Dean’s message archive

What can we usefully say about the past many months, as we live through plague times?

While there has been so much turmoil and disruption, so much suffering and loss, one thing has become very clear indeed: How vitally important, how critical and necessary, the arts and Humanities really are. Could any of us have gotten through lockdowns without stories, and music, and art of all sorts? Would any of us have survived at all without the capacity to consider other human beings as our fellows, and to think of their stories and values and trajectories? This commitment to the human spirit and needs is what the arts and Humanities do, and we’re needed now more than ever.

Brock is one of the few universities in Canada (only three, in fact) to have a Faculty of Humanities, and we should take considerable pride in this. That means that many decades ago this university made a commitment to the study, consideration, and promotion of those disciplines that focus on the individual human and the human spirit: the stories of individual people, the relationships we have and have had, the triumphs and disasters as they effect one person at a time – rather than large groups or populations. The Humanities are the disciplines where one person matters, and where we acknowledge a spirit that affects and is affected by the mechanisms and movements that other disciplines study. We search for both facts and truth, and struggle with the difference. And in facing facts and truths that are often ugly, we are not daunted by them, but press forward – and sometimes create great beauty from the confusion. This is what we research and teach, and this is also what is to be found in the creative work of the members of the Faculty.

But we are creatures of the day-to-day, and the practical as well, and the Humanities serve all aspects of life. When students come to university and are considering areas of study, there is, quite naturally, always a concern about the careers that students will have when they leave their post-secondary education. There is nothing to fear, and much to be excited about, in choosing to study the Humanities. Our contribution to the careers our students will have lies within what we teach about individual humans, about creativity, about truth and beauty. It lies in the skills students develop in argumentation and communication, in researching and finding both facts and truth. And it lies in the resources students develop through their studies in the arts & Humanities that help them, and have helped them, cope in troubled times.

For the sake of the world and your own future: Choose Humanity. Choose Humanities. Choose Brock Humanities.

Carol U. Merriam, PhD
Dean, Faculty of Humanities

This is the moment. This is the time when the Humanities matter most, and are seen to matter most.

2020 is a completely overwritten disaster movie of a year. Sometimes it can seem overwhelming, and it’s difficult to see the point of many of the activities that we would normally pursue (even if we could pursue them, which is questionable during a pandemic).

What does matter is the human aspect of everything we’re going through together. We need to consider history and culture honestly and effectively in order to understand the forces at work in our communities and globally. We need empathy and assessment, involvement and investment in our fellow beings and our collective future; we need to be able to speak to each other, and listen to each other; we need art and music and literature to help us understand and cope.

We need stories. We need our own stories and other people’s stories, and we need to see where they come from and why they matter.

This is the job of the Humanities: We ask the questions about what matters and what it means. We interpret and amplify stories. We examine and assess values – and some of them we reject and replace. We fill the greatest human needs.

There’s a lot going on in the world right now, and many demands on your time and attention. Attending university is always a challenge, and this year more than usual. But it’s also more important than ever before. We can’t claim it will be easy, but we can promise that we’re in it together. And you’ll be prepared to understand and intervene where you’re needed most.

Join us to work on improving the world.

Carol U. Merriam, PhD
Dean, Faculty of Humanities

Welcome to Brock University, and the Faculty of Humanities. An exploration of these pages and those linked to it will reveal to you the variety of exciting courses, stellar research, and unique opportunities that our Faculty and University have to offer. By choosing to study the Humanities, and to study them at Brock, you’ll be entering a community of teachers and learners with a sense of common mission. You’ll also be setting yourself up for a successful future in any endeavours you may wish to pursue.

As well as being Dean of this Faculty, I am also a Professor of Latin Language and Literature (yes, we teach Latin at Brock, along with many other languages!). That’s why I am especially pleased that our University’s motto is the Latin word Surgite, reported to be the final word of our namesake, Major General Sir Isaac Brock, when he fell at the Battle of Queenston Heights in the War of 1812.

As a Latinist, I’d like to parse out the word Surgite: it means “push on”, “rise up”, “go forward”. The fact that this is our motto says a lot about our University: we keep on going, even when things are difficult, and because of that we accomplish great things.

Surgite is also, in form, a command. It allows for no options, and no excuses. And that, too, is symptomatic of Brock University. We keep on working, and improving, and moving forward.

The form of Surgite is a plural; it’s addressed to a group of people. And this, too, reflects our University culture: we are a community, and we move forward together, leaving none of our cohort behind. This means that, at Brock, you can rely on your group to help see you through when things get tough.

The Humanities are the studies that illuminate and, we hope, improve the human condition. Studying them is a noble pursuit that pays off in both tangible and intangible ways. And Brock is the best place to pursue them, because of our community spirit and our dedication to striving and achieving.

Look around our website; learn about our teaching and research, and contact us! We’d be happy to hear from you!

