#tbt: Let Them Eat Keats

In 1955, English replaced Government as the most popular concentration among Harvard College freshmen. That’s right—back in the days before Sparknotes, hundreds of undergrads willingly signed up for English classes way before “Chick Lit” was even an option.

Government—“the traditional leader”—fell to second place, while History and Social Relations came in third and fourth, respectively. Economics was the fifth most popular area of study (probably because the Class of 1955 had not yet been exposed to the glory of a Mankiw lecture). Nobody took CS classes because David Malan’s parents hadn’t had sex yet.

If you’re having trouble imagining a Harvard where students close-read poems not just to fulfill AIU, just remember that in 1955, times were different. Guys had to concentrate in the Humanities because there weren’t any girls around to do it for them. Most Harvard students were rich and didn’t need to find a real job after college anyway. Plus, we imagine that most Harvard English classes played out like a scene from Dead Poets’ Society (not the “Neil!” one).

Take note that students chose their fields of concentration at the end of their first year. It’s unclear if under this system there was also an advising fortnight for freshmen to lie about attending.