April Jehan Morris '98

What brought you to Hood College?

As a proud Hood alum, it is a honor to share in the ongoing life and growth of this college. As a student, I found Hood and its community to be a place that was profoundly supportive, that challenged me intellectually and encouraged me to discover and reach for new goals and ideals. Now, as a faculty member, I am privileged to be able to support my students as they engage in their own investigations and develop their own ideas and aims.

What do you value most about your relationship with students?

In my classes, my students and I work as a team, exploring together the object-strewn landscapes of other times and places. Each student brings their own unique viewpoint and voice that contributes to and enriches our collective and collaborative explorations. It may sound cliché, but my students are often my best teachers. They constantly bring new ideas and challenge old modes of approach. Our interactions, both in the classroom and out of it, make every day new and exciting.

Why is teaching your dream job?

I am omnivorously and endlessly curious. Teaching provides me with ongoing opportunities to learn and discover things, ideas, and modes of looking at and understanding the world. Sometimes these are encounters with something entirely new. At other times, teaching brings me moments when something so familiar as to be all but invisible is brought suddenly into a new, rich light, granting me glimpses of the known world through new eyes. That, to me, is the best kind of magic. Exploring the amazing diversity and range of human material culture with my students grants us all entry into a world full of encounters with the thoughts, values, desires, and dreams of people from all periods in history and all around the world. Through examining the objects and monuments that shaped and filled their lives, we have the chance to embrace differences while recognizing the deep connection of our shared humanity.

Describe your approach to teaching.

To me, learning is always collaborative. In the twelfth century, John of Salisbury noted that we are always lifted up by those who went before us, and that their knowledge and experiences are the foundations of how we continue to think, challenge, and grow. As a scholar, my work is intertwined with that of my colleagues and predecessors. As a teacher, it is deeply engaged with the explorations of my students. Together, we explore the work and ideas of those who have come before us, and question, consider, and examine those ideas from our contemporary perspectives. All scholarship – all knowledge, I suppose we could say – is an ongoing discourse, a conversation of thousands of voices stretching back and forwards across time. Our classes are where we engage in and contribute to that ongoing conversation.

Describe your academic interests and research.

Cultural identity and the sacred are two themes that tend to underlie many of my research questions. I work primarily on regions of southwestern France during the twelfth century, when the Crusades increased Mediterranean travel and trade, and a growing understanding of the world beyond Europe provoked many questions about the nature of Christian and European identity. Entangled with these questions, particularly during the Crusade, is the intense desire for and veneration of sacred sites and objects, from relics to the city of Jerusalem itself, that often led to the creation of evocative and complex visual treatises full of the fears, needs, and concerns of the authorities of the age. Public works of art in this period often were meant to persuade, reinforce, or encourage certain ideas or patterns of thought among the general populace, and do so in any number of fascinating symbolic and metaphorical ways. I’m also deeply interested in what makes an object sacred, and the process and choices that set some objects or materials apart as holy, while other, often identical objects, are not seen or treated in the same manner. I’ve just begun looking at small collections of very humble materials, like dirt, stones, and even vials of water, and hope to investigate how these objects functioned as material enforcements of spiritual values, and how they were selected, transported, handled, and understood by the people who collected/selected them.

When you aren’t working, what are you doing in your spare time?

There are generally at least half a dozen crafty project of some form or another in various stages of completion around the house. I also enjoy live music, dancing, cooking, and riding every carousel I come across.

Name three books that you would recommend everyone read:

Mark Doty, Still Life with Oysters and Lemon.
Umberto Eco, Foucault’s Pendulum.
E. H. Gombrich, Meditations on a Hobby Horse.

As an alumna of Hood College…

How has a Hood education benefitted you?

Hood has been the foundation of my whole career. It was at Hood that I discovered my field – Art History – and the balanced depth of my undergraduate education and the strong and ongoing support of my mentors from Hood has made everything I’ve done since possible.

How did your time at Hood prepare you for your graduate coursework or career?

The range of courses in my area(s) of interest really prepared me for the depth and scope of graduate work. I’d already been accustomed to small, vibrant seminar-style classes and engaging with a great range of scholarship, so graduate school felt like a very natural progression from my time at Hood. I spent seven years working for non-profits and in the corporate world before I went to grad school, and my time at Hood prepared me equally well for that arena. The focus on self-discipline, intellectual flexibility, and strong writing skills really helped me both land and succeed in a variety of positions.

How did you find the transition?

Moving into post-college life always comes with highs and lows. In terms of my skills and education, however, I felt very prepared to face the challenges and embrace the adventures!

Did you participate in extracurricular activities?

I was involved in Hood Theater and acted as a campus tour guide during my undergraduate years. Although I never thought about it at the time, those experiences really helped me hone my ability to speak in public and meet and converse easily with a range of people. Those skills were and remain incredibly important to every position I’ve ever held – teaching included!

Did you decide on your major right away?

I came in as a declared English major, and quickly wanted to add a second major to feed my endless curiosity. I didn’t look to become an Art History major as well, but I fell in love with the subject during my first semester at Hood, and so kept taking courses in the department. Eventually it became an obvious choice for a second major, and has led to my current career. The interdisciplinary training I received as a dual-major has fundamentally shaped my approach to my research, and I am grateful every day that Hood gave me the opportunity to explore both areas.

What is your favorite memory of Hood?

There are so many! Living in the French House was a marvelous experience. Hood Theater also brought with it any number of great memories. One of my most cherished memories is of singing the Messiah at both USNA and Hood my senior year. The last performance of the Hallelujah chorus was in the Naval Academy’s gorgeous chapel, and I remember looking across the choir and every senior was belting out the chorus through our tears. It was the 50th anniversary of that beloved tradition, and a very special moment for all of us.

Who was your mentor at Hood?

Anne Derbes and Mark Sandona were and remain incredible mentors and advisors. Throughout every stage of my life at Hood and after, they’ve been there to encourage, cajole, advise, and support me. Those relationships have been some of the most formative of my life, and I can only hope to be as effective a mentor for my students! I also was fortunate to work closely with Courtney Carter, Lisa Markus, Hadley Tremaine, Didier Course, David Hein, and Purnima Bhatt. Janice Cole was a wonderful inspiration to me, and I still miss her very much.

What is your opinion on the value of a Hood education?

Having now spent many years at a range of different colleges and universities around the country, I appreciate even more how unique Hood’s dedication to a true liberal arts education is, and how effectively the curriculum, from the core to the major requirements, shaped and supported my personal and intellectual development. I mentioned the interdisciplinary aspect of being a double major earlier, but in truth, very few of my friends and colleagues had undergraduate educations that encouraged and allowed them to take courses in multiple fields and to work closely with such as range of talented and dedicated teacher-scholars. I was able – and encouraged – to take classes beyond the core requirements in religion, philosophy, anthropology, history, and public relations, all of which have deeply impacted how I think, relate, and understand both the material I study and the world in which we live.

What is your opinion on the value of a liberal arts education?

A retired Navy man once told me that if you spend your life looking out of only one porthole, you’ll never see the full picture. It’s a great metaphor for the value of a liberal arts education. At Hood, each student is encouraged to examine their world and field through multiple windows. We live in a complex and ever-changing world. The richness of a liberal arts education is that it is simply the best preparation possible to effectively understand, engage with, and affect that world.

Why did you choose to attend Hood College?

I knew I wanted to attend a small liberal arts college. Hood’s strong community and the opportunity to work closely with such engaged faculty members really made it stand out. It felt like the natural choice!