Reed College Catalog

Reed College offers an educational program based on “an honest effort to disregard old historic rivalries and hostilities between the sciences and the arts, between professional and cultural subjects, and, I might add, the formal chronological cleavage between the graduate and the undergraduate attitude of mind.”

The above statement was taken from the remarks made to the Association of American Colleges by Richard F. Scholz, second president of Reed College, in 1922. It remains a fundamental commitment today. A major focus of that commitment is the humanities program, which, since its inception in 1943, has served as a model for many similar programs throughout the nation. In 1995 the program opened a new chapter with the inauguration of Chinese humanities as an integral component.

Each Reed student’s educational program includes one year of humanities studies in the first year. The student may elect to continue the study of humanities with courses in the early modern and modern periods of European civilization or in the foundations of Chinese civilization.

The humanities curriculum places primary emphasis not upon information, important as that may be, but upon the development of disciplined thinking and writing through the interpretation of works of art, literature, or other means by which people have expressed themselves and ordered their lives, individually and socially. Courses acquaint students with poetry, drama, painting, sculpture, music, religion, philosophical systems, forms of political and social order, and historical works.

Students are encouraged to think about course materials in their cultural contexts and from the perspective of a variety of individual disciplines. For instance, in the plays of Aeschylus the handling of aristocratic legends reflects the contemporary political concern with tyranny, as in the Agamemnon, and with the substitution of city justice for blood revenge, as in the Eumenides. Similar methods of interpretation apply to later periods in Europe, with such figures as St. Augustine, Shakespeare, Locke, J.S. Mill, Flaubert, Conrad, and Woolf. In the study of Chinese civilization, Sima Qian’s Shi Ji is examined both for its philosophy of history and for its implications concerning narrative theory, while the shi- and ci-poetry of the Song dynasty are treated as embodiments of both an expanding aesthetic vision and changing social values. All the courses attend to the fine arts: for example, the Acropolis as a focus of the city-state, the sculptural program of Augustus’s Altar of Peace, architecture of the Italian Renaissance, 18th-century interior decoration, funerary art of the Han period, and landscape painting of Song China.

In a structure that allows Reed students to develop multiple perspectives on a common body of learning, scholars from many disciplines lecture and lead conferences in the course. One of the three units of credit for Humanities 110 reflects the attention given explicitly to developing analytical and writing skills, where the representative works studied are effective subjects for frequent papers, discussed in individual paper conferences.

Course Requirements

  1. All first-year students are required to take Humanities 110, as are those transfer students who have not completed equivalent transferable courses.
  2. It is recommended that sophomores take Humanities 210, 220, or 230.

Transfer student humanities: students transferring more than six units may substitute one of the 200-level humanities courses and one additional unit from Group A or Group B for the first-year humanities requirement. Courses used to fulfill the humanities requirement may not be used to fulfill other college distribution requirements.

Humanities 11, 12 - Humanities in Perspective

Half course for one semester. This course places primary emphasis on the development of disciplined thinking and writing through the interpretation of works of art, literature, and other means by which people have expressed themselves and ordered their lives, individually and socially. The course acquaints students with poetry, drama, painting, sculpture, religion, philosophical systems, forms of political and social order, and historical works.

Fall semester: Individual and Community in Greece

The fall semester focuses on works of the classical period by Sophocles, Euripides, the lyric poets, Thucydides, Plato, and Aristotle.

Spring semester: Individual and Community: Majority Rule and Minority Rights

The spring semester examines works in American history and culture from the 18th through the 20th centuries. Texts include the Declaration of Independence, the Constitution, the Federalist Papers, and works by Paine, Emerson, Thoreau, Fuller, Whitman, Douglass, Twain, Chesnutt, Dunbar, Du Bois, Washington, King, Malcolm, and Morrison. Lecture-conference.

Humanities 110 - Introduction to Western Humanities

One and one-half course for one year. Lecture-conference.

Fall semester: Greece

The fall semester focuses on the development of culture in ancient Greece, beginning with Homer’s Iliad. It progresses through the rise and evolution of the polis as reflected in the histories of Herodotus and Thucydides as well as in Aeschylus’s Oresteia and selected plays of Sophocles and other dramatists. The semester ends with the critiques made by Plato and Aristotle in the Republic and the Nicomachean Ethics of individual and polis virtues. Parallel developments in the heroic ideal and civic art are followed through a study of archaic and classical sculpture, vase painting, and architecture. The course concentrates on the Greeks’ relation to the gods, to the state, to their fellows, and to their developing self-consciousness. The subject areas of art history, philosophy, political institutions, and myth are studied to understand how they and their interrelationships reveal distinctive features of Greek civilization.

Spring semester: Rome

The second term is devoted to a consideration of imperial Rome and to the encounter between classical culture and the Judeo-Christian tradition. The course examines the background and ideology of the early Principate as developed and described by the major authors of the Augustan Age, including Livy, Virgil, and Ovid. The political, philosophical, and historical implications of this development are traced in the works of Seneca and Tacitus. The second half of the spring semester begins with a reading of Hebrew biblical materials and then examines noncanonical texts of the Jewish and Christian traditions as well as New Testament materials. After a detailed investigation of the confrontation between Christianity and the Roman world, the course concludes with St. Augustine’s Confessions, in which the values and ambitions of classical antiquity are developed in the light of an emergent Christian orthodoxy.

