One of the most amazing things about Shimer is the tutorial. This species of class is made up of one to three students and a facilitator. It can be on almost any topic imaginable, as long as there are works to read from and the facilitator is willing to have conversations about such things.
I lucked out this semester and got to take a truly unique tutorial with two of my classmates. Amanda Cadogan is teaching us oil painting for three hours every Friday.
We read theory and history from:
We learn techniques like "grisaille" (under-painting) and sketch throughout the week to work on our artistic abilities. Today I will show you a portion of an underpainting that I've done. I'll update you over the next few weeks as to how everything is working out:
There it is, my pillowcase drapery. Perhaps not the most invigorating of subjects, but it does help me to understand tone relationships. Obviously only part of the underpainting has been done, but I hope you can get a feel for what this will eventually look like.
I'll show you the (pretty much) finished product next week!
Well hello again.
Isaac here. In my last blog post here, I mentioned the Galvin Library (more formally known as the Paul V Galvin Library), and I would like to go a little further into detail on it.
The Galvin is a resource that all enrolled IIT, VanderCook (a music education school), and Shimer students have access to. It contains books on many, many subjects (including pleasure reading, if that tickles your fancy), housed on two levels. The first, primary, floor is home to not only what I understand to be the vast majority of IIT's book collection, but also a portion of Shimer's library, which can be found in the Northwest corner of the building. On the west side of the building, there are isolated rooms with tables for private group study, with a capacity of around four people. These rooms are exceptionally useful, whether you are in a group or not, for privacy. Especially if you're working on a large project that you need room for, but don't want to pack up and take with you every time you take a short break, these rooms are invaluable.
Now we come to the use of the lower floor of the Galvin. On weekdays during the school year, it is open all night long. This means that you have access to all the referencing materials, power outlets, and vending machines you might need to feed your paper, your laptop, and yourself during a long night of paper-writing and rewriting. I would really love to say that it never comes to that point at Shimer; that we finish all of our papers weeks early, are always satisfied with them, and never have to stay up at night over them, but that is not the case. As with all humans, Shimerians have flaws and make mistakes. That sometimes means that we have too much work during the week to finalize our papers, and there is nothing to be done about that, but to buckle down for a late-night session of paper revisions. When it comes to that, though I always try to avoid it, the Gavin is my place to go, as I am sure it is for many other fellow paper-writers, Shimerians or otherwise.
Well, it seems that once more I am out of time before I need to head off to Natural Sciences 2 and discuss Jane Goodall, and her charming depictions of the chimps and apes she worked with (seriously, her writing is really endearing). Next week is spring break, so not much will be going on at Shimer, but the week after that, we go back into full swing with the founding documents of the US (Soc 2), Kafka, O'Conner, and Dostoevsky (Hum 2), finish Goodall (Nat Sci 2), and continue to look at Renga (Japanese Poetry). I really can't wait!
Perhaps another introduction of myself is due. It has been quite a while since I've contributed to the blog and I am a bit of a different person than the eager first-year I was when I first wrote on these internet pages.
So! My name is Alex Rosenberg. I am a third-year (sixth-semester) student at Shimer College. I am a traditionally aged college student currently taking Humanities 4, Natural Sciences 4, Film: Narrative Through Music and an Oil Painting Tutorial at Shimer as well as American Sign Language at Gage Park. I have served on several different committees at Shimer and am the Vice President of the IIT Hillel. My interests range from religious theory to feminism to video games (with much overlap) and, since a few of my most time consuming responsibilities have recently ended, I hope to write about many of these things on this blog in the upcoming months.
I currently live with two roommates, whom we will name J and H for the purpose of anonymity, in the Bridgeport area. I have been roommates with J for three years now, with H for two. Many years from now I will describe these days as those of gold and wonder and beauty (or so I believe at this point anyway). However, something monumental is about to occur in my time-line and I am preparing for everything to change.
J is graduating in just a few months and H is leaving for Oxford in the fall. Seemingly endless decisions must be made in light of these two facts. Will I find new roommates or live alone? Will I renew my lease or apartment hunt? Not to mention how my (rare) social time will be restructured.
