Past Themes

The Humanities Theme is an initiative led by the Center for the Arts and Humanities to celebrate the process of liberal learning by exploring a particular topic through exhibits, speakers, performances, and course work. We organize year-long, campus-wide collaboration, highlighting the perspective humanities can bring to the chosen theme while actively encouraging participation from departments outside of the Humanities Division. Our goals are to bring innovative programming to Colby’s campus and to highlight course work and programming already underway.

Presence of the Past


The Presence of the Past is everywhere: in our daily lives and activities, our natural, engineered, and social environments, our political commitments, our biasses and prejudices, our religious and spiritual convictions, our scientific and technological accomplishments and ambitions, and more. What happens when competing versions of the past come into conflict? How is knowledge about the past produced? How do structures of power and prestige operating in the present shape our current knowledge of the across the disciplines?

Theme Sponsors:
Elizabeth D. Leonard, History
Megan Cook, English



A mythical hero, a body of texts, an ancestral language, an accident, a set of principles, a tool, a technique, or a group of objects from which fields of inquiry develop and grow: how did it all begin? Origins encourages a detailed and critical reflection of the social, historical, political, and cultural contexts that inform our understanding of who we are as humans, where we come from, and the trajectory we choose to follow in an increasingly interconnected global landscape.

Theme Sponsors:
Shalini Le Gall, Museum of Art,
Gianluca Rizzo, Italian Literature and Language,
Arnout van der Meer, History



Revolutions take many forms – political, literary, artistic, cultural, social, scientific, and conceptual. They can be abrupt or gradual, peaceful or violent, top down or bottom up, guided by elites or conducted by mobs, driven by ideology, or prompted by a new reality. But what constitutes a revolution? Is a spirited challenge to the existing system enough, or must it produce a radically different, lasting change? What are the conditions leading a revolution to occur? Is violence (physical or conceptual) inherent in revolution? Are revolutions a necessary good or a dangerous disruption of established order? How are they to be judged? How do literary or artistic movements gain the status of a revolution? What roles have revolutionary ideas played in the natural and social sciences and the arts and humanities? Do injustices or inequities underlie most political revolutions? Finally, what revolutions do we still need to have?

Theme Sponsors:
Valérie Dionne, French
Jim Fleming, Science, Technology, Society

Human / Nature


Human / Nature reflects upon nature, the built environment, and the ways in which our relationship to the natural world has shaped human existence. Across the humanities this theme will enable us to examine our relationship to nature from antiquity to the present. The social and natural sciences, will explore the connections between human actions and changes to our planet. Ultimately, Human/Nature will initiate a conversation among the humanities, natural sciences, and social sciences considering ourselves and the spaces we inhabit: those that nourish us, inspire us, and challenge us.

Theme Sponsors:
Gary Green, Art
Loren McClenachan, Environmental Studies
Steve Wurtzler, Cinema Studies



Migrations describe the movement of peoples, animals, objects, cultures, resources, identities, and ideas across time and space. Whether they involve the physical or symbolic crossing of borders, migrations contribute to our sense of belonging or exclusion and to our feeling of being “there” or “here.” The humanities theme for 2014-15 will interrogate this understanding of migrations as shaping the self and the world. How can we represent the experiences of immigration, exile, diaspora, or passing? What are the possibilities and challenges associated with mobility and immobility? What happens to the local when it interacts with the national, regional, or global? Questions like these respond to some of the most pressing issues the world is facing today, from the development of new political structures and methods of cross-cultural exchange to changes in climate and demographics.

Theme Sponsors:
Tanya Sheehan, Art
Natalie Zelensky, Music

Censorship Uncovered


Censorship Uncovered, is a year-long, campus-wide initiative designed to foster interdisciplinary discussion and collaboration. Through course work, performances, lectures, film screenings, exhibitions, and collegial conversation, Colby students, faculty, and staff across a broad range of disciplines and with widely varying perspectives will explore the fraught and provocative themes of censorship and free speech.

Theme Sponsors:
Valérie Dionne, French
Clem Guthro, Colby Libraries
Lauren Lessing, Museum of Art

Comedy, Seriously


What is comedy? Seriously. Is it more than laughter and humor? How is comedy related to other artistic genres, and how is it expressed in different languages, literatures, and art forms? Is comedy specific to culture, or are some forms of comedy universal? How does comedy undermine or reinforce our attitudes towards race, gender, religion, class, and ethnicity? Does what makes us laugh reveal our deep social norms and taboos? What can biology and the social sciences tell us about what laughter means?

In “Comedy, Seriously,” Colby students, faculty, and staff celebrated the richness of the comic tradition and the vibrant place of comedy in our contemporary world.

Theme Sponsor:
Lydia Moland, Philosophy

Reflections of Terrorism


What is terrorism? Is it true that one person’s terrorist is another person’s freedom fighter, or can we make ethical distinctions between instances of terrorism? How does terrorism differ from other kinds of violence, for instance the violence of war or domestic violence? How do we distinguish between eco-activism and eco-terrorism or between criminal hacking and cyber-terrorism? How has terrorism shaped history, and how does it form the present?

In Reflections of Terrorism, students, faculty, and staff fostered interdisciplinary discussions of forms of terror(ism) and showcased the multiple levels on which the Colby community addresses this complex topic.

Theme Sponsors:
Lydia Moland, Philosophy
Cyrus Shahan, German


The Metamorphoses Project


The Metamorphoses Project was a campus-wide web of events linked to the Theater and Dance Department’s November 2009 production of Mary Zimmerman’s Metamorphoses. The goal was to explore the broader theme of mythological narrative through history to contemporary life, and how myths operate in and through the various disciplines that make up a liberal arts environment. Students, faculty, and staff celebrated the process of liberal learning by exploring these questions through exhibits, performances and course work.

Theme sponsors:
Lynne Connor, Theater & Dance
Lauren Lessing, Museum of Art
Kerill O’Neill, Classics