Herbst Update Newsletter

You are here

From the Directors

Leland Giovannelli, co-director:
Wow! The Herbst Program has moved into its third decade! I remember when the program began in August of 1989 ... We offered only one course: Humanities for Engineers, labeled GEEN 3100. Its six sections were co-taught and met once per week, for 100 minutes; the syllabus followed a chronological survey of Great Books. All students also convened for a weekly lecture on history, philosophy, or literature.

Over the years, we have made many changes: no more team-teaching, a broader syllabus, trips to the Denver Art Museum, student acting, etc. We have added other courses, too, in engineering public policy, the social impact of computing, and the history of science and technology. We have added a second seminar room, in the basement of the Lesser House, across the street from the Engineering Center. Our homepage can fill you in on other details.

In spite of all the changes, though, there remains a strong continuity here at Herbst. We still read challenging texts and we still believe in their relevance to modern life. We stay true to the vision of our founding donors, Linda and Clancy Herbst. They sought to launch students on a life-long exploration of the humanities: a never-ending voyage of enrichment and self-discovery. That mission still inspires us - and we hope it still inspires you, as well!

We have developed this newsletter to keep you in touch and informed on an annual basis, and to share with you some of the questions our faculty and students have been pondering. If you have questions or suggestions, I invite you to share them with me by sending email to herbst@colorado.edu. Please read on for more news and some Herbst-style food for thought.

Wayne Ambler, co-director:
For the last nine Maymesters, I'm the lucky guy who has taught Culture Wars in Rome, a three-credit Herbst course on location. The only classroom is the city of Rome itself (see the snapshot at right - I'm at the far right), and this means that lectures and student presentations may be interrupted by wailing sirens, tolling church bells, or pouring rain. It also means we experience directly the power of the tangible remains of more than 2,000 years of Roman history. Good reading remains the core of a good education, I think, but it is worth a lot to be able to walk through the Coliseum, feel its stones, examine the graffiti carved in its walls, see how it was transformed from a scene of combat into a Christian holy site, and wonder at the skill and sheer manpower required to put all those stones together in such a pleasing and useful shape - all without AutoCAD or laser levels. For more on this unique Herbst course, visit our course wiki and Facebook page.

Editor's note: Here in Boulder, Wayne teaches Herbst seminars as well as Engineering, Science, and Society, a course that uses the latest case studies in engineering practice to raise questions of ethics and responsibility. He publishes in ancient philosophy and political science, and continues to translate ancient texts into English.

Herbst Remembrances - a 20th Anniversary Gift

As part of the program's 20th anniversary celebrations in 2009, the Herbst faculty decided to host a party for the program's founding donors, Linda and Clancy Herbst. In discussing possible gifts for them, we realized that they would not want plaques or photographs; they would prefer lots of student feedback. With this in mind, we invited current and former students to write entries in a memory book and we recorded multiple student testimonials on DVD.

On October 16, 2009, when Engineering Dean Robert Davis hosted the party at his home, we presented the memory book and the DVD to Linda and Clancy, amid much cheering and clapping. They loved it! Indeed, as the months and years have passed, Linda and Clancy have repeated many times that these gifts are "keepers" because they show that the Herbst Program really works. Thanks to all who shared in these special remembrances.

"I cannot say enough about the Herbst program, and not just because it afforded me my first opportunity to leave the country to spend a Maymester in Italy (though that was an experience of a lifetime!). I would never have been exposed to Greek philosophers, Italian artists, and lesser-known novels of American novelists without Herbst. The intimate classes, engaging discussions, and emphasis on critical thinking outside of a technical area were invaluable." - Heather Doty (BS/MS CivEngr '01)

Private Support

Linda and Clancy Herbst started the Herbst Program of Humanities in 1989 with tremendous vision - and with a generous endowment. As the program has grown and diversified, Linda and Clancy have continued to support it, with encouragement, inspiration, and yet more financial assistance.

Linda and Clancy have been carrying us for a long time. We who teach in the program feel that the time has come to ask alumni for contributions to help fund the program's operations. If you valued your Herbst experience, and would like to help others share it, could you pitch in? Please consider it.

A gift of any size can contribute to program goals. Your gifts can subsidize a student visit to the CU Opera, contribute to framing an exceptionally fine student art reproduction, or help pay for course readers to keep student book costs down. There are many easy ways to support Herbst, including automatic payments from your credit card, a pledge over three to five years, or an online gift now!

If you would like additional information on giving to Herbst Humanities, please contact our Senior Director of Development at engineering@colorado.edu. Thank you!