This, however, is not the point of today's post. Today I am writing about Oxford.
Once upon a time, Oxford was a dream of mine. I thought about the joys of studying on the other side of the ocean and the prestige of the whole thing. Over the past few years I kept the idea of it in the back of my mind as I joined more groups and took on more responsibility.
Then something happened. I changed. I have always loved Shimer, but my feelings for it matured. There are no longer the butterflies in my stomach that come with first love, but an enduring sense of place that I'm not ready to give up.
I decided not to apply after all. My excitement for all of my friends who are planning to study there has grown and I feel even more delighted to be one of the few of my class still planning to be on the Chicago campus next year. I will miss them all (especially my roommate) but I'm also anxious to exchange stories with them a little over a year from now when our paths re-converge.
This is also exciting news for you, dear reader, as it will (hopefully) make a faithful blogger out of me.
Until next time.
Holly Peterson has just finished her first semester at Shimer. She'll be back with an introduction, but wanted to share her end-of-semester experiences with you first.
Writing week is arguably one of the best things about Shimer College.
In case you are not aware: Writing week is what happens after we finish a semester of intense reading, paper writing and discussion. Each student picks something he or she thinks is interesting and spends approximately 40 hours working on that project. The only requirement is that it relates to something discussed that semester, which leaves a lot of wiggle room. This semester projects included building a chair out of cardboard, dismantling and remantling (not a word, shhh) a clock, writing poetry, memorizing poetry, sketching, hypnosis, playing basketball and journaling about it, a psychological study of workers in animal shelters… the list goes on.
I had trouble picking a project. Not because I couldn’t think of anything, but because I, like many Shimerians, upon being offered a week to study anything, came up with a huge list of possibilities.
I toyed with doing something about the Occupy movement (which was only fleetingly interesting) or going on a hitchhiking trip (which was deemed unsafe by a facilitator, which I’m sure my Mum appreciates). For several weeks I was convinced I was going to study how best to influence people through television and write, shoot and edit a pilot for a tv series aimed at influencing the gender gap into oblivion (which I realized I couldn’t finish in a mere 40 hours).
When writing week began I still had two ideas. One was writing a haiku for every element on the periodic table. The other was to build a pocket sized espresso machine. I started working on both, but four poems in I abandoned the periodic table. After all, I had just spent $40 on copper parts for the espresso machine and I had all my tools, so I felt a little more invested in that one.
Also, I kind of wanted to write a paper revolving around the following line from W.E.B. DuBois’s book The Souls of Black Folk: “To seek to make the blacksmith a scholar is almost as silly as the more modern scheme of making the scholar a blacksmith” (52). As a person who can never quite figure out if I want to be in school or if I’m following the herd’s dream instead of my own, I wanted to do something less academic and ask myself if that pursuit felt more silly or sincere than academia.
Wednesday afternoon I realized that it wasn’t going to work. My drill’s battery barely held a charge. I couldn’t find a pharmacy that would sell me the syringe I needed for the alcohol stove. There were discrepancies in the blueprint I found online and I didn’t have time to contact the man who made it and ask for his help. Etc, etc, etc.
So, with roughly 48 hours, including sleeping, eating and working time remaining before the projects were due, I started writing haiku again. (Did you know that haiku is the plural form of haiku? I didn’t. I should also mention that modern haiku writers don’t follow the 5-7-5 syllable rule anymore unless it makes for a better poem. So I didn't count syllables religiously.)
As I started writing (and reading) I found that there were elements, like Gallium, with beautiful characteristics that lent themselves to poetic images.
Melts like chocolate in your hand.
Other times I would read something that I thought was unique, like lithium burning when it touches water, only to find out that almost every element does the same thing.
Burns at water’s touch,
Skates sphere-like on its surface.
Because the traits only got me so far, I started writing haiku about the stories behind elements instead.
Painted fingernails, licked brushes.
They told us it was safe.
I also wrote haiku, like the one I did for Antimony, that felt more like riddles than they did poetry:
Fire grabs it by the throat.
Is it a vase?
