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The journey begins in Montreal. A crew of first-year students board a ship called Legacy, and embark upon a wandering course that will lead them to ancient China, medieval Europe, post-colonial Latin America and back to the urban tangle of cultures that is home: Montreal.
They won't need a time-travel machine; they won't even get seasick. But this year's crew will be the first to jaunt into the new multidisciplinary program in the Faculty of Arts, called the Arts Legacy Option.
The program was officially launched by Principal Heather Munroe-Blum and vigorously feted by all on September 9, in the Arts Building lobby.
John Galaty, anthropology professor and associate dean of arts (to be interim dean as of October 1), introduced the "foundation" program as very much a voyage rather than a destination. It explores four important periods of innovation: ancient Greek and Chinese worlds; medieval Christian European and Islamic civilizations; the early modern transatlantic links between Europe and the Americas; then finally, the ties between a modernizing Europe and the colonized, then post-colonial developing world, including the Middle East and Africa, and the complex, multicultural, post-modern urban sites like our very own city, Montreal.
"The option aims at providing freshman students with the knowledge and academic skills that are vital to informed citizenship in the 21st century, before they embark on more specialized studies," Galaty said at the event.
The 80 freshman students are team-taught, by professors from different disciplines, in lectures, seminars and tutorials. They will also attend theatrical performances and concerts to familiarize themselves with the cultural activities of the eras they'll study.
Principal Munroe-Blum welcomed students to what she called "a wonderful innovative program." She urged them "to push us hard to make the program everything you want it to be."
"Civilization and culture are at the heart of everything we care about in a civil society," she said. "[McGill would] be much diminished without the extraordinary Faculty of Arts that we have."
Machinations for the program started two years ago, when philosophy professor Storrs McCall first raised the possibility of creating an integrated program within the faculty. History professor Carman Miller was dean then, and his confidence in the program was such that at one point he posited that all arts students be required to take it. Current dean John Hall happily continued the course that had been set, with Galaty ushering it through in his capacity as chair of the development committee.
Galaty will teach in the Modern Global Worlds unit on rural Africa and the great African cities. He believes professors will benefit from the program, too, that the option "will stimulate new lines of dialogue and intellectual conversation within the faculty."
Griet Vankeerberghen, departments of East Asian Studies and History, is the program coordinator, responsible for student enrolment and enlisting professors for the well-rounded course load.
A specialist in ancient Chinese history, she's co-teaching the first semester's course with classics professor Hans Beck. "It's exciting to have this intellectual exchange in the classroom. It creates a bond between faculty," she said later in an interview with the Reporter.
Vankeerberghen noted that the program is already well received by the students and she anticipates that enrolment will at least double next year, thanks to word-of-mouth recommendations and better recruitment.
Closing the event was Legacy student Sarah Cline. "I've never been more excited to be a guinea pig," she said. "This is an awesome opportunity."
See www.mcgill.ca/arts/freshman for more information.