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Introductory Humanities Courses Aim To Fill Gap

By Brianna D. MacGregor, Crimson Staff Writer

Introductory courses have long been the backbone of many a Harvard student’s undergraduate experience. But while science concentrators enroll in Life Sciences 1a and economics concentrators opt to take Economics 10, students interested in the humanities have not had the same opportunity to take a broad introductory course.

Two new classes this semester, Humanities 11a: “Frameworks: The Art of Looking” and Humanities 11b: “Frameworks: The Art of Listening,” aim to fill that gap. Each one is interdisciplinary in nature and serves as a gateway for students interested in a humanities concentration.

The “frameworks” courses are a creation of the Harvard Humanities Project, an initiative spearheaded by the University’s humanities departments to revitalize student interest and increase collaboration across disciplines. A third course, Humanities 11c: “Frameworks: The Art of Reading,” will be offered for the first time this spring.

Comparative literature professor John T. Hamilton, who co-teaches “The Art of Listening” with music professor Alexander Rehding, explained that the new courses are aimed at freshmen and sophomores who are still trying to finalize their concentration plans, although juniors and seniors are also welcome.

“We’re trying to introduce students to the questions we ask and the work we do in the humanities,” Hamilton said. “This course is introductory on one hand, and on the other hand, universally applicable.”

According to English professor Louis Menand, students feel “comfortable” taking large introductory courses like LS1a or Ec10.

“Freshmen look at courses within the humanities department and don’t know where to start,” said Menand, who co-teaches English 110: “An Introductory Humanities Colloquium,” a class that has acted as an introductory course to the humanities for several years.

History of Art and Architecture professor Robin E. Kelsey, who co-teaches “The Art of Looking” with HAA professor Jennifer L. Roberts, said that he hopes the new frameworks courses will help to establish more of a community among humanities concentrators

“Other introductory courses [in the humanities] begin within a discipline. But with this class, we’re teaching humanistic ways of thinking that cut across these disciplinary boundaries,” Kelsey said.

Roberts described the new frameworks courses as a “massive undertaking” that has elicited genuine excitement among the faculty.

“It’s an exciting new way of organizing our own knowledge,” she said. “In a way, we’re learning things just like the students.”

Both courses have generated significant interest during shopping week. According to Kelsey, approximately 140 students attended the first lecture for “The Art of Looking,” while Hamilton said around 75 students attended the first lecture for “The Art of Listening”—three times the number he had expected.

Isaac C. Dayno ’15, a concentrator in History of Art and Architecture who shopped “The Art of Looking,” described the course’s multidisciplinary approach as “novel” and said he hopes to take the class if he places into it through the lottery.

Dayno added that he would have appreciated the opportunity to take these frameworks courses as a freshman or sophomore.

“As a freshman, it’s easy to become overwhelmed by all the different departments and trying to find your place,” he said. “These classes can give students an important skill set and allow them to engage with different disciplines across the humanities.”

“I think it’s a good idea for the college to be experimenting with these kinds of classes,” said Phillip C. Golub ’16, mentioning that freshmen struggling to find their place in the humanities might benefit from the “frameworks” courses.

Rehding said that the Humanities 11 courses are attempting a “pretty ambitious” feat.

“It’s important for students to understand that the humanities can answer big questions,” said Rehding. “There hasn’t been a forum where this kind of thing is possible. It’s an invitation to explore the humanities.”

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

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