I would like to suggest that what makes writing week so special is that it is the time when each student personalizes his or her semester. It is a time to learn how to self-motivate and create and to stay up until seven in the morning writing haiku that you have come to hate because you switched projects too late and you’re too foolish to skim the articles and speed through the writing because your goal is perfection even more than it is completion. Despite this, only a day later, after turning in your project, you will take it up again not for a grade, because that’s out of your hands now, but because it is something that you want to do. You had initially envisioned a visual representation of your poetry and you’ll be gosh-darned if you will stop before your project is what it is supposed to be.
That is why writing week is special. It reminds us Shimerians that if we do what we love, even if it is as trivial as writing a set of 118 haiku, we will want to finish it because it is important and meaningful on a personal level. That reminder is bigger than an individual project could hope to be.
That said, I will definitely be finishing my espresso machine over break.
Shimer, as Sam Sandmel has already noted, attracts all sorts. Being a Great Books college, however, I should venture to say that its diversity of greatest note would be, not necessarily one of culture or of interests in general, but rather one of books. Shimer attracts the avid readers of any number of different genres, from fans of post-structuralism, to Jacques Lacan aficionados, and, yes, even to dogmatic Aristotle/Aquinas-types. A perk of this diversity in literary taste is that, no matter your interests and despite the tiny student population, you can probably find someone at Shimer to meet with on a regular basis to talk over a text you're interested in.
My first experience with such a reading group is thanks to Joe Bradshaw (now in his fourth year at Shimer), who kindly did the student population a favour in hosting an analytic philosophy reading group once every week or so at his apartment. Analytic philosophy (the philosophical school that dominates philosophy departments in the Anglophone world) is not much read in the Shimer core, nor are electives often offered with a major analytic component in their reading requirements, so I am grateful to Joe for providing an opportunity I shall perhaps never see again: a discussion of Frege, Russell, and the early Wittgenstein with other Shimerians. Whether or not discussion-based classes foster skills applicable to the whole of life, they certainly teach one how to get to the meaning of a text with the assistance of others. I never would have caught half of what I learned from the writings we discussed together had I read them on my own, so it was with a distinct pleasure that I attended the meetings with Joe and friends to talk over the obscurer points of that week's reading. Schoolwork, alas, eventually put a stop to our fun, but not before some of us devised a means of continuing our bookish past-time into the summer.
During one of our last meetings, one among us (I believe Sam Elalouf, a fellow second year) suggested that, over the summer, we organise a similar book club, now with a different philosophical theme so as to attract other students. Sam, Joe, and myself decided, after throwing around some ideas, to dedicate the book club to the early modern rationalists: René Descartes, Benedictus de Spinoza, Gottfried Wilhelm Leibniz, and their quasi-rationalist successor, Immanual Kant. Of the four, only two (Descartes and Kant) were represented in the core, and even in their cases, a second reading never hurt anybody; moreover, each of us had read at least one of the authors before, so we would have someone each session who would be less than completely in the dark about the reading. All in all, therefore, ours seemed a good selection, and quickly enough we had compiled a reading list and schedule for the group. Sam helpfully placed notices for our first meeting around the Shimer floor, and he and I both spread news of the group by word of mouth.
After a few initial hitches, the group was set in motion: every week we would meet at Sam's place, hang out, possibly have dinner or engage in some other social activity, and sit in a circle around a (non-octagonal) coffee table to work through any problems, questions, interpretations, etc. we had concerning the text of the week. It was easily my favourite part of the summer: relaxing on a large couch with a list of questions about Spinoza's views on immortality, the prospect of a long, illuminating conversation to follow, with the further prospect of dinner, ice cream, or a movie beyond that. And I know of nowhere outside Shimer where I might have had the chance to enjoy it.
