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Arts and Humanities Major

The arts and humanities take the history of human creative thought and expression and apply it to understanding and contextualizing events, ideas, policies, and human relationships. They foster an appreciation for other ideas, other times and other cultures, as well as new ways of looking at the world.

Arts and humanities scholarship produces better-informed leaders, innovators and global citizens with a social conscience, who are able to express their views persuasively and through different media and forms.

Cornerstone Courses

In their first year, Arts and Humanities majors complete their Cornerstone Courses.

Core Courses

In their second year, Arts and Humanities majors enroll in core courses that provide the foundation for the Arts and Humanities concentrations. They also take electives from core courses offered in other majors.

AH110 / Global History

From prehistoric times, human populations have moved across the globe. Driven by environmental, economic, political, and social forces, they have carried with them and have been exposed to new customs, new technologies, and new ideas for structuring societies and interacting with other peoples. They have also brought war, disease, and reduced cultural and biological diversity. Through theoretical and empirical readings about cross-cultural, transnational, and global encounters, this course provides you with the analytical tools to examine the large sweep of such events and movements in the period since 1400 from a variety of perspectives, to understand their causes, their impacts, the counter-currents they engendered, and what we can learn from them. Throughout we pay attention not only to what happened in the past, but to how historians have interpreted these developments.

Prerequisite: AH51

AH111 / Morality, Justice, and the Good Life

Are there moral truths? If so, what are they and why should we accept that they exist? In this course you learn about the origins and enduring justifications for moral beliefs, as well as challenges to the existence of objective morality. We explore how moral concepts, and in particular the concept of justice, provide the foundation for legitimate social and political institutions. We also examine the relevance of moral concepts to the lives of individuals, to their interactions, and to forms of governance across a range of cultures in different parts of the world. We conclude considering how, if at all, ancient philosophical theories can inform our ability to live a good life. This course provides the foundations for, and is a prerequisite for, the Philosophy, Ethics and the Law concentration in the Arts & Humanities major.

Prerequisite: AH51

AH112 / The Arts and Social Change

A fundamental characteristic of the arts is that they are transformative. They lead us to see ourselves in new ways, to re-conceptualize our world, and to rethink our relationship to it. Consequently, the arts are often harbingers and pacesetters for social change. This course explores the use of creative expression in the visual arts, literature, and music to question and sometimes resist authority, to reassess ideological constructs, and to advocate change in social and political systems as well as in the arts themselves. Under what circumstances are such efforts likely to be successful? How do we determine success? To address these issues, the course draws examples from literature, the visual and performing arts, and music from different parts of the world. This course is a foundation and a prerequisite for the Dynamics of the Arts and Literature concentration in the Arts & Humanities major.

Prerequisite: AH51

CS114 / Probability and Statistics and the Structure of Randomness

When can you find patterns in seemingly random noise? Or determine when an observed pattern is likely due to chance? This course focuses on the concepts from probability and statistics used to extract meaning from data. In addition to building a strong, theoretical foundation, students learn how to apply these tools to understand real-world scenarios. Formal topics include Sample spaces, conditional probability and independence, Bayes’ theorem, discrete and continuous random variables, joint distributions, the law of large numbers as well as the central limit theorem among others. These techniques are then used in applications such as statistical learning, linear regression, simulation, maximum likelihood and least squares.

Prerequisite: CS111 or CS111A


In their third year, Arts and Humanities majors select a concentration, begin taking courses within it and begin work on their capstone courses. They also take electives chosen from other Minerva courses (other concentration courses in Arts and Humanities, core and concentration courses in other colleges). Arts and Humanities offers concentrations shown in the table below.

In the fourth year, Arts and Humanities majors enroll in additional electives chosen from Minerva’s course offerings within or outside the major. Additionally, they take senior tutorials in the major, and finish their capstone courses.

  Humanities Analyses Humanities Foundations Humanities Applications
Historical Forces AH142 / The Craft of Historical Analysis AH152 / Comparing Societies and Histories: The Impact of Time and Place AH162 / Public and Applied History
Philosophy, Ethics, and the Law AH144 / Ethical Systems, Moral Dilemmas AH154 / Ethics and the Law AH164 / Social and Political Philosophy
Arts and Literature AH146 / Decoding Art and Literature AH156 / Socioeconomic Influences on Art and Literature AH166 / Artistic Communication from Page to Practice

Each row and each column of the matrix represent a different concentration, as noted above.