Humanities 210 - Early Modern Europe

Full course for one year. This course studies the culture, state, and society in the centuries of Europe’s decisive transformation to an imperial power. Beginning in the early 14th century and ending with Louis XIV in France and early Enlightenment rationalism in England, we examine the first stages of Europe’s “modernization.” The course opens with Dante and the culture of late medieval and early Renaissance Italy. In the humanist tradition from Petrarch, we trace the rise of a Renaissance episteme—intensified individualism, a science of microcosm and macrocosm, and renewed religious confidence—in the context of urban capitalism; religious, military, and technological innovations; popular culture traditions; the exploration and conquest of new and alien worlds; the church’s struggle for cultural containment; and political experimentation in city-state, monarchy, and empire. The first semester culminates in an examination of crisis and creativity in the generation of the 16th century: Machiavelli, More, Erasmus, Luther, and Montaigne. The second term opens with the play of Reformation, Counter Reformation, and scientific and philosophical change in Shakespeare, Galileo and his critics, and in Bacon’s and Descartes’s efforts at a new logic to fit the needs of worldly observation and religious anxiety. We then contrast 17th-century France and England, where new social and political orders and a neoclassical culture exemplify different constructive responses to the turmoil of religious wars, social and economic change, and the breakdown of inherited values. The course ends with the apparent recovery of confidence in the age of the early Enlightenment. Prerequisite: Humanities 110 or equivalent. Lecture-conference.

Humanities 220 - Modern European Humanities

Full course for one year. An interdisciplinary study of the development of modern European society and culture, from the Enlightenment to roughly the mid-20th century. Primary attention is given to the transformations of ideas, political institutions, social structures, and forms of artistic and literary expression that characterize the modern world. The course emphasizes such crucial areas as the Enlightenment, the French Revolution, Romanticism, Industrial Revolution, liberalism and socialism, imperialism, modernism and 20th-century war, revolution, totalitarianism, and genocide. The course includes lectures, discussions, and papers on topics of individual interest that are developed in each conference. Prerequisite: Humanities 110 or equivalent. Students may not register for the course if they have a conflict with the lecture hour. Prerequisite: Humanities 110 or equivalent. Lecture-conference.

Humanities 230 - Foundations of Chinese Civilization

Full course for one year. This course is an interdisciplinary examination of two pivotal periods in Chinese history, the Qin/Han (221 B.C.E.–220 C.E.) and Song (960–1279 C.E.) dynasties. Prerequisite: Humanities 110 or equivalent. Lecture-conference.

Fall semester: The Qin/Han Unification

In geography and cultural advances, the Qin and Han dynasties surpassed their predecessors, and together they number among the world's greatest empires. This course examines their heritage through a selection of primary texts including the Confucian Analects, the enigmatic Dao de Jing, the cosmological Book of Changes, and the historical narrative tradition of Sima Qian's Shi Ji. It  samples cultural expression ranging from the poetic discourse of rhapsodies and pentasyllabic verse to the religious endeavors manifested in the emperor's own fengshan sacrifices. Alongside textual studies, this course explores the Han's physical remains, including the ruins of its capitals, the Wu Liang shrine, and its important tombs. The Qin/Han portrays itself as a territorial, political, and cultural unifier, and it sets the benchmark against which all later dynasties must measure themselves.

Spring semester: The Great Song Transition

During the Song renaissance, China mentally realigned itself, first because it had to acknowledge other powers in the world such as the nomad states along its own northern borders, and second because those nomads would eventually occupy the northern half of China. Foreign religions such as Tiantai and Chan Buddhism flourished alongside the indigenous popular pantheon, all of which we study through their primary texts. Furthermore, China was undergoing internal changes such as the emergence of a vibrant urban culture, a culture we hear through Song storytelling and see through Song cityscape paintings. This realignment found other new expressions in intimate ci-poetry and monumental landscape art. The Qin/Han unification may have laid the basic foundation of China, but the Song gave modern China its true cultural heritage.

Humanities 411 - Senior Symposium

One-half course for one semester. The senior symposium provides a common core of study for seniors of all divisions and promotes an exchange of experience in an effort to understand critical problems of our age. Each section of the course is limited to 15 students and is guided by three faculty members representing different divisions. Basing discussion on significant works written in recent years by such people as W.G. Sebald, Susan Sontag, Derek Walcott, Lani Guinier, Alice Munro, and Edward Said, as well as on film and art, the course considers interpretations of current artistic, social, economic, and political issues; the problem of the relation of science to society; and the nature of science and the limits of knowledge. Ultimately the course is concerned with basic diagnoses of our age made in terms of differing fundamental points of view. Offered on a credit/no credit basis only. Prerequisite: senior standing. Discussion.