Faculty Finder: What Are They Up To Now?

What are Scot Douglass, Hardy Fredricksmeyer, Anja Lange, Athanasios Moulakis, and Diane Sieber up to now? We've got exciting news for you!

> Click here to read their updates!

A Herbst Take on Hollywood and History

The movie "300" was partly based on Herodotus' fifth century BCE book on the Persian Wars. (This book used to be part of Humanities for Engineers in the first two years of the Program. Since then, it has appeared in classes taught by Wayne Ambler, Paul Antal, Scot Douglass, Leland Giovannelli, and Michelle Visser.) Do you remember the scene in the film when a non-Spartan Greek soldier wails that the Persians are so numerous that their volleys of arrows will block out the sun? Herodotus actually recorded that remark. He also recorded the Spartan response: "Then we will fight in the shade." Herodotus DID write that Xerxes was the tallest and most handsome man in the Persian army, but he never said that Xerxes was eight feet tall. Finally, Herodotus did NOT mention anyone riding a white rhinoceros: that incident was pure Hollywood!

What Would You Do ...?

Herbst seminars address some of the great questions: What is happiness? What is our relation to society? What is identity, and how do we establish it? These questions make for interesting discussion, but we tend to agree with Aristotle that ideas should influence action. Hence we plan to use this column to pose questions of more immediate and obvious relevance to daily life, and to invite you to respond.

You have probably heard of the "Ford Pinto memo" of 1973. It suggested that Ford's executives calculated the costs of making a simple improvement to the safety of the car's gas tank and compared them to the estimated costs of lawsuits likely to arise from injuries caused the gas tanks. Advisors estimated that the cost of the improvement would be $11 per unit, that the failure to improve the tanks would result in 180 deaths, plus as many serious burn injuries, and that the resulting lawsuits would cost the company roughly $50,000. The memo concluded that, since the improvements would cost $137,000, it was much more economical for Ford to allow the injuries to occur than to make the gas tanks safer.

What do you think?
a. No cost should ever be spared to improve the safety of a product.
b. Reasonable costs for safety improvements should not be calculated by comparing the costs of the lawsuits that would arise if the improvements were not made.
c. The executives failed to calculate the potential costs of getting the reputation of making unsafe cars or even of having the memo leaked to the public.
d. The economics of such decisions should be made public so that consumers could decide for themselves whether the lower costs of inferior products justify the elevated risks that accompany them.
e. Capitalism is the underlying problem, for its nature is always to put profit first.
f. The company's job is to make money; the managers made the right choice.

What would you choose ...?

In the DVD that we gave to Clancy and Linda, we included a wonderful film essay in which Herbst students (and passers-by) named their favorite book(s). This was not limited to material assigned in Herbst classes - though Epictetus and Dostoevsky came up multiple times! Which books would be on your list? Email us and we'll share answers in an upcoming edition of this newsletter.

Haiku For You

In grammar school, you might have tried writing haiku - three-line minimalist poetry that originated in Japan. Probably you were told that the syllable count had to be 5-7-5. This rule is simply not correct. It is based on a misunderstanding of Japanese phonetics. The following poem, written in English by John Wills, violates that 'rule,' to excellent effect.

from rock to rock
a water-thrush

Poems can have multiple interpretations, and haiku are no exception. Try this one:

Because the first word is the entire first line, and because it ends with a phonetic stop (k), we tend to pause on it. (By contrast, a first line of "evening ...," with a longer word and an ellipsis would have given a sense of trailing off or attenuation.) Instead, dusk is definite: a totality. In the second line, "from ... to ..." introduces motion by means of origin and a destination. What is moving? The third line answers that question: a water-thrush, a small wetland bird. It is moving: flying, or more properly, darting.

Putting this together: Dusk, the deepening dark, creates a general setting, at first undifferentiated. As our eyes adjust to the light, we detect motion; it makes the rocks emerge from undifferentiated dusk as the origin and terminus of motion. The rocks let us see the thrush. Since the rocks remain undifferentiated, the bird's motion seems to have no ultimate destination. Contrast has thus led our awareness from backdrop, to motion, to mover. Finally, whereas the bird's motion seems random, our mind's motion is not: it moves from general and vague to specific and precise. Awareness evolves.

Important Announcements

CUEngineering is here!
The 2014 edition of CUEngineering magazine is hot off the press! Check it out online.

University of Colorado Boulder
© Regents of the University of Colorado
PrivacyLegal & Trademarks
College of Engineering & Applied Science
Contact Us