Arts and Literature

Acquire a variety of analytical tools to interpret works of art and literature. Explore how art and literature interact with the larger society around them, how they are influenced by economic, political, and social forces, and how in turn art and literature can be used to communicate effectively and persuade others to bring about change.

Career Possibilities

  • Book Publishing Editor
  • Entertainment Attorney
  • Film Maker
  • Museum Curator
  • Music Producer
  • Writer

Historical Forces

Understand the impact of historical forces by acquiring the analytical tools of historians to solve the challenges posed by a wide range of historical problems; learn about comparative methods to analyze the effects of various forces on different societies; and apply what you have learned as a historian to use history as an instrument to inform public debates on contemporary issues.

Career Possibilities

  • Foreign Service Officer
  • Government Staffperson
  • History Professor
  • Investigative Journalist
  • Political Consultant
  • Public Policy Expert

Humanities Analyses

Approach the arts, literature, history, ethics, law, and philosophy from an analytical perspective. Learn how to interpret the arts and literature deeply, using careful observation and appropriate theoretical approaches; apply the methodological tools of the historian to interpret the past as well as the present; and examine the theoretical frameworks of ethical systems to understand their relationship to legal systems and contested moral issues.

Career Possibilities

  • Humanities Professor
  • Legislative Analyst
  • Museum Director
  • Newspaper Critic
  • Press Secretary For Public Official
  • Trial Lawyer

Humanities Applications

Explore the uses of history, ethics, the arts and literature to understand the past, influence the present, anticipate new developments, and persuade cultural, social, political, and economic actors and institutions to modify their plans for the future.

Career Possibilities

  • Attorney
  • Communications Specialist
  • Film Maker
  • Political Scientist
  • Public Policy Expert
  • Urban Planner

Humanities Foundations

Examine the humanities by putting them into their social, cultural, political, and economic contexts. Examine the divergent responses of different societies to challenges in the past and present. Understand the evolution of the arts and literature around the world within their socio-economic, political, and cultural frameworks; and explore how and why our notions of ethical and legal systems, as well as their applications, have changed and continue to change in response to new ideas about the role of individuals and institutions in society.

Career Possibilities

  • Journalist
  • Marketing Writer
  • Novelist
  • Officer for a Non-Profit Foundation
  • Social Commentator
  • University Professor

Philosophy, Ethics, and the Law

Delve into the origins of moral beliefs, the relationship of ethics, philosophy, and law to one another, and the relevance of all three to decision-making. Learn about the theoretical frameworks you can bring to bear when addressing moral issues and investigate how ethical and philosophical analysis may be used to change political and social institutions for the better.

Career Possibilities

  • Attorney
  • Director of Grants
  • Ethicist at a Health Care Organization
  • Legislator
  • Management Consultant
  • Policy Director at a Think Tank

Concentration Courses

AH142 / The Craft of Historical Analysis

History as a field of study is based on a set of methods to analyze the past, understand the foundations of the present, and at times anticipate the future. Historical analysis focuses on why changes did or did not occur in particular societies at various times, how these changes unfolded, the motivations of participants, and the influence that the past may have on the present. This course examines the creative responses of historians to the challenges they face in uncovering the past and addressing these issues. Students deal with questions such as what are the boundaries between historical and fictional narratives? How does who writes history affect what they write? If history is written by those in power, as is often stated, what tools does the historian have to write about the people without a history? What possibilities and limitations are inherent in different kinds of historical evidence, whether material objects, written texts, or digitized data sets?

Prerequisite: AH110

AH144 / Ethical Systems, Moral Dilemmas

Normative ethics is the study of ethical systems that provide answers to the question of how one ought to act in situations of moral significance. Moral dilemmas involve choices between mutually exclusive alternatives, each of which carries significant burdens. This course introduces you to theoretical frameworks that one can apply to addressing moral decisions and dilemmas, such as those involved in animal rights, climate change, torture, and euthanasia.

Prerequisite: AH111

AH146 / Decoding Art and Literature

We can gain a deeper appreciation of any work of art, music, or literature by delving into issues of form, structure, and function. In this course students acquire the tools to understand different artistic genres through close analysis of individual works. The course draws examples from both the western and non-western traditions, from diverse historical periods, and from works with different functions that are aimed at different audiences. The goal is to provide students with a broad set of analytical tools that they can apply to a wide range of visual, textual, and musical works.

