2009 Summer Reading Program
Dear Members of the Class of 2013,
A central feature of Skidmore’s First-Year Experience is its summer reading program. Indeed, the goal of the first-year reading program is twofold. First, we want to celebrate the fact that the educational experience—the process of learning—is ongoing and not just confined to the classroom or the academic calendar. Our aim is to get you thinking before you arrive on campus. Second, we want to provide first-year students, and the entire College community, with a common experience centered on an intellectually interesting and challenging subject. The way we see it is that the first-year reading program provides a starting point for members of the Skidmore community to engage in important intellectual dialogues.
For the class of 2013, the FYE has chosen to examine Abraham Lincoln. Enclosed are the two readings we’ve selected—a DVD from the Bill T. Jones Arnie Zane Dance Company in which the award-winning choreographer examines, through dance, the life, myth, and paradox of America’s 16th president, and a more traditional book, Our Lincoln: New Perspectives on Lincoln and His World, edited by Columbia University historian, Eric Foner.
We chose the subject of Lincoln—and, in particular, these two readings—for a variety of reasons. It is, of course, the bicentennial of Lincoln’s birth and the FYE would like to highlight the impact Lincoln has had on modern America, as well as the lingering questions about the depth of his moral convictions, the breadth of his courage, and the enduring spirit of his character. Questions about Lincoln are appropriate at any time, but they are perhaps more acute now that the country is witnessing the changing institutional face of the American presidency. Lincoln’s bicentennial conveniently brings to the forefront of our consciousness the lingering issue of race and the thread that ties us to the past. It also places President Obama in a unique spotlight. By choosing the DVD and the book, the FYE is asking students to interrogate Lincoln’s legacy, the continued problems associated with racial discrimination, the Obama presidency, and so much more. Moreover, we are endeavoring to deepen the aesthetic experience and the expansion of mind and spirit through innovative programming that embraces both artistic as well as narrative texts.
If you’re at all like me, reading, interpreting, and analyzing a dance performance will represent a new experience. We selected “Serenade/The Proposition” precisely because it poses a difficult challenge; it highlights the type of intellectual exercise that rests at the core of a liberal arts education. So much of the way in which we communicate our thoughts, ideas, and stories is through non-narrative means. Like studying an unfamiliar language, examining a non-written text requires more than just a casual review; in this case, it requires more than simply putting “Serenade/The Proposition” on your television and sitting passively. As such, we ask that you spend time intentionally contemplating and exploring the movements, the music, the set, and the dialogue of the dance performance—reading the “text,” if you will—while formulating questions or comments related to its central themes. Ask yourself what it is that the artist is trying to accomplish. What message is he trying to convey? How does the work reveal the emotions of the artist, or how does it reflect the life and accompanying myth of Abraham Lincoln?
All first-year students are expected to read, contemplate, and scrutinize both parts of the summer reading package in their entirety prior to arriving on campus. In other words, please read all of the essays in Our Lincoln and watch the entire DVD (several times). There will be ample opportunity throughout the academic year to examine and discuss the issues raised by this set of readings. The highlight of our year-long exploration of Lincoln is, of course, Bill T. Jones’ fall residency. He will arrive on campus on October 25th for several days, and there will be special opportunities for him to meet with first-year students. Stay tuned for more details.
In the meantime, enjoy the rest of your summer! We look forward to your arrival on campus in early September.
All the best,
Assistant Dean of the Faculty and Director of the First-Year Experience