The introduction to a series of articles on the various fields of concentration originally published by Dean C. N. Greenough '98, has been revised by Professor G. H. Chase '96, acting Dean of Harvard College in the absence of Dean Greenough. This preliminary article is by way of explanation of the whole subject of concentration.
In a pamphlet published by the CRIMSON in 1923 many of the fields of concentration were described for the benefit of Freshmen by members of those respective departments. Copies of this pamphlet may be procured at Room 2A, University Hall. The revision by Dean Chase is intended as the first of a number of articles to supplement the pamphlet. Fields unmentioned in the pamphlet will be discussed by members of those faculties hitherto underrepresented.
The supplementary articles will include discussions of the fields of Anthropology, Engineering Sciences, Geology, the Germanic Languages and Literature, Social Ethics, Philosophy and Psychology, and Literature. At an early date the first of these articles will appear in the CRIMSON.
To be kept from choosing at random seventeen courses out of the three hundred or more offered at Harvard is to be protected against the very real danger of having a Freshman's knowledge about many things but not a Senior's knowledge about anything. That is so generally realized that there is little need to argue the advantages of having at least one third of one's courses constitute a kind of picture, the details of which lend meaning to each other and the whole of which is somehow or other much greater than the mere sum of the courses.
Wise Choice Is Not Easy
But the wise choice of the particular field, or even of the general type of field, in which one shall concentrate, is not easy. It involves knowing a good many facts about courses and departments, having some kind of theory about the relation of undergraduate work to work in afterlife, and coming to a certain understanding about one's self. To go carefully into these three matters as they concern one's individual self is a piece of mental exercise that will yield very large returns. To go into them very briefly and generally is the purpose of this short article.
The necessary facts about fields of concentration are too numerous to be repeated here, or even summarized. They are set forth in various pamphlets which may be had at 4 University Hall. If these pamphlets do not tell the whole story, or do not tell it clearly, any of us in University Hall will be glad to answer questions if we can, and to direct men to representatives of departments and professional schools or to others who will willingly give more special advice.
Know What the Bill of Fare Means
In the first place one ought to know what all these subjects mean. Everyone knows what English is (perhaps that is why so many concentrate in it); but a great many men would get E if they were given a test which required them to define all the words from Anthropology to Zoology--which are names of departments under the Faculty of Arts and Sciences. The man who cannot read the bill of fare may get something to eat, but he cannot be said to have chosen his courses.
One should also notice that of these fields of concentration all except those in the various sciences and in Mathematics require a general examination, failure to pass which will cost a man his degree even though he has passed all of his courses, and that in all fields in which the general examination is required, a tutor is provided to give advice in choosing courses and in planning reading in preparation for the general examination.
Some Subjects Combined With Others
It should further be noted that although many fields of concentration correspond to departments (such as Physics, German, and Anthropology), others are combinations of departments (such as History and Literature or Classics and Philosophy). In cases like the last one does not, of course, have to take a double dose. One does not, for example, in Classics and Philosophy have to take the full requirement for concentration in Classics and also the full requirement in Philosophy. Half portions, or there abouts, of each are combined, and the combination is valuable. An important point to consider, therefore, is whether one prefers the more intensive concentration of a departmental field or the wider outlook secured at a certain sacrifice, of course involved in the interdepartmental combination. There are advantages in each.
But even when these points--which are after all pretty simple--have been considered, one has hardly got beneath the surface. What are these subjects supposed to do for a man? What have they done for the men of your acquaintance who have gone farthest in them? What territory do they cover? If each were summed up in a single volume, what would be the chapter headings of that volume? (For some of those chapter headings will be the titles of the courses you will take if you concentrate there). Above all, what sort of a "view of life" does each one take?
Encyclopaedia Would Help
These questions are not answered very well in our official pamphlets, but they can be partly cleared up, at least. A few hours with the Encyclopaedia Britannica will do something. A Saturday afternoon spent in glancing over parts of certain reserved books in the reading room will do more. A series of talks with men who have taken--or given, for that matter courses in these unknown subjects will probably be better still. This may sound like a dull and needless job. But the advantages of a wise choice, and the many and varied misfortunes that follow a bad one, are more than sufficient to justify a good deal of effort spent before it is too late to change. Indeed, it is not too much to say that a careful look, of the sort that I have tried to indicate, into several subjects that one feels one might conceivably concentrate in will prove to be in itself no inconsiderable part of an education.