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Faculty Reports Call for Solutions to Predicaments Facing Humanities Scholarship

By Brianna D. MacGregor, Crimson Staff Writer

A set of three reports released Thursday by a faculty committee call for a vigorous response to the decline of humanistic study at Harvard, including the establishment of new curricular offerings, an internship program, a new undergraduate humanities center similar to the Harvard Innovation Lab, and a new humanities-minded organization roughly modelled after the Institute of Politics.

The reports also advocate targeting first-year students to help reverse the falling number of humanities concentrators, recommending improved freshman advising and special programming for prospective and incoming students.

Commissioned by divisional dean of arts and humanities Diana Sorensen, the reports are the product of 18 months of research and reflection by a collection of faculty in the arts and humanities division working as part of the Humanities Project, a division-wide initiative.

The longest report, entitled “Mapping the Future,” begins by analyzing the history of humanistic study at Harvard. Over the past 60 years, the report says, the percentage of humanities concentrators at the College has declined from 24 to 17 percent, mirroring a downward trend nationwide.

The report also sets forth goals for the future of the humanities at Harvard, including greater interdisciplinary collaboration across divisions and increased publicity of the myriad of job prospects that potentially await humanities concentrators.

A second report, the proposal of a working group focused on curricular innovation, discusses the addition of new “gateway” courses that will aim to draw student interest early on in their careers. These new courses will include three introductory humanities courses—“The Art of Listening,” “The Art of Reading,” and “The Art of Looking”—set to launch in the upcoming academic year, as well as a year-long humanities survey course for freshmen and sophomores in the works for the 2014-2015 school year.

The proposal also cites the need for more integrated freshman seminars and improved curricular collaboration within the division itself.

The third report, written by Homi Bhabha, director of the Mahindra Humanities Center, discusses the Center’s role as a common ground for faculty and students of all arts and humanities disciplines.

In a letter introducing the documents, Sorensen wrote that while the reports signal an important step forward for the humanities, revitalizing interest in humanistic learning will require further work.

“These reports...provide a sturdy foundation on which to base our future efforts,” Sorensen wrote. “Though varied in tack and emphasis, these efforts share a common goal: the collective assertion of the humanities as an essential foundational element in American liberal arts education.”

—Staff writer Brianna D. MacGregor can be reached at bmacgregor@college.harvard.edu. Follow her on Twitter @bdmacgregor.

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