I write from Oxford, where I am finishing both my thesis and my last semester at Shimer. My thesis, convoluted and broad as it is, has shaped up nicely, and I hope to defend it before graduating in May. When you break it down, the thesis argues that theory on political oppressions should utilize non-normative thinking and be, rather than overly abstract, grounded in particular contexts. In my view, the best theory is that which engages in particulars and, in so doing, uncovers potential areas of change. Theory that is contextually grounded breaks down the problematic binaries that follow from normative thinking, as well as the separation between theorists and non-academics. My argument references, utilizes, and/or critiques the work of 'canonical' thinkers such as Rene Descartes, John Locke, Simone de Beauvoir, and Jean-Paul Sartre. But because I am most interested in post-structuralism, feminism, and contemporary political struggles, I focus on the work of Michel Foucault, Carole Pateman, Jane Flax, Barbara Hernstein Smith, Cornel West, Chandra Mohanty, Joy James, and Angela Davis.
But instead of boring you with all of that (and continuing to name-drop rather than actually explain my thesis), I will share some pretty pictures with you.
An Oxford street around 7 A.M. Amazingly, I tend to wake up early here.
Cornmarket Street, Oxford.
Pub scrabble, complete with the back of my head.
Doin' the tourist thing.
Weirdly delicious English snacks.
Paddington Station, London.
The Underground, an urban transit system that puts Chicago's to shame.
The London Eye.
Visiting the British Museum, which is full of Egyptian artifacts that should all be in Egypt.
Warning: English pubs are not one-size-fits-all.
A street in London.
Renting a car and struggling to drive on the left side of the road, my brother Joel, Kieran, and I drove up to visit Heath Iverson ('10) in Edinburgh, Scotland. (Left to right: Heath, me, Kieran, and Joel)
Edinburgh is gorgeous.
Hope you enjoyed the pictures.
Shimer tries to stay away from tests and that's pretty great. There are no late-night cram sessions for the next day's quiz on electromagnetic induction, and you will never find yourself scrambling to memorize the dates and times during which all the important Federalist Papers were written. It's all good and dandy and you think you're getting off easy. Easy that is, until your first paper is assigned.
Writing a Shimer essay is a bit of an undertaking. Not only are you facing the grading eye of a faciliator who knows academic writing like the back of their hand, but you're always dealing with having to construct some original idea upon which to base your paper. I once wrote an essay breaking down what Derrida actually means in his brilliant but rather opaque "Différance," but that's the only truly expository essay I've had to write. I chose it as a paper topic because I felt intimidated by assigment and didn't think I had a good enough understanding of Derrida to really speak about him in a critical sense. This instance was an anomaly and probably the least I would be able to get away with. My other Shimer paper topics have been more creative and more exciting, which is the typical expectation.
I once wrote about how communism would mean the downfall of the fashion industry (my Social Sciences I class had several rousing discussions about Marx), and for another paper, I discussed the Equal Right Ammendment, posing Mary Wollstonecraft and Carol Gilligan's viewpoints against each other. And all that was just my freshman year. As the readings get harder, so do the essays, but this is something I think my peers and myself have handled beautifully. With every paper that's due, whether it's on Hegel or thermodynamics, come incredibly thoughtful and innovative theses. Shimer approaches papers as an opportunity to better explore and elaborate on a concept in your class that you found particularly resonant. This opportunity is very well utilized.
So I have two papers to complete. One is due tomorrow. I'm writing about entropy and it will be more of an explanation of the phenomenon than anything else (not unlike my Derrida paper) because while I adore the natural sciences, they are hardly my strong point. Then there's my essay for Social Sciences IV. It's due on Friday. For that I am taking Geertz's conception of "thick description" in anthropology and seeing if it applies to the Foucault's conception of the way the discourse on human sexuality ought to be.
The latter paper topic is, I'm afraid, still in its more gestational period. No fretting, though. It will be turned in on time and come the end of the day on Friday, I will be happy and paper-free. It's the very thought that keeps me trucking. And if it turns out my papers were a bust, Shimer faciliators always offer the very generous chance to rewrite.
Alright. I should actually probably go work on the essays. Writing about writing papers feel strange after awhile. It's a little too meta for my tastes, and probably not the most productive form of procrastination.
The first of this spring’s Shimer College lecture series, the 30th public lecture series, was “Rethinking Universities & Hutchins: Faculty and Student Resistance to Core Text Curricula” by J. Scott Lee. Of course, at Shimer, there is not much of a “resistance” to reading core texts, so much as complete enthusiasm towards the idea.
