Friday, March 16

On Friday morning, we gathered our bags and checked out of UIC Guest Housing before heading downtown to the Art Institute of Chicago. And what better way to end our week’s exploration of the humanities than by coming to a cultural icon like the Art Institute, with a series of collections that spans centuries of history around the world.

We easily lost ourselves in its labyrinthine galleries, my favorite being the gallery of Thorne Miniature Rooms. Mrs. James Ward Thorne commissioned and oversaw the construction of these painstakingly detailed replicas that range from a humble cottage living room in Cape Cod to a Buckingham Palace drawing room during the reign of Queen Victoria. The amount of work that went into meticulously recreating not just fancy palaces but also the homes of everyday people across different countries indicated to me that these locations share a similar importance. Every one of those 68 rooms were displayed side by side, democratically in a sense, as beautiful works of art in their own right, and it got me thinking about the significance of the home as a mode of artistic expression.

We as a society invest so much time and energy in building a home, or any similar private space, that reflects our personalities. Regardless of class or nationality, a home acts like an individual’s sanctum. I loved how the rooms captured the kind of unique, relatable, and deeply personal beauty that any of us can experience whenever we enter the place we call home.

Those of us taking the train back down to Bloomington said our goodbyes to the students who would be staying in the Chicagoland area for the weekend. We then had a couple hours on our own to explore the city, browse some stores, and grab a bite to eat before boarding the train. I met up with my mother, who works downtown, and she even brought with her a Tupperware of homemade Filipino food to share with the rest of the humanities fellows, because she’s amazing.

As we were catching up, my mother asked me a simple question: “So what was the purpose of this trip?” I paused for a bit, because the answer to that requires a bit of thought. To an outsider, this immersion trip looks like nothing more than a glorified field trip around Chicago. But to me and the rest of the humanities fellows, this trip was about exploring our love for subjects in the humanities in new and engaging ways.

I appreciated that this experience provided the freedom to explore my academic interests beyond the confines of a fixed curriculum, where sometimes topics can feel irrelevant to the real world. We visited places that I wouldn’t really have considered going to on my own, or places that I didn’t think would have any relevance for an English major. And yet, as these blog posts have shown, everywhere I went I was able to come away with some insight about humanity and the arts that I could apply to my personal experiences or to the general human experience as I’ve studied in my English classes.

I discovered a surprising number of interdisciplinary connections with history, social sciences, and the arts. I engaged with topics beyond my discipline, even daring to use my journal as a sketchbook at times (which definitely stretched my boundaries when it comes to the humanities). And the entire experience culminated in a better understanding of the humanities and the tangible, integral role they play in understanding our cities, our history, and our cultural identity. That level of intellectual growth, to me, was the purpose of this trip.

And, in reflecting on the people who made this trip possible, I want to thank Professor Joanne Diaz and Professor Carmela Ferradans, who have devoted themselves to the First-Year Humanities Fellows program from the very beginning. A special shout-out to humanities fellow Taylor Plantan, who helped organize the entire trip as part of her work in the English department. A huge thank you to all the other humanities fellows, whose insightfulness and positive energy made this trip so fun and memorable.

And of course, thank you to everyone who followed our adventures through this blog. I can’t wait to hear all about the next batch of First-Year Humanities Fellows and their adventures on this trip next year!

– Rachel McCarthy ’21

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