Humanities Division

Chair: Adam Sweeting

Humanities Courses

CGS HU 101: Traditions in the Humanities: The Ancient World through the Renaissance

Organized historically and devoted to the study of fiction, drama, poetry, art, and film. The semester begins with a unit on ways of interpreting the humanities, proceeds with the study of literature and art from Ancient Greece through the seventeenth century, and includes a film studies component. (4 credits)

CGS HU 102: Breaks with Tradition: The Enlightenment to the Present

Examines the departure from tradition characteristic of the modern in all the arts. Units of study include poetry, modern art, modern drama, and the novel. Particular themes may be stressed, such as, for example, the recurrence in modern culture of the antihero, formal experiment in the arts, or literature as the embodiment of values. Students also analyze five films by distinguished contemporary directors. (4 credits)

CGS HU 103: Changing Times, Changing Minds: Revolutions in the Ancient World through the Enlightenment

Examines key figures and works in literary and artistic traditions from the ancient and classical periods through the Renaissance, concluding with a focus on the Enlightenment and Romanticism. The semester’s units concentrate on how the works reflect cultural ideals and developments and on how they represent evolving aesthetic standards that have shaped conventions in literature and the arts. Coursework and assignments include learning trips to various sites of historical and cultural significance in and around the Boston area to emphasize the Humanities’ relevance beyond the classroom’s boundaries and to cultivate the richness in experiential learning. Open only to students admitted to the CGS January Program. (4 credits)

CGS HU 104: Changing Times, Changing Minds: The Industrial Revolution to the Digital Revolution

Continues its interdisciplinary approach to literature and art history, and moves classroom, students, and the faculty overseas to London for the term. The course focuses on the 19th and 20th centuries and concludes with the technologically complex 21st century period. Assignments encourage research skills, critical thinking, and contextual awareness. As with HU 103, learning trips to historically and culturally important sites enhance the course’s experiential component and augment the humanities’ interdisciplinary significance. Open only to students admitted to the CGS January Program. (4 credits)

CGS HU 201: History of Western Ethical Philosophy: Plato to Nietzsche
A rigorous course in the history of Western ethical thought from Socrates through Nietzsche. The course also includes selected films and literary works that embody philosophical ideas or dramatize ethical dilemmas. Primary texts are used throughout. (4 credits)

CGS HU 202: History of 20th-Century Ethical Philosophy and Applied Ethics
This is a course with two goals: first, the application of philosophical ideas to various areas of modern life, such as politics, science, business, personal development, education, and religious faith; and second, preparation for the Capstone Project. This final project involves each faculty team with small groups of students. The students in each group choose a specific current problem, research it, and synthesize their work in all their courses at the College by producing a 50-page research essay. This essay must include a recommendation for a solution to the problem that is justified politically, scientifically, and ethically. Each student is expected to contribute research and imagination to the group’s report, which is presented in written form, examined by the faculty, then defended orally by the students before their instructors. (4 credits)

Study Abroad

The Division also offers students the opportunity to complete HU 102 and 201 during the summer between their freshman and sophomore years by participating in the CGS Humanities London Summer Program. The summer program is competitive and standard international program requirements apply.

Humanities at the College of General Studies

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 fosters familiarity with one’s cultural heritage, cultivation of taste, expanded 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.

When 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 core 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 as well as 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 a critical turn of mind in their students; 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.