Carol U. Merriam, PhD
Dean, Faculty of Humanities

Welcome to the Faculty of Humanities at Brock University! Our work as teachers, researchers, and creators is focused on the human experience as it has been lived, is lived, and can be lived. Our goals are simple: to teach our students as human beings and prepare them to face whatever the future holds; to expand and enrich human understanding through our research and creative work; and to treat others (each other and those beyond our walls) humanely and well as we do the first two things.

Brock is one of the few universities in Canada to have a Faculty of Humanities, and to have made this kind of structural and organizational commitment to understanding and enhancing the human experience. This kind of commitment speaks volumes about the commitments that Brock makes to the work of students, faculty, and staff as they work together for the good of humanity.

In addition to being Dean of the Faculty, I am a Professor of Classics, and have frequently taught Greek mythology. One of the most compelling stories is that of Pandora who, after being created by the gods and delivered to earth, was given a jar into which she was forbidden to look. Of course she had to look; she opened the jar, and all the ills that afflict humanity were released: famine and draught, disease and cruelty and war were released, and all other things that cause us to suffer flew out. Pandora looked into the jar after the evils of creation flew out and swarmed through the world, and saw one small thing left inside. That small winged creature was Hope.

There are times, in the life of individuals and the world, when Hope is all that’s left in the jar. When all the news is full of despair and difficulty, or when our personal lives are crashing down around us, or when we need to support friends or family members who are suffering, Hope and optimism can be all we have left to us.

How, then, can we feed Hope? How can we help it to flourish and grow into action and impact?

Hope is fed by empathy and perspective. It is nourished by communication and knowledge. It is supported by enthusiasm and a healthy scepticism.

Empathy and perspective, communication and knowledge, enthusiasm and a healthy scepticism, are the things that result from studying in the areas that make up the Humanities. And Brock University leads you to these through an education that is personal and responsive.

I invite you to explore Brock Humanities; feed Hope; save the world.

Carol U. Merriam, PhD
Dean, Faculty of Humanities

” … if you work hard and intelligently you should be able to detect when a man is talking rot, and that, in my view, is the main, if not the sole, purpose of education.”
John Alexander Smith (1863-1939)

John Alexander Smith was the Jowett Lecturer of philosophy at Balliol College, Oxford when he said this about the value of education, and it is just as true today about an education in the Humanities as it ever was.

The disciplines that comprise the Humanities, that examine and interpret the human experience, are exactly those that lead us to question and doubt; and questioning and doubting are the activities that allow us to recognize “rot” when we hear it, and to differentiate the true from the false.  And along the way these disciplines guide us toward understanding our place and function in the cosmos – or at least questioning what we’re told about that place and function.

But isn’t this a luxury in these dangerous days?  Should we not focus our attention and activities on enterprises that offer a tangible and measurable “return on investment”, and leave the arts and humanities on the margins?

There are two answers to this: first, the Arts and Humanities do indeed offer an impressive return on investment; they offer the opportunities for the human spirit to expand and engage, and lead to healthier and happier communities.  In terms of education, studying the Arts and Humanities also provides for a great future: arts and culture is the fastest growing sector of the Canadian economy, so graduates in these fields have many opportunities to build successful careers.  And graduates in other Humanities disciplines do just as well: the employment rate for university graduates overall two years after graduation is over 90%, and the arts and humanities graduates are firmly in that range.

The second answer to the question about directing our attention and resources to more “profitable” endeavours is a question itself:  what are we making the money for?  Any acceptable answer to this leads us to discussing the human experience and what makes it valuable.

The Humanities are where the questions are asked, where the skills are gained, and where the future is made worth living in and for.  And Brock is where the Humanities flourish.  We offer excellent researchers, enthusiastic instructors, fascinating courses, and exciting opportunities to explore the world as it was, is, and could be.

Join us at Brock Humanities: ask questions, detect “rot”, and create a future worth living in.

Carol U. Merriam, PhD
Dean, Faculty of Humanities

In ordinary life, there are things that are predictable, expected, and usual. But if you’re considering a university, it’s time to be extraordinary, and do the unexpected. In Brock Humanities, we specialize in the extraordinary.

We have extraordinary instructors, doing an excellent job teaching unexpected things. Want to learn about cross-dressing pirates, or how to fire a musket from 1812? Pursue your creative work in the best and newest fine and performing arts facility in Canada? Engage with the migrant worker community?  Learn a language (or several!), living or dead? These are all part of the educational experience in Brock Humanities.

We have extraordinary researchers, extending the limits of knowledge in some fascinating areas. Vikings? Gladiators? The world experts on these research at Brock. We have active practitioners in the fine and performing arts, specialists in literature and philosophy of different eras and areas. All of them are active scholars, bring their research to the classroom, and involve students in their discoveries.

