Courses and concentrations in the Arts & Humanities at Harvard are designed to help you understand the world and make the most of it. They approach knowledge through a distinctive emphasis on meaning. Whereas many approaches to knowledge focus on mechanical forms of causality or manipulation, the Arts & Humanities never lose sight of the radically perplexing conditions of human existence.
What makes for human wellbeing?
How have certain stories shaped and interpreted human experience?
What is our responsibility to other species?
How have people used art to promote justice?
What questions should we ask of new technologies before we adopt them?
In the Arts & Humanities, we pursue fundamental questions and foster practical capacities for grappling with them.
Outside of the Arts & Humanities, problems are often treated as self-evident. Such matters as inconvenience, uncertainty, restraint, suffering, or delay are deemed by definition to be obstacles to human fulfillment. In the Arts & Humanities, we unsettle such assumptions, probing deeply into the question of what constitutes a problem and why. The practical benefits of this questioning are many. Students of the Arts & Humanities have a broader view of the world and how its meanings come to be. They understand the power of stories and images to shape human lives.
Today, some people think that we have no time for arm-chair philosophizing or the contemplation of works of art. They have it exactly backward. What we have no time for is the unreflective assumption that every new gadget or convenience will make the world better. That assumption has led us into a climate crisis and a society beset with surveillance and fake news. The study of the Arts & Humanities, with its emphasis on fundamental questions of meaning and modes of human experience, has never been more vital.
To give you a sense of the fascinating subjects and materials you can study, we have highlighted here a few of the courses that reflect the diversity and creativity of thought in the Arts & Humanities. They are but a fraction of the curricular pathways on offer, but can help spark your own thinking about how the courses you choose form a narrative of interconnected and interdisciplinary study in the liberal arts.