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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, Identity, and Justice

What’s ethically significant about being human, or about our identities as members of various social groups? What do we owe to animals, to ecosystems, to future generations, to AI, and how do our answers to these questions rely on theories of identity? How do social and political institutions and structures limit and enable who we are? How might we reimagine the boundaries of humanity to challenge oppressive and unjust power dynamics? In this course we will examine the origins and enduring justifications for core ethical beliefs, as well as challenges to the idea that there are universal ethical norms by exploring the emergence of different conceptions of humanity and human values from a wide range of globally diverse perspectives. While the course introduces students to many historically significant philosophical voices, most of our classes focus on applying philosophy to concrete contemporary ethical challenges, particularly in the areas of environmental ethics, data ethics, bioethics, and feminist ethics. Note: This course provides the foundations for, and is a prerequisite for, the Philosophy, Ethics and the Law concentration in the Arts & Humanities major. AH111 also counts toward the Minor in Sustainability because it addresses a broad range of environmental ethical topics, including food ethics, climate ethics, and environmental justice.

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

AH113 / Dynamics of Design

Design affects the objects, spaces, and ideas of everyday life, from door handles and physical spaces to laws and the virtual spaces in which we experience our lives. Building on a broadly conceived and interdisciplinary understanding of “design,” this course covers approaches to design that are useful for all types of design practice. We explore how people and their technologies and material worlds have co-evolved over time. We also consider ethical questions related to design and practice transferring principles from one design field to other design fields. We conclude by covering recent developments in design studies that will directly equip you to recognize the contingency of different design logics and the intricacies of design trends that emerge in the future. You’ll leave this course with a deeper and more nuanced knowledge of your technological and material worlds, a robust foundation to further practice various types of design, and a nuanced set of tools to participate in the building and crafting of your communities as a designer and/or citizen. Note: This course qualifies as part of the Interdisciplinary Minor in Sustainability because it addresses sustainable design. Students learn how social, technological, and ecological systems interact in design processes and products and how to use the tools of design for more just and sustainable outcomes.

Prerequisite: AH51


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 Design Across the Humanities
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 Worldviews, Moral Dilemmas AH154 / Law and Ethics from a Global Perspective 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

Design Across the Humanities

Explore how design and our built environment intersects with history, ethics, and artistic practices. Use this knowledge with design skills to imagine possible community futures, innovate, and create new works.

Career Possibilities

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

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 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 Worldviews, 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 from a wide range of global perspectives, including Greek, Confucian, and African virtue ethical theories, Kantian and Utilitarian moral theories, and Feminist and Buddhist ethical theories centered on care and compassion. Students study ethical theories in their social and historical contexts and then apply them to address moral decisions and dilemmas arising from reproductive and sexual ethics, the ethics of care work, the ethics of markets, climate change ethics and green tourism, and the distribution of scarce health resources.   This course supports and is a prerequisite for both the Philosophy, Ethics and the Law Concentration and the Interpretation and Meaning Concentration in the Arts & Humanities major because the course provides students with experience in closely interpreting philosophical texts in their social and historical contexts, and supports students as they integrate contextual knowledge into their evaluations of each perspective.

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 / Law and Ethics from a Global Perspective

What is the law, why should we obey it, and what constitutes an ethical legal system? Are human rights universal or culturally relative? How should customary laws relate to constitutions, if at all? We examine fundamental legal concepts and practices, as well as the evolution of diverse understandings of law and its application from the perspectives of legal systems throughout the world.  We then consider topics in legal theory such as the role of constitutions and customs, the theory of punishment, the purpose of civil disobedience, the roles of law in constructing social identities, the relationship between national and international law, and the nature and practice of human rights law.   This course supports and is a prerequisite for both the Philosophy, Ethics and the Law Concentration and the Global and Comparative Humanities Concentration in the Arts & Humanities major because the course examines legal theory from a wide range of global perspectives, helping students draw comparisons and cross-cultural critiques of assumptions we find in legal theories.

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? How are our social and political institutions the result of design thinking and how can we critically reflect on the design dynamics in play to contribute to more democratic or more just institutions? 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. Note: This course supports and is a prerequisite for the Philosophy, Ethics and the Law Concentration and the Design Across the Humanities Concentration in the Arts & Humanities major. It also counts toward the Minor in Sustainability because it examines social and political values underpinning institutions of peace and justice featured in contemporary societies, including democratic principles that aim to reduce inequality and poverty, mobility design through immigration and border policies, and the use of design thinking to challenge western conceptions of sustainable development.

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.