And we provide an extraordinary student experience. The extracurricular activities, groups, and clubs homed in Brock Humanities offer a wide variety of experiences, and are active in both the Brock community and the broader community. Here are a few examples: The French Club took a trip to Montreal; the Historical Society started publication of a student-run journal of historical writing; and the Brock University Archaeological Society (the Classics club) organizes an annual scholarly symposium. And these are just a few of the activities based in Humanities.

We also have regular study-abroad opportunities, that bring together instruction, research, and student experience, for a one-of-a-kind chance to see the world.

Many things are expected in life, and are considered ordinary.

Do the unexpected; be extraordinary: choose Brock, and choose Humanities. You will never regret it!

Carol U. Merriam, PhD
Dean, Faculty of Humanities

Congratulations on finding the home page of the Faculty of Humanities of Brock University!

Two basic questions always arise when anyone considers the Humanities: 1) What are Humanities? and 2) What are they good for?

The Humanities comprise the exploration of the human experience, on the experiences of individuals in the world; they are the examination of life. This exploration is effected through practice and study in art, music, and drama, and through the study of literature, history, languages, and thought.

At Brock, this exploration is done through the teaching and research carried out in the Departments of Visual Arts, Music, Dramatic Arts, English, Classics, History, Modern Languages, Literatures and Cultures, and Philosophy, as well as the Centres for Digital Humanities, Studies in Arts and Culture, and Mediaeval and Renaissance Studies.

What are the Humanities good for? They’re good for the expansion of your mind and your experience, your horizons and your very world. Through studying Humanities, you’ll become the person who asks the (often annoying) questions, and the person who strives to understand human life, thought, and emotion. By asking the questions and searching for the answers, you’ll be able to comprehend and contribute to the progress of humanity.

And on the way, you’ll become an intellectual powerhouse: you’ll develop skills in language, argument, persuasion, analysis, and interpretation. You’ll be ready to cope with any challenge the world throws at you.

By now you’re saying, “That sounds great, but I want a job after graduation.” And you’ll have that, too. Study after study, survey after survey show that students of the Arts and Humanities have the skills that employers are looking for, and are getting hired. Employers view communication skills (98%), having a positive attitude (97%) and teamwork skills (92%) as being important or very important when hiring for entry-level positions. (Source:Millennial Branding Student Employment Gap Study, Millennial Branding Group, May 2012)

It’s common knowledge that an education in the Arts and Humanities, besides leading to a more meaningful life, can also help in the search for meaningful employment. Here’s a sampling of recent stories:

Employers in Canada want people with the skills Humanities students develop:

Graduates with any degree are employed at a rate of 90% or higher within two years of graduation:

The Humanities can make someone a better doctor:

and are absolutely essential to the ever-growing tech industry:

In the end, employers don’t care what your major is, as long as you’re passionate about it and can talk about it (and anything else) in an articulate way:

So, what are the Humanities good for? They give you the chance to learn how to think, how to speak, how to work, and how to be human. Make the most of the chance:  join us in Humanities at Brock!

Carol U. Merriam, PhD
Interim Dean
Faculty of Humanities

“Science and technology can help you build a remote controlled killer robot; only the Humanities can help you figure why that could be a bad idea.”

The presence of a Faculty of Humanities, along with the research and teaching programmes included within it, constitutes the very basis of a university.  The exploration and analysis of the experience of being human constitute both the tradition of the university, and its future.

But not just the university’s future:  the pursuit of an education in the Humanities has a direct impact on your future:  Humanities students spend their university careers acquiring all of the traits that employers repeatedly say they are looking for:   proficiency in critical thinking and creative problem solving; effective communication skills such as reading, speaking, and writing; training in research, synthesis, and analysis of information; and opportunities for hands-on application in the world.

And so, while some will suggest that spending your university years studying the Humanities disciplines is a waste because it does not prepare you for a specific job, I would suggest the exact opposite:  spending your university career, your one unique chance for personal and intellectual growth, on preparation for your first job, is a colossal waste of your very precious time.  Instead, prepare yourself for your entire life:  study Humanities.

And do it at Brock!  Here we offer you the chance to explore interactive digital media, ancient Greek and Roman culture, creative writing, European languages, Eastern philosophy, literature, history, and the fine and performing arts.  We have excellent professors who will involve you in their own exciting intellectual adventures.  And we have Brock’s famous seminar system, where you join your fellow students in small groups to discuss the topics arising from your lectures.  The seminar system, especially, allows you develop your skills in analysis and communication – we often hear from employers, and from professors in the graduate programmes which our students attend after Brock, that our graduates have the ability and the confidence to speak up for themselves, to present their ideas, and to persuade their colleagues.

Brock’s Faculty of Humanities waits to show you the world, and will give you the chance to change the world.  Join us!

Carol U. Merriam, PhD
Interim Dean
Faculty of Humanities