Prerequisite: AH112

AH152 / Comparing Societies and Histories: The Impact of Time and Place

Historical narratives often rely on implicit comparisons between time periods and societies. In this course, students make these comparisons explicit in order to illuminate differences and similarities in the ways societies have responded to political, economic, social, and environmental challenges. Students combine the fundamentals of historical inquiry with methods and perspectives from sociology and anthropology to examine controversial debates about the relative success and failure of different societies and the responses of different societies to similar challenges from the seventeenth century to the present; they also analyze case studies on topics including empire, nationalism, responses to environmental and political crises, and social movements. Along the way, they consider what is gained and what is lost by approaching historical phenomena from a comparative perspective.

Prerequisite: AH110

AH154 / Ethics and the Law

What is the law, why should we obey it, and what constitutes an ethical legal system? We examine fundamental legal concepts and practices, as well as the evolution of our understanding of law and its application. We then consider topics in legal theory such as the role of constitutions, the difference between criminal and civil law, the theory of punishment, the purpose of civil disobedience, the relationship between national and international law, and the nature and practice of human rights law.

Prerequisite: AH111

AH156 / Socioeconomic Influences on Art and Literature

For several centuries artistic and literary works were considered the product of the individual creative genius of artists and writers. More recently, scholars have argued that these works are also social products, that they are shaped by the economic, social, and cultural forces of their societies. To what extent and in what ways do socioeconomic and cultural forces influence the arts and literature? This course explores this and related questions as we examine issues such as the relationship between artists, writers, patrons, and clients; the social and cultural functions of different works of art and literature; the role of gender and power relations in the creation, production and reception of art; the education and training of artists and writers; the influence of globalization on artistic production and practice; and the organization of labor in the production of art. Who is in and who is out of the process of artistic and literary creation, production, and reception? And what implications does this have for participation in the various art markets that have emerged over time? Finally, how can an understanding of the social and economic processes influencing the arts and literature help us become more informed creators and consumers of art today? Drawing on key cultural and socioeconomic theoretical frameworks to ground our understanding, this course focuses on artistic and literary works from different time periods and locales, and ranging from popular and to elite traditions, in order to explore in greater depth a diversity of styles as well as interpretive perspectives.

Prerequisite: AH112

AH162 / Public and Applied History

"The past is never dead. It's not even past," wrote William Faulkner. The presentness of the past is evident in the controversies that ensue when history is used and misused for public purposes. This course analyzes some of the critical public debates that have occurred over historical issues and over governmental policies enacted in different parts of the world in response to museum exhibits, memorials, the publication of history textbooks, and the making of historical films. It also examines the call for political actions based on a fictitious past as well as the role of historians in opposing such efforts. Students consider questions such as: what constitutes public history and what theoretical issues does it raise? What is the difference between public memory and history? What are the standards and responsibilities of the field? What obligations does the historian have to the living and the dead, and what preparation do historians need in order to be effective in this increasingly important segment of the historical profession?

Prerequisite: AH110

AH164 / Social and Political Philosophy

As individuals, we lead both private and public lives. Political and social institutions provide the framework within which we interact with others and pursue our personal goals and ambitions. What is the proper role of these institutions, and how can we change them for the better? This course explores these questions by examining central topics in social and political philosophy, including democracy, justice, the family, and the nature of social identity. We investigate how political and social systems ought to be designed, with special consideration to international issues including environmental pollution, humanitarian intervention, global poverty, migration, and secession.

Prerequisite: AH111

AH166 / Artistic Communication from Page to Practice

This course examines various modes of artistic expression and communication—including protest, propaganda and humor. Our aim is to understand the different ways that works of literary, musical, visual, and multimedia art shed light on the world and communicate with a wide range of different communities and constituencies. To address this goal, we will ask questions such as: How do poems or stories express artistic visions differently than paintings or music? Is a documentary film an effective form of propaganda and is it potentially more or less effective than a photograph? How do these genres vary in their abilities to persuade? The course explores these and related questions, paying particular attention to moving images—films, television shows, and works of digital art. Students apply theory to practice and use the modes of communication analyzed in class to communicate and persuade by producing creative projects, whether they be poems, works of creative fiction, musical compositions, graphic art posters, or other works.

Prerequisite: AH112

Capstone Courses

In their fourth year, Arts and Humanities majors finish their Capstone Courses.