Humanities 110

Introduction to the Humanities

Humanities 110 explores how people living in diverse historical contexts have engaged fundamental questions about human existence.

What are the humanities?

“The humanities” referred originally to the study of texts written by human, rather than divine, hands. In modern education, the humanities include the study of literature, history, philosophy, religion, politics, and the arts. Students of the humanities consider how people have represented and reflected on the physical, social, psychological, and ideological features of their worlds. We investigate the various materials that form the basis of cultures and identities and that simultaneously provide key terms for their critique and transformation. Possible questions include: How have different people distinguished appearance from reality, nature from culture, particular from universal? How have they made sense of the connection between the individual and the collective? How can we understand the relations between reason and desire, word and deed, the worldly and the transcendent?

What do we study?

Humanities 110 introduces students to humanistic inquiry by considering a range of artistic, intellectual, political, and religious strategies that emerged in different geographical and temporal contexts. The course examines how varieties of human thought interact to produce distinctive ways of life. Recognizing that no community is self-contained, we seek also to interpret texts as artifacts of cultural exchange, influence, and differentiation. In 2018-2019, we will examine these questions in four contexts, constituting four thematic modules over the course of the year:

  • Exile and Return: The Ancient Mediterranean examines cultural transmission and circulation by interrogating myths of foundation, wandering, exile, and return from Mesopotamian, Egyptian, Greek, and Israelite sources.
  • Governing the Self and the Polis: Athens focuses on the city’s classical period (the 5th-4th centuries B.C.E.) to consider theories about, and representations of, empire, democracy, citizenship, and the good life.
  • Palimpsest of Past and Present: Tenochtitlan/Mexico City looks to a city that was a center of power for successive states (Aztec, Spanish, Mexican) to analyze how history and identity are continually created and re-created.
  • Aesthetics and Politics: Harlem turns to a dynamic cultural center of the early twentieth century in order to interrogate the relationship between artistic creation and social and political transformation. 

What skills do you learn and practice?

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 and persuasively;
  • 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. 

Coming Up

Mon 28 Jan

Nathalia King

Wed 30 Jan

David Garrett

Fri 1 Feb

No Lecture

Full syllabus


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Jolie Griffin
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