Professor Peter Knox Interviewed for the Daily

5 questions with…Baker-Nord Center for the Humanities Director Peter Knox

JUNE 19, 2015

After completing his undergraduate degree in English and Classics at Harvard University, Peter Knox was ready to follow in his father’s footsteps and become an attorney. But before he headed off to law school, Knox learned he’d been awarded a fellowship—one he hadn’t even applied for—to study for a year in Europe, spending a term at Cambridge University and traveling around Greece and Italy.

“I decided that, in fact, I did want to see if I could make a career out of the subject that interested me,” he said. That subject was Latin literature—and, more broadly, the humanities.

His decision led to a career in academia—and eventually to Case Western Reserve, where, since January, he has held the Eric and Jane Nord Family Professorship and directed the Baker-Nord Center for the Humanities, which was founded in 1996 with a gift from Eric and Jane Nord. The center celebrates the humanities and supports research and creative endeavors; to accomplish this, the center hosts many educational events throughout the year.

Students and their parents often approach Knox, concerned about the student’s future after selecting a major in the humanities—a sentiment he knows well, based on his early educational experiences. He reassures them that going into the humanities is rewarding and can lead to lifelong success.

“If you study something that you love, something that excites you, something that broadens your life, you’re going to create a more compelling and creative resume that’s going to make somebody want to hire you,” he said.

A new initiative launched at the Baker-Nord Center last spring semester demonstrates how the humanities prepares students to think critically, read analytically and communicate articulately.

Knox will use the center’s resources to show students that they can go on to be successful, regardless of college major. With the environment in University Circle and at Case Western Reserve, he will have plenty of opportunities.

“Case Western Reserve is a great university and, in a way, it mirrors Cleveland, which is a great city,” Knox said. “Not enough people understand the richness of this urban environment, and, likewise, not enough people understand how rich and diverse a university Case Western Reserve is. I’m hoping some of the activities starting here at the Baker-Nord Center will help spread that word.”

Because Cleveland—and University Circle in particular—is full of cultural institutions, forging partnerships is one of the biggest priorities for Knox, who came to Case Western Reserve from the University of Colorado in Boulder.

Knox hopes to raise the center’s profile on campus—especially with students—and in Cleveland.

In April 2016, the center will launch the Cleveland Humanities Festival, a highly visible event open to the entire Cleveland community. It will bring together many area institutions, including the Cleveland Museum of Art, Cleveland Institute of Music, Cleveland Museum of Natural History, Rock and Roll Hall of Fame and the Louis Stokes Cleveland VA Medical Center—to name just a few.

The festival’s theme will be “Remembering War,” featuring a coordinated series of academic and artistic events that shows the impact of war on society and culture. Knox hopes the event will become an annual fixture, with a new theme each year.

Learn more about Knox with this week’s five questions.

1. What technology do you think we should have, but don’t…yet?

Time travel. I’ve published a number of wild interpretations about lost literature from antiquity and I would like to find out just how wrong I am.

2. What was the most challenging part of your education?

Probably my first year in college. It was also the most fun. I had no idea what I wanted to study, and so I was all over the map looking at possibilities in history and in computer science and English literature. Classics was nowhere on the horizon for at least another year or two.

3. What popular icon to you most identify with? Why?

I would say LeBron James because he has the career I really wish I had. I think he’s truly an inspirational figure for the city of Cleveland and for Northeast Ohio. I’d love to get him to come speak at the center sometime.

4. If you could live in any other time period, which would it be?

I would love to live on the Bay of Naples in the late 1st Century BCE after the conclusion of the civil wars that brought Augustus to power and before the eruption of Vesuvius in 79.

5.What is your favorite thing about Case Western Reserve?

The people. I have spent five months meeting people across the campus, not just in the humanities, but also in the sciences and the social sciences. I would say that, especially in the humanities, I have been overwhelmed by the assembly of talent and energy and the number of just plain wonderful people that I’ve met here.

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