J. Scott Lee is the Executive Director and Co-founder of ACTC, the Association for Core Texts and Courts. This organization promotes individuals and groups in the journey to achieve general study, in and out of schools, of texts that have proven to be classic or particularly significant to our cultural canon. They hope to advance liberal education through the integration of core texts into general educational institutions. Lee also discussed the importance of reading Robert Maynard Hutchins as a source of self-assessment for institutions and of understanding about the Great Books program.
During the question and answer session, he discussed the conferences his program hosts annually and how liberal education is exhibited in a “persuasively experiential” way through panels with short papers on the idea of core text curricula. He also shared a letter with us from a professor at Notre Dame who shared that her students from ND's Program of Liberal Studies were dual-majoring in many different topics and broad-minded in their future pursuits.
Lee left the audience wondering about the future of liberal arts educations in other institutions and solidly reaffirmed in their belief in their advocacy about Shimer’s core text approach.
Photograph by Miles Stepto
Around Shimer, February means a couple of things: the coming darkest depths of winter, a gradual sense of adjustment to a new set of classes, and, of course, the Michel de Montaigne Scholars Competition. I’ve been involved with the competition in one fashion or another for the last three years, having been the recipient of a half-tuition award in 2008 and serving on different panels in 2009 and 2010 after enrolling at Shimer.
Whether talking to parents, prospective students, or trustees, I often find myself with cause to reflect on what exactly makes the Montaigne competition such a unique experience, but am unfortunately usually left with the distinct impression that I haven’t done a terribly good job expressing myself. Recently, however, I stumbled across something that reminded me in a profound way how illuminative of an experience the weekend was.
I spent most of this last winter break doing one of the least enjoyable activities known to humankind: packing and moving. After a few years of vague but mostly apathetic discontent with where we were living, my father and I decided to look at the possibility of moving, and very quickly found a house not too far away that fit us perfectly. This, of course, was only a fraction of the battle. In the process of sifting through, categorizing, and packing years of accumulated debris and possessions, however, I found, lo and behold, the copy of Montaigne’s “On the Art of Conversation” that I had marked to hell for my own competition. As I flipped through the pages and read the chicken-scratched notes that I surely thought profound at the time, I began to remember how beneficial an experience it truly was.
Prior to my time at Shimer, my academic habits were of questionable rigor at best. I spent my high school years at a Jesuit school in Detroit, disagreed in a vague and inarticulate sense with most of what was thrown at me, and left mostly unsatisfied. Though I put a good deal of effort into the reading and writing for my English classes, the type of analysis which I found was required of me for Montaigne’s essay was invigoratingly unlike anything I’d ever experienced. From not understanding his many and varied references to writers of the Classical canon to his almost taunting invitations to disagreement, I found that Montaigne challenged me in a way that few other writers had.
The discussion, of course, was no different, redefining my standards of what a class could be, and leaving me with an instant desire to sit around the table again. I found for the first time that I was able to learn just as much from my peers as from ‘the teacher’ (who, in the case of a Montaigne seminar, doesn’t actually participate at all), and was hooked.
In short, Montaigne was a transformative and illuminating experience for me, and I think it holds the potential to be the same for any prospective Shimerian. I’d invite anyone to shoot me an email to talk about it, and if you aren’t already signed up, I hope you’ll consider it.
If you'd like to talk to Erik about the Montaigne Competition, please email firstname.lastname@example.org and we will forward it to him. Also, here's a picture of him from the competition in 2008:
The opinions expressed by the Shimer bloggers are theirs alone, are subject to change upon each blogger's reflection, and do not reflect the opinions of Shimer College. Shimer is not responsible for the accuracy, completeness, or timeliness of any of the information supplied on this blog and strongly encourages you to contact the Shimer Admission Office directly if you have questions about Shimer. The entries on this blog belong to their authors and to Shimer College. Shimer encourages and deeply values discussion, but the college is not responsible for what is posted by commenters and reserves the right to delete any comment for any reason whatsoever. Deletions will likely be made if commentary is commercial, irrelevant, abusive, profane, rude, or destructively inaccurate. Shimer students on the regular staff of this blog are modestly compensated for their efforts.