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Hands-on learning is a term that gets thrown around a lot; it’s a nice catchy little buzzword like workshop, something that feigns, or at least drums up thoughts of, collegiate learning. There’s also a misconception that hands-on learning and research and all that jazz only applies to engineering and the sciences.

I, the unlikeliest of sources, am going to bust that myth. Hands-on learning is absolutely something that we humanities and social sciences students experience at Hopkins. We may not have chemicals to mix between test tubes (is that a thing?), but there are still plenty of ways to have a super interactive learning experience.

This semester, I’m in a class called Making Modern Poetry (with JHU_Molly!). It’s part of the Humanities Center, an interdisciplinary department, and a Dean’s Teaching Fellowship course, which enables graduate students to teach niche classes about their passions. The course description is as follows:

Making Modern Poetry will explore the intersection and conversation between literature, art history, and graphic design by examining the rapid global development of poetry, art, and print from 1890 to 1930. We will read canonical modernist poets such as T.S. Eliot and Ezra Pound as well as those less familiar, like Mina Loy and César Moro, considering texts comparatively across national borders and through their relations to other arts. All readings will be in English.

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Graphic design? Art? Poetry? Sign me up! As if the actual content of the course wasn’t enough for me, its structure has also been amazing. Last week, our class met in the Special Collections section of the library, and we spent time closely examining original prints of some of the texts we’ve been studying. A librarian walked us through how to properly handle such delicate antique texts and our instructor pointed out interesting things about each of them.

Our instructor and the librarian also brought in a bunch of letterpress bits and pieces for us to examine. While hands-on learning is more than just having a tactile relationship with the material, it was pretty cool to be able to literally examine and feel the tools that created the works we’re studying.

Our instructor joked that it was our homework to take a selfie with our favorite delicate 20th century artifact. We took him a little too seriously.

Our instructor joked that it was our homework to take a selfie with our favorite delicate 20th century artifact. We took him a little too seriously.

Because this class focuses on the relationship between poetry and the way it’s printed, it was invaluable being able to see firsthand these texts. Looking at a photo or PDF of a work online is one thing; it’s another to appreciate it in person, to see how the light hits the gold foil, how some pages stick together, soaked with ink. It breathes whole new meaning and life into the history and story of the work, doubling its significance.

This was a super memorable class for me. As a film and media studies major, I’m used to having very hands-on classes: toying with cameras, going on soundwalks, you name it. But in my other humanities classes, as much as I love them, it can be a lot of sitting around with a book. As much as I love reading complicated texts and discussing and trying to philosophize, it gets a little stale. Having the opportunity to interact directly with the subject matter was awesome. It applied what I love about film and media studies—its dedication to hands-on learning—to literature and art. Score!

We’re having another class later this semester of all original Russian texts. I’ll be sure to update once that day comes!

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