Humanities 10 Will Fulfill Expos Requirement For First Time

Though an expository writing class has been a feature of every Harvard undergraduate’s education since the program’s introduction in 1872, a new policy will allow students who qualify for placement in Expository Writing 20 to enroll in Humanities 10a and 10b instead.

At the introductory meeting for Humanities 10a: “A Humanities Colloquium” on Thursday, more than 150 freshmen filled the seats and aisles of Fong Auditorium in Boylston Hall. Several students shopping the course—a year-long, interdisciplinary introduction to Western cultural works ranging from Homer’s "Odyssey" to James Joyce’s "Ulysses"—said the new Expos credit policy has made the course more appealing.

Alison Simmons Introduces Humanities 10a
Philosophy professor Alison Simmons introduces students to Humanities 10a. The two-semester course serves as an introduction to the study of the humanities and can now fulfill the College’s expository writing requirement.

“Getting Expos credit did influence my decision [to shop the class],” Hanna M. Glissendorf ’19 said. “It was definitely a perk.”

Another freshman, Liana M. Henderson-Semel ’19, said she prefers the broader focus of the Humanities 10 course to the more specific topics covered in Expos 20 classes.

“I felt like [Humanities 10] offered a lot more than Expos in terms of literature and history,” she said.


Humanities 10 was reintroduced last year. The course has since undergone substantial restructuring to incorporate many of the elements of the usual Expos 20 curriculum, according to Humanities 10 teaching faculty.

Because enrollment in Humanities 10 will be based on a selective application process, only 75 freshmen will be able to take advantage of the new option. In her opening speech to the packed lecture hall, Philosophy professor Alison Simmons, one of the head teaching faculty for the course, cautioned against taking it solely as an alternative to Expos 20.

“If this is a course that you think would be an interesting way to fulfill the Expos requirement, this is not the course for you,” she said. “It really needs to be your top-priority class.”

Simmons and Amanda J. Claybaugh, another course head, said they have collaborated with the Harvard College Writing Program to strengthen the writing instruction in the class.

Students Crowd Humanities 10a Lecture
"I am delighted to see the students that are interested in this important pathway into the study of the humanities, and we will continue to do our best to support it," said Arts and Humanities Dean Diana Sorensen. Students crowded into Fong Auditorium on Thursday morning to attend the first lecture of Humanities 10a: A Humanities Colloquium: From Homer to Descartes.

“The faculty have met with [the Writing Center] to talk about what their goals are, and we have all of their literature on goals and strategies,” Simmons said. “We have a preceptor who’s part of our teaching team, who’s coming to all of our meetings and helping us design assignments and think through the one-on-one meetings with students to talk about their writing.”

According to Simmons and the course’s head teaching fellow, Lauren Kopajtic, Dean of Undergraduate Education Jay M. Harris first proposed the idea of working with the Expos program. Harris will also lecture in Humanities 10a this fall.

“It was a faculty-level discussion, and Dean Harris in particular was instrumental in working with the other faculty to make this happen,” Kopajtic said.

For her part, Simmons said the new emphasis on writing will render the course more valuable to potential humanities concentrators.

“[Claybaugh and I] both feel that writing in the humanities is part of thinking,” she said. “You can’t think in the humanities without doing some writing, because it’s all an integrated activity.”

—Staff writer Elizabeth C. Keto can be reached at