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 2021-2022, we will examine these questions in four contexts, constituting four thematic modules over the course of the year:

  • Introducing the Humanities: Egyptians, Israelites, and Achaemenids exposes students to key questions and methods in the humanities through studying the interaction of different texts and objects in Pharaonic Egypt, selected books of the Hebrew Bible, and Achaemenid Persian monuments and inscriptions. By exploring these interwoven ancient cultures, we’ll raise questions about power, gender, justice, love, beauty, and divinity that we’ll continue discussing throughout the rest of the course.
  • Archaic Greece and the Rise of the Polis examines the diverse aesthetic, intellectual, and political forms, from epic to history to drama to philosophy to the polis itself, that evolved in Greek city-states from the eighth to the fourth centuries B.C.E.
  • 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 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. After successfully completing the full Humanities 110 course, students will be able to:

  • craft, analyze, critique, and defend arguments using evidence;
  • express ideas in writing persuasively;
  • frame questions that elicit productive analysis;
  • contribute constructively to a classroom discussion.

Over the course of the year, we also hope that you will develop your intellectual curiosity and develop a sense of what kinds of work or project you might pursue in a variety of the majors that the College offers.