"The humanities"—literae humaniores in Latin—referred originally to the study of texts written by human, rather than divine, hands. In modern education, the humanities have come to include the study of literature, history, philosophy, religion, politics, and the arts. From these perspectives, students of the humanities consider some of the ways in which people have represented and reflected on the physical, social, psychological, and ideological features of the world in which they live. They investigate the various materials that form the basis of a culture and that simultaneously provide key terms for its critique and transformation. Typical questions include: How have different cultures distinguished appearance from reality, nature from culture, particular from universal? How have they made sense of the connection between the individual and the various groups in which individuals claim membership? How can we understand the relations between reason and desire, word and deed, the worldly and the transcendent? In pursuing such questions, moreover, humanistic study seeks to employ a set of analytic perspectives – literary, aesthetic, historical, philosophical, social scientific – that have helped shape our intellectual tradition and now compose the foundations of a liberal arts education.
Humanities 110 introduces students to humanistic inquiry by considering a range of artistic, intellectual, political, and religious strategies that emerged in ancient Greece and in the larger Mediterranean world of which it was a part. The course examines how varieties of human thought interact to produce a culture's distinctive way of life. Recognizing that no culture is self-contained, we seek as well to interpret ancient sources as artifacts of cultural exchange, influence, and differentiation. For example, we might consider how materials from ancient Athens intersect and diverge from one another in their reflections on democracy, empire, gender, race, or class, while also considering how these materials compare with those of Mesopotamian, Egyptian, Persian, Israelite, Hellenistic, Jewish, Roman, or early Christian cultures. In doing so, we will encounter issues of continuing relevance pertaining to ideals of truth, beauty, virtue, justice, happiness, and freedom, as well as challenges posed by social inequality, war, power, and prejudice.
As the only course required of all first-year students at Reed, Humanities 110 serves as the College's foundational writing course and introduces students to the skills and habits of mind necessary for academic inquiry in their future work at Reed. Over the course of the year students should become more practiced and adept at:
- Framing questions that elicit deeper analysis;
- Cultivating intellectual curiosity;
- Crafting, analyzing, critiquing, and defending arguments using evidence;
- Expressing ideas in writing and speech clearly, persuasively, and honestly;
- Participating productively and respectfully in a Reed conference discussion;
- Interpreting primary sources in a range of media and genres;
- Practicing the basic methods of various disciplines in the humanities and social sciences.