Great Books Camp Experience

Written by Madeline Langdon, Rachel Philips, Alina Peon, Shanoy Clarke, Sarah Smith, and Zara Wilson

The breakdown of pods with Zara Wilson

Pods: or better known here at Great Books as groups of up to eight intelligent and insightful young smiling faces. Each pod typically starts out as a group of timid strangers but they ultimately end up as confidants that guide each other through their intellectual and emotional growth during their stay at Great Books.  

PAs are fearless leaders at camp that keep each pod on track.  They prepare each camper for lecture in the morning by implanting the campers minds with their advanced interpretations of each text that we read together.

Pod life:  Night discussions can turn into debates that only deepen each person’s knowledge and strengthen the bonds.  


The Great Books senior dorm

Hideous Cup of Poetry Competition by Madeline

Every morning after breakfast, we gathered around the Noah Webster statue to hear the daily announcements. After announcements, campers would eagerly raise hands hoping to be called on to recite poems. Reciting poems earned your pod points, and at the end of the week, the pod with the most points got to sign the Hideous Cup of Poetry and be immortalized as a Great Books legend. Recitations varied from Shakespeare excerpts to Hamilton songs to works by prolific poets like Lewis Carroll, Emily Dickinson, and many others. The winning pod was the Pointillism Pod with 85 points.

Lectures by Madeline

After announcements and poetry recitations, we walked over to the auditorium and sat with our pods and friends to listen and participate in a lecture led by Ilan Stavans. We discussed the readings we had read with our pods the night before, and we would parse, dissect, and analyze every sentence, aspect and idea of the piece to gain a greater understanding of the presented literature. Our readings were diverse in terms of idea, complexity, writing forms, and when the pieces were written. The theme of this week was “In Dreams Begin Responsibilities”, specifically focusing on the correlation between responsibilities and dreams. We started the week off with a short story by Delmore Schwartz, entitled “In Dreams Begin Responsibilities”and we transitioned throughout the week to the W.B. Yeats poems, “To a Child dancing in the Wind” and “Sailing to Byzantium”, “The Journey” by Mary Oliver, “A Philosophical Satire” by Sor Juana Inéz de la Cruz, Martin Luther King, Jr.’s “I Have a Dream” speech, “The Threshold” by Cristina Peri Rossi, “Method of Dream Interpretation” by Sigmund Freud, the first chapter of Don Quixote and finishing with Genesis 28:10-22.


at the lecture

Food by Alina

What do Great Books campers eat?

No, not words and chunks of paper.

During our weeks at camp we shared breakfast, lunch and dinner- or should I say teatime because it was a little bit earlier than usual- at the Valentine Hall. There plenty of options from different cereals to bagels, from pizza to various greens, a salad bar, and there was even ice cream, yes toppings included!

But because lectures and classes were very stimulating and at times mentally exhausting, we really needed to stay fueled all day long, so we munched on kind bars and rice rollers in the common area.

Maps by Shanoy

In “Maps with Peter”, we cover facts about maps that no one cares to think about. When looking at a map, no one bothers to question who created the map and how relevant it is. Maps were used in nation-states and empires to legitimize the power of the ruler and to help the powerless remain powerless since they could not locate resources. Now that a larger variety of maps exist, people tend to forget the power a map holds and how it can contribute to a nation.


Arthurian Legends by Alina

“Arthurian Legends” was another literature elective, all about princesses, knights, swords and battles. What intrigued us about the class was the debates we held to see who won the best knight cup (Lancelot or Gawain) and the discussions we had on whether destiny is always true and fair. And when class was all over we always wondered we should pick up our bags or pick up shiny swords instead, but then we woke up from this dream and realized we were not on the battlefield anymore – we were at Amherst College instead.

Bringing Big Ideas to Life by Rachel

“Bringing Big Ideas to Life with Gabe” is a literature elective for the aspiring entrepreneur, or anyone with a big idea to solve a prevalent issue. On the first day, the questions to consider were: what is a problem that you could solve? Is anyone else doing it? If so, how will you do it differently? Who do you need on your team? The next step was a Value Proposition, a short summary of what your benefit your idea has, whom it is for, and how the idea/product solves the problem uniquely from competitors. Campers also created survey questions, to determine how the public would react to their product and what specific aspects were appealing about it. Competitor analysis came next. Campers created charts that compare similar companies/products on the market to their own, and demonstrate what features their own products have that the competitors do not. Overall, even if you don’t ending up starting your own company, this elective does a great job of showing you the creative process behind bringing a big idea to life!

Words Matter by Sarah

Every camper was required to select a different literature elective and my choice was “Words Matter”.  “Words Matter” discusses the many reasons behind why an author uses a specific word and talks about word choice.  This class allows campers to dissect poems, in order to find deeper meanings behind them.  The campers also discuss how the poems sound with different words or translations.  

Shakespeare and film with Zara Wilson

The lights dim. The speakers roar. It’s time to assert yourself into sixteen century Britain.   We begin this literature elective with a brief summary of the play we will watch in film formation.  Then we make elaborate predictions of how the story will be portrayed on screen.  After each scene we discuss how the small details and acting orchestrate and develop the story. We then compare this the same scene of the play in a different version of the movie.  Everyone has different opinions on which versions are the most profound. The point of the class is to see the clashing versions of films and decide what stylistic productions appeal to you so you can make more educated decisions when choosing what you want to watch.

Free Time by Rachel

There are many different activities scheduled into each day at Great Books. “Free time” is a nice hour in the afternoon for campers, since there are plenty of activities to partake in. You could walk into town with friends to get a snack, stop in CVS for some dorm essentials, and just hang out.

The Amherst Book Store is another place in town frequented by campers, looking for more great books to read of course. Field games are another fun free time activity. Campers can be found playing soccer or throwing around a frisbee in the quad between Morrow and Morris Pratt. On Tuesdays and Thursdays, when a lifeguard is present, the Amherst pool is open to Great Books for an afternoon swim. Great Books also has access to Amherst’s gym, where campers can spend their free time using gym equipment and machines, lifting weights, running on a treadmill, or biking on an elliptical. And if you’re not feeling any of that and want some down time during this hour, you can hang out in the common area or play indoor games. Jenga is a popular one.

Social Events by Sarah

Every night after pod readings, there are different activities for all campers to participate in.  The events allow the campers to mingle and get to know others outside of their pod.  The evening events ranged from playing games, such as Ring of Fire, to listening to a guest speaker describe their life as an author.  On the first night of camp, Sunday, campers and pod assistants played a game of “Where the West Wind Blows” on the quad, in order to get to know a little about each other.  On Monday night, there was sword fighting in the quad followed by an ice cream social in the common room of the dorm.  Both the game and ice cream allowed campers to get to know each other and those outside of their pods.  Tuesday night, there was a screening of the movie Inception, which tied into the theme of the week, dreams and responsibility. Wednesday night, there was a guest speaker who described the writing process and how her life has changed since her book has been released.  Thursday night, the traditional dance took place which allowed for the intermediate and senior classes to socialize and have a great time together.

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