In Fall 2020, Humanities Council Behrman Professor Denis Feeney will begin as the faculty lead in the Program in Humanistic Studies’ signature course “Interdisciplinary Approaches to Western Culture”(the “HUM Sequence”).
The appointment recognizes distinguished scholars and dedicated teachers from within the University community. The Behrman Professor plays a leading role in the humanities at Princeton. Feeney began his Behrman Professorship in 2019 and will complete his three-year appointment in 2022.
“The HUM Sequence is a unique experience for the students and the faculty alike,” says Feeney, “but the students have the advantage because they take both semesters of the Sequence, whereas the faculty get to teach only in either Fall or Spring. The Behrman Professor coordinates and teaches in both semesters and I feel very lucky to have that opportunity next year.”
For students, the sustained guidance of a central faculty leader provides them with constancy and a close attention to their progress. Feeney says, “I’ve taught the Fall semester four times and the Spring semester twice, but next year I’ll be able to accompany the students all the way from Homer in September to Hannah Arendt in April. The growth that the students experience in those eight months is amazing to see.”
He adds, “In my last precept this semester, on Friedrich Nietzsche’s Birth of Tragedy, it was exhilarating to see the students reach back to their readings of Greek tragedy at the beginning of the Fall semester, synthesizing everything they’d learned in the months between. The roadmap that they develop of literature, philosophy, music and art is one that they can use as a guide for the rest of their undergraduate careers, and for the rest of their lives. They learn how these movements have changed over thousands of years. The “tradition” is not some inert body of approved material that is handed down solemnly from one generation to the next, but a dynamic process of argument and reshaping, always open to new interventions.”
The close community formed in the HUM Sequence is also an invaluable resource for students, Feeney notes, especially with the uncertainty on campus in the coming semester. “The students get to know each other as a group, as they work together in precept and brainstorm outside class as well. It’s impossible to predict what will be happening in Fall and we may not be physically together in lecture and precept. That will be tough for all of us, but the quality of our students and faculty, and the quality of the material we will be working on together, will make it a transformative experience despite everything.”
Feeney is the Giger Professor of Latin and Professor of Classics and teaches a full range of undergraduate Latin courses; from Beginner’s Latin to upper-level reading courses. He has been a regular participant in the Humanities Sequence (HUM 216-217, from Classical Antiquity to the Middle Ages, and HUM 218-219, from the Renaissance to the Modern World).
The current Behrman faculty lead is Yelena Baraz, Kennedy Foundation Professor of Latin Language and Literature, Professor of Classics, and Acting Director, Society of Fellows in the Liberal Arts.
Moulie Vidas, Associate Professor of Religion and the Program in Judaic Studies, begins his three-year appointment as a Behrman Professor with teaching in the HUM Sequence in Spring 2021.
Effie Rentzou, Associate Professor of French, completes her three-year Behrman professorship this Spring.