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Professor Elaine Treharne works with Lore Olivera at Stanford Libraries Special Collections in the Humanities Research Intensive class taught over spring break. Credit: Linda Cicero

What Should I Do If I’m Interested in the Humanities?

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Interested in exploring the historical, literary, artistic, and cultural dimensions of the human experience? Stanford is rich in opportunities to pursue the Humanities. The School of Humanities and Sciences offers eleven humanities and arts departments, as well as several interdisciplinary programs that draw heavily on humanities approaches.

In September, prior to enrolling in Autumn Quarter courses

  • Attend the Academic Planning Session on Getting Started in the Humanities & Arts - time/date TBD

Finding Courses

Stanford offers classes in a variety of humanities subjects that you may not have encountered in high school, from philosophy to film and media studies. Even subjects that may seem familiar, like English, history, and foreign languages and literatures, are often taught in a very different way at the college level. Most humanities majors are structured so that you can complete them in your junior and senior year, so take time in your first two years to explore.

You might find it helpful to think of most humanities courses as falling in three general buckets, regardless of department. Consider sampling a few courses from each bucket during your first two years to find out which you want to return to: 

  1. Human meaning and purpose: Universities are a rare and special place where we study how humans have found meaning in different times, cultures, and places. Many courses in philosophy, religious studies, and literature will give you opportunities to reflect on meaning and purpose in your own life through engagement with the ideas of important writers and thinkers.
  2. Aesthetic enjoyment: Courses in art, music, theater, and literature can help you furnish your mind with paintings, poems, or symphonies that will stay with you and enrich your life forever. Take one class in these subjects, and you will never walk through a museum, attend a performance, or read a novel in the same way again.
  3. Broader horizons: We all come to college with views shaped by where and how we’ve grown up and the years of human history we’ve lived through thus far. Courses in literature, foreign languages, history, and cultural studies help you learn to see the world from many different perspectives. You will become a more flexible thinker and build empathy for people from diverse backgrounds.

For the most part, humanities classes have few prerequisites, and you can generally enroll in whatever interests you. That said, there are a number of ideal starting points for exploring each subject:

  1. Apply for an Introductory Seminar. These small, hands on-seminars are a great way to leap right into an interesting subject, work closely with faculty members, and build friendships with students who have similar interests. 
  2. Enroll in a Humanities Gateway Course. These frosh-friendly courses are taught by some of the most engaging professors in each department, and they provide comprehensive introductions to the fundamental issues and questions in each discipline. You can also find these humanities courses by typing the special tag HUMSCI::humanities directly in the search bar of ExploreCourses.
  3. Check out the  Humanities Core curriculum. These interdisciplinary courses explore traditions, texts, and intellectual history around the world, focusing on how cultures are shaped by encounters with other peoples and ideas.
  4. Enroll in Dangerous Ideas (PHIL 36), a one-unit, spring lecture series that showcases dynamic teachers and big ideas from each of our humanities departments. You can also watch some of the past lectures online.
  5. Academic Advising maintains a list of additional courses that departments think are suitable for frosh.
  6. Take a digital humanities class to learn more about this exciting new field bridging humanities and computer science.
  7. Use keyword search in ExploreCourses to follow a thematic interest--such as ethics, Mexico, science fiction, or whatever occurs to you.
  8. Browse the prefixes in ExploreCourses for the humanities departments (intro courses will typically have lower numbers and appear toward the beginning of the course listing).
  9. During autumn quarter, ask your humanities professors for course recommendations for the winter and spring, or meet with a student services officer or peer mentor in a department where you’d like to take a course. Don’t be afraid to email faculty whose work you want to learn more about.

Interested in Research?

Everyone likely knows that scientists do research, but did you know that humanities scholars, like all scholars at Stanford, also produce new knowledge? You can get involved in humanities research even as a first year student. These hands-on experiences are one of the best ways to discover your passions and develop close relationships with faculty.

  1. Apply for the Humanities Research Intensive. This seven-day course, taught over spring break, introduces first-years and sophomores to the excitement of humanities research, while preparing them to develop an independent summer project or to work as a research assistant for a Stanford professor. Participants become Humanities Research Intensive Fellows with access to special grants, post-program mentorship, and opportunities to engage with faculty.
  2. Apply to work as a research assistant at the Center for Spatial and Textual Analysis (CESTA), Stanford’s pioneering digital humanities lab.
  3. Apply to work as a research assistant at the Stanford Humanities Center, a multidisciplinary research institute at Stanford (and the largest campus-based humanities center in the world).
  4. Apply to the CHE Undergraduate Researcher Program, which awards full-time summer fellowships to work as a research assistant on humanities faculty projects.
  5. Many research opportunities arise serendipitously--find faculty who are doing the things that interest you, and go talk to them. Search the Humanities Center and Stanford News to see what professors are doing. IntroSems are an especially good way to develop close relationships with faculty that may eventually grow into research opportunities.
  6. VPUE supplies almost 50 programs with funds to hire students as research assistants, including a number of humanities departments and digital humanities programs. Look for announcements on department websites, department interest lists, and in the Academic Advising weekly newsletter.
  7. Sophomores pursuing in-depth projects in the humanities, creative arts, and qualitative social sciences are eligible to apply for Chappell Lougee Scholarships.  If the idea of spending a summer on your own project intrigues you, begin thinking about ideas and talking to your Academic Advisor or Academic Advisor for Student Athletes during your first year.

Beyond the Classroom

  1. Check out Ng House, an upperclass humanities theme dorm and a center for the undergraduate humanities community on campus. Even if you aren’t a resident, you can still participate in a wide range of house activities, including a number of student-led workshops offered every quarter.
  2. Attend a talk. Check out the Stanford Humanities Center, where visiting speakers present groundbreaking research across the disciplines, and sign up for the newsletter to hear about events, or keep an eye on department mailing lists and bulletin boards.
  3. Join one of over 100 student arts groups, from Ram’s Head Theatrical Society to the literary magazine Leland Quarterly.
  4. Check out the Bing Oversees Studies Program and explore opportunities to study the humanities abroad.
  5. Learn about career opportunities. Explore the wide range of careers Stanford humanities majors pursue through the alumni careers database and connect with professionals through the Stanford Alumni Mentoring Network. Check out Stanford Career Education for career coaching appointments and summer internships. The Haas Center for Public Service and Stanford Arts also offer resources for students interested in government, nonprofit, or arts careers.
  6. For even more information about extra-curriculars, summer opportunities, and career planning, check out this digital brochure.

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