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Finding Your Way in the Humanities Maze

If you have taken any time looking at the University of Rochester’s humanities departments you’ll see that there are several different areas of study. Full of programs, professors, libraries, even research opportunities all at your fingertