Division of Humanities


The study of the humanities has traditionally been the core of a liberal or general education. Literature, art, philosophy, and film constitute the subjects of humanistic study at the College. The humanities encompass diverse forms of expression, from the logical to the passionate. The critical disciplines needed for study of the humanities include clear writing, critical reading, and visual and aural attentiveness as well as the capacities to analyze arguments, think logically, form generalizations, and interpret symbols. In addition to these practical skills, the study of the humanities provides familiarity with one’s cultural heritage, cultivation of taste, expansion of sympathies and interests, more profound self-knowledge, and a deepened appreciation of both artistic achievements and philosophical methods. The development of insight and perception, as well as the ability to express oneself intelligibly in both conversation and writing, are objectives of the humanities courses.

The Student of the Humanities

Where such ideal aims are realized, the student will have a clear vision of the imaginative and ethical possibilities of life, as well as rich intellectual, emotional, and artistic resources for personal growth and social usefulness.

An appreciation of the arts does not guarantee creativity any more than the study of ethics ensures virtue, but a person’s capacities to feel deeply and act sensibly are likely to be increased by such knowledge. Moreover, thanks to the College’s interdisciplinary program, the study of the humanities does not occur in isolation from the study of other disciplines. The faculty help students to understand the connections among the humanities and sociological, scientific, and political theories, and historical developments.

Through the analysis of aesthetic and philosophical materials, and from informal and intense discussion, observation, and reading, the humanities faculty aim to encourage in their students a critical turn of mind—that is, the exercise of judgment with respect to reasonable standards of aesthetic and philosophical valuation. In the end, having learned something of the variety and depth of philosophy and the arts, the student’s range of critical reaction is extended and refined. Such a person will be less likely to accept simplistic or biased statements, easy or imprecise arguments, cheap or purely sentimental effects, superficial displays of talent, or unverified assertions.

The division conceives of these qualities as essential to the citizens of a free and democratic society. Such persons will be informed without being pedantic, responsible without losing compassion or humor, sensitive without being weak-minded. The division’s overriding objective is to educate a person who can be relied upon to think clearly and live fully.

Learning Outcomes

Students who complete the Humanities curriculum will be able to:

  1. Write and speak knowledgeably about the major periods of western literature, visual art, and ethical philosophy from the ancient world to the 20th century.
  2. Understand and explain how western cultural and intellectual traditions have been inherited and reimagined through time.
  3. Read and understand major works of western literature and philosophical ethics, with a particular emphasis on historical, thematic, and formal developments in expression.
  4. Be articulate participants in discussion and debate about literature, art, and philosophy.
  5. Describe and assess how aesthetic judgments and ethical claims have been developed and evaluated through time.


All students entering as freshmen in Fall 2018 and after will pursue coursework in the BU Hub, a general education program that is integrated into the entire undergraduate experience. BU Hub requirements are flexible and can be satisfied in many different ways, through coursework in and beyond the CGS program, and in some cases, through co-curricular activities. College of General Studies students will ordinarily, through coursework in the humanities, satisfy some BU Hub requirements in Philosophical, Aesthetic, and Historical Interpretation; Social Inquiry; Diversity, Civic Engagement, and Global Citizenship; and the Intellectual Toolkit. Remaining BU Hub requirements will be satisfied by other College of General Studies courses as well as by selecting from a wide range of available courses within and outside the major or, in some cases, co-curricular experiences.

September Program

To fulfill the CGS Humanities requirement, students select at least three of the four CGS HU courses listed below:

  • Freshman year
    • CGS HU 101 Traditions in the Humanities: The Ancient World Through the Renaissance (4 cr) 
    • CGS HU 102 Breaks with Tradition: The Enlightenment to the Present (4 cr)
  • Sophomore year
    • CGS HU 201 Plato to Nietzsche (4 cr)
    • CGS HU 202 History of 20th-Century Ethical Philosophy and Applied Ethics (4 cr)

January Program

To fulfill the Humanities requirement, students must take HU 104 and select at least two other CGS HU courses listed below:

  • Freshman year
    • CGS HU 103 The Ancient World Through the Enlightenment (5 cr) 
    • CGS HU 104 The Industrial Revolution to the Digital Age (5 cr) (London semester) 
  • Sophomore year
    • CGS HU 201 Plato to Nietzsche (4 cr) 
    • CGS HU 202 History of 20th-Century Ethical Philosophy and Applied Ethics (4 cr)