Tag Archives: Honors

The Honors Program Takes to the London Streets

This summer, Dr. Peter Katz, professor of English and new director of the Honors program, accompanied a group of Honors program students on a study tour to London, UK. These students were taking HNRS 380: London Streets. In this course they learned about Victorian politics and life in London, considering the ethics and obligations of seeing poverty (then and now).

Now that they have returned from their European jaunt, Dr. Katz graciously accepted our request to guest blog about his incredible summer experience.

“I am starting my fifth year as a teacher in the English department, and my first year as Honors Director. (I was also an Honors student at PUC from 2006-2010.) My scholarship focuses on empathy and emotion, particularly through Victorian literature and culture; my teaching focuses on pretty much whatever needs teaching, though somehow it will end up being about empathy and emotion (and animals). I love coffee, martial arts, and animals, though usually not simultaneously. London Streets was my first abroad tour as a professor, and I think it changed me just about as much as it did the Honors students.”

 

In Defense of Victorian Optimism

By: Peter Katz

I completely missed him.

I’d like to think I was concerned with my students’ safety, was looking at my phone to find a route to our next destination. 

But that’s probably untrue. 

 More likely, as I’ve trained myself to do, I skipped over him as part of the scenery. 

 But Sarah didn’t.

 Can we get him some food? He looks really bad.

 Open sores. Brittle, skeletal. Homeless. 

 *****

For the last three weeks, the six students of HNRS 380: London Streets had walked the alleys of Victorian London. They waited beside a young Dickens with his father in Marshalsea Prison. They crowded into the cloying humidity of the attic operating theater in St. Thomas’ Hospital and witnessed the frantic amputations in a race against infection. They stood over the cesspool where the 1854 Cholera epidemic began, scoured the streets with Dr. John Snow as he wrapped his head around a new theory of disease transmission. 

 New institutions lunged up from the cultural fabric, bent and warped the channels through which the city’s bodies flowed. New feelings, new modes of embodiment became possible, even as those structures altered or cut off old formulations—sometimes for the benefit of the working people, sometimes not. 

 This is a value-neutral statement. One of my favorite mantras before I describe how those institutions changed feelings and bodies. Neither inherently good, nor bad. Value-neutral. 

 *****

 Sarah is always driven. We joke that she finishes the course readings before I’ve finalized the syllabus. 

 I’ve never seen her as focused as she was in that moment. She parted the clotted streets of Camden Town with the precision that would make a Victorian surgeon weep. Straight to a coffee shop with premade sandwiches and bottled drinks as though the crowd didn’t exist. She fired off a prescription:

 Protein. Handed me a sandwich. 

 Fruit. 

 Hydration. 

 Rang it up. Back to the streets, back through the crowd. 

 Stop. Spinning, intent, distraught. 

 Where did he go?

 *****

 Value-neutral. 

 For better or worse, one of my other favorite teacher phrases is: now this is an argument, so feel free to push back. History should be contentious. It should challenge our assumptions, pick apart our received knowledge. I don’t give dates and names. I give arguments. 

 Now, this is an argument, so feel free to push back: institutions are inherently value-neutral. They’re a historically continent attempt to address the pressures of population-dense urban centers, of increasingly complex pecuniary and social economies.

 Victorian institutions create problems, to be sure. We shrank before the physical restraints in Bedlam psychiatric hospital. We cringed as the Salvation Army celebrated military metaphors like “opening fire” to describe their social work. We balked as the hospital transformed patients into statistics and problems to solve. 

 But they also fix problems. Bedlam begins conversations about the expression of psychological pain, begins to embrace the infinite multiplicity of human experience. The Salvation Army insists that the poor matter, propels the welfare state to its (European) prominence, protects the poor more than laissez-faire ever could. The hospital defeats cholera, extends life-expectancy, heals and helps anyone in need. 

 The Victorians had their problems: the Empire, horrific misogyny, paternalistic classism. 

But no one can say they didn’t care. 

 *****

 Victorian fiction of the 1880s stages a three-way battle between unbridled capitalism, socialism, and liberal reform. The capitalists rarely earn a voice in these texts; their ideology is just fundamentally broken. 

 The real debate occurs between the socialists and the liberals. The socialists argue that the system is broken and requires a complete overhaul to fix. Anything short of that is a waste of energy at best, or worse, a secret tool of the capitalists. They’re earnest, sincere. The city is broken, and they want to scrap it and start again. 

 The liberal protagonists of these texts present an argument that feels naïve. The system, the city, is sprawling, an often indomitable mass too large to get hands or heads around. The system is broken. 

 But, as Valentine of Children of Gibeon rebukes her brother, “Go away and rail at Competition, while we look after its victims.” 

 If we care hard enough about each individual person, the liberals argue, we might not fix the system—but we’ll fix that person, if only for a while. And if we all care, and all help, maybe the city can fix itself. 

 Is it naïve? Maybe. Is it optimistic? Perhaps. Beautiful? Absolutely.

 *****

 We find him. He’s trying on a new pair of shoes someone had dropped. 

 I look away. It feels like a violation of his privacy to watch—a violation of a concept completely unavailable to him. 

 He finishes, slumps back down against the lamppost. Sarah gives him food. We walk away.

Back to the coffee shop, where some of the other students wait. They talk about the stores around them. Laugh, joke, show each other things on their phones. 

 Except for Sarah. She stands, stares unseeing into the wall as she drinks. She is very definitely not crying. Neither am I.

 I manage to catch her eye. And as we give each other a reassuring hug, I’m quite sure we’re hugging him as well. 

 

London Streets: Honors photo blog

The Honors program’s summer trip to London was an incredible learning experience for both faculty and students. Their course, “London Streets” took them throughout the city, personalizing literature they’d studied in previous courses and bringing history to life. Here are a few of their favorite moments captured on film! 

 

1

The first day on the train from Newbold to London, bright-eyed and ready to go. (Left to right, front: Amy Ramos (Exercise Science), Sarah Tanner (English), Grae McKelvie (BS Management); back: Ervin Jackson (Biochem), Sebastian Anderson (Graphic Design), a British person, Isabel McMillan (History)) (All class of 2021)

2

On the train, first day of week 2: (Left to right: Ervin, Grae, Sebastian, Sarah, Amy)

 

 

3

Where modern epidemiology and germ theory was born. This pump was ground zero for the cholera epidemic of 1854. (Left to right: Isabel, Ervin, Sebastian, Sarah, Amy, Grae)

 

4

In the 19th-century operating theatre of St. Thomas’s hospital (front to back: Sarah, Sebastian, Grae, Isabel, Amy, Ervin)

 

5

Suffragette propaganda in the People’s History Museum, Manchester (Sarah and Isabel)

 

6

Saying goodbye on the last day (Isabel, Sarah, Amy; Sebastian in back)

 

 

 

 

 

London Streets: Reflections On A Summer Study Tour

By Becky St. Clair

For three weeks this summer, Peter Katz, director of the Honors Program and professor of English, led a study tour for honors students in London, UK. Their course, “London Streets” took them throughout the city, personalizing literature they’d studied in previous courses and bringing history to life. Together, professor and students considered the ethics and obligations of seeing poverty both in Victorian times and now, interrogated the intersection between scientific regulation of health and governmental power, and traced the geographic and cultural impact of industrialization. 

“This trip was the best possible way I could have imagined my first excursion into Europe,” said honors student Sebastian Anderson. “It was the perfect balance between checking off the typical tourist attractions and activities while also getting to explore London in a more intimate way through our class trips and our readings.” 

Two participating students agreed to share their reflections on specific parts of their trip with us, so we could share their experiences directly with you, our readers. 

Isabel McMillan, history major

After a walking tour about the crimes of Jack the Ripper, I commented that his story was a female-centric story. I wished that when we told the stories of his victims we didn’t have to focus so much on the men, and could talk more about the women and their stories. One of my classmates pointed out history is male-centered, and society is misogynistic, and our storytelling of history has to be male-centric. 

Contemplating this perspective, I came to the conclusion that while it is not entirely wrong, it’s also not entirely right. 

I remembered this exhibit on a ship I saw in a Swedish museum once. The exhibit’s storytelling began with two of the women who were on the ship when it sank. The researchers did as much research as they could on these women, and learned quite a bit. Part of what they found included records of a woman who was in charge of building the ship, and how she met with the king about its progress. They also discovered records of another woman who ran a business vital to the building of that ship, as well as court documents detailing stories of women involved with court cases (there were laws against women being involved in court cases, and yet..). There was so much more. Most of this history was pre-Victoria. What I’m trying to say is that researching women and their lives is possible. Hard, but possible. 

Another thing I realized in all of this was by saying history is misogynistic and society is created for the white man, it gives people an excuse to not even try researching women. Allowing people to say the only way to tell women’s stories is through the point of view of the men in their lives allows people to not try, and to not feel guilty about their lack of effort. And that is not acceptable.

Sarah Tanner, English major

In looking over notes from this trip, I realized beginning on July 9, I switched from titling my class journal entries “reflections” to “reactions.” It wasn’t a deliberate move, but it matched the intensity of my interaction with the class and topics as we worked through some genuinely difficult discussions. 

 If I could distill this class into one key point, it would be, “bodies matter.” Politics, institutions, and good intentions all have their place, but unless we prioritize human bodies, their needs, and their desires, our ability to successfully empathize and care for those around us will forever be stunted. I want to believe on some level, most people recognize the truth in this, but until one is confronted with the immediacy of this need, it’s easy to overlook. Personally, it took almost stumbling over a homeless man outside the underground in Camden for me to recognize the necessity of enacting care for these bodies. And even then, when faced with the reality of his fraught situation, it was clear not everyone in our group processed the experience in the same way. 

 This class instilled in me a sense of urgency, an impulse to look more closely at the people around me and consider how I can help. And as much as I love modern literature, I have learned to stand in defense of the Victorian optimism that maintains that something can be done for these bodies. It just requires a degree of awareness (I’m convinced) results from trips such as this one. 

 Checking in with a structure or area’s effective gravity and reading it against one’s own response to that place is a practice vital to the optimist’s project. It requires constant self-reflection and comparison to the world beyond what is immediately available in a physical or bodily sense. Paradoxically, it creates a simultaneous drive for introspection and increased connection with others. While seemingly contradictory, I think this oscillation is important; to empathize, one must have a personal attachment to the shared effect, and that requires a degree of knowledge of self and others.  

 This practice is something I will definitely carry with me long after we all fly home; Victorian optimism has taken a piece of my heart. I want to be more aware, to see myself and others as more than separate components of a larger system, to seek out individual bodies in need of physical and emotional care. And more than foundational awareness, I want to be available to anyone who feels that need as well. 

 

Academic Spotlight: Honors

For the intellectually curious and the academically adept, the Honors Program at PUC provides a stimulating environment for completing General Education requirements for any baccalaureate degree with a cohort of serious scholars in seminars focused on in-depth understanding through lively discussions.

Honors courses encourage the exploration of challenging ideas through analytical reading, careful thinking, and stimulating discussions. These courses focus on depth of knowledge through a thematic approach that intertwines disciplines.

Why should you join the Honors Program at PUC?

  • Take an Honors seminar in another country
  • Be well-prepared for graduate and professional school
  • Take fewer General Education classes, making space for a potential second major 
  • Take home a diploma stamped “With Honors” 

Check out the Honors Program’s Instagram account @PUCHonors to see photos from their recent study tour to England!

Program entry requirements:

  • Strong reading and writing skills
  • Minimum 3.5 high school GPA
  • SAT of 1700 or ACT of 26
  • Highly motivated to pursue understanding

A Student’s Perspective

Recent graduate Laurel Kwon, who studied English and Honors at PUC, recently completed her final Honors project, for which she translated her understanding of Jane Eyre into a 10-minute piano composition. “I thought it would be fun to connect my English major side with my musical side,” she says. Read “Words to Notes: Honors Student Composes Piano Version of Jane Eyre” to learn more about Laurel’s capstone Honors project. 

You can also hear from alum Emily Mathe about her experience with Honors at PUC by reading her “4 Reasons You Might Belong in the Honors Program” blog post and why you should consider joining the Program!

Apply to the Honors Program

Apply to the Honors Program at PUC today! Visit puc.edu/honors to learn more about the Program, including faculty mentors, seminars, the capstone project, and other student opportunities. Freshmen enrollment is limited to 20 students per year. Online applications are reviewed monthly until all seats are filled. 

Questions? Our team of admissions counselors can talk with you about the college’s Honors Program and all of the academic programs the college offers. Call (800) 862-7080, option 2 or email admissions@puc.edu to get connected with a counselor now and start learning about all the options available to you!