News | Academics

Literature Humanities website gets modern makeover

  • Epic new website | Christia Mercer, chair of Lit Hum and a philosophy professor, oversaw the redesign of the website which now features images, paintings, video clips, and audio files.

Literature Humanities has now arrived in the 21st century.

The website for Lit Hum—one of Columbia’s trademark Core courses—has previously only given basic information about the class. Now, after a full-blown makeover, the website features images, paintings, video clips, and audio files that complement the works read in class.

The change is meant to make the course more engaging for students, said Christia Mercer, the chair of Lit Hum and a professor of philosophy, who oversaw the overhaul.

For example, for Plato’s “Symposium,” the site has a clip from of the song “the Origin of Love” from the film “Hedwig and the Angry Inch,” where a singer sings a song based on Aristophanes’ speech about love.

“I want to combine intellectual seriousness with edginess,” Mercer said. “We want to make Lit Hum intellectually cool.”

Elizabeth Bonnette, a Ph.D. candidate who is teaching Lit Hum this year, said she plans to utilize the website in her class through weekly responses which incorporate a piece of art from the site.

Bonnette said her class recently started “Gilgamesh” and that she liked how students could actually watch videos of people carving on tablets—the manner in which the work was originally written.

“It’s going to be nice for them to explore things we don’t get to in class,” Bonnette said.

The Lit Hum website is also meant to encourage connections with other required Core classes, such as Art and Music Humanities, by including pieces of art and music relevant to the Lit Hum syllabus.

“I think people who teach Art Hum don’t know as much about Lit Hum as they should,” Mercer, who has taught both, said, explaining that the site will help bridge that gap.

The site also has a comprehensive timeline for the material covered in the Core classes, which will help them understand what was going on in the other disciplines at the time the Lit Hum works were written.

Susan Boynton, the chair of Music Hum and a music professor, said that Music Hum plans to also use the new site to establish connections between literature and music.

“In the interest of creating more intersections between the Core courses, we hope in the future to link from the Lit Hum page to related materials for Music Hum,” Boynton said in an email.

There are also additions that only faculty can see, such as example questions, exams, and grading criteria. The extra resources are meant to make it easier for the faculty, who come from a range of fields—from Italian to religion to Slavic languages—to teach the works to students.

Mercer also hopes this will convince more senior faculty to get involved with the course by making it easier to teach.

“I think this new website will help those of us who live outside the literature world get into the classics mind-set,” Anna Couturier, CC ’10, who helped Mercer organize the material for the site over the summer, said in an email from Berlin, where she is studying.

“It will also give the Columbia community an opportunity to discuss … the strengths and weaknesses of the core,” she said.

While resources for only the first semester’s material have been added, Mercer said they are now going to work on the second semester of the course. Then, next year, the University plans to work on the website for Contemporary Civilization, the yearlong philosophy course all Columbia College sophomores are required to take.

Not all students were enthused. Adie Wadles, CC’14, has never heard of it.

“I didn’t hear of the new website, and I wouldn’t go on it. And I probably wouldn’t really care about it,” Wadles said.

Olivia Harris, CC ’14, was more excited about the change.

“I would use the site because we read really deep and sophisticated works like “The Iliad,” and it would be really useful and helpful to use images, music, movie clips, and other supplements to aid in understanding the texts,” Harris said.

To view the site, visit:


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