st century as it did in the 18th. In its reflectiveness, its passion, and its epic ambition, it stands as a model for how a university education can be a life-changer. For you, and for the world you go into.

Stop by our booth at the Ontario Universities Fair on September 19-21 in Toronto. Then be sure to visit our beautiful campus on Fall Preview Day, Sunday, November 2 to have a tour, meet professors, and talk to our students.

And you’ll see for yourself the formative, the lasting, and indeed the virtuous power of the Humanities in action.

Douglas Kneale
Dean of Humanities


Dean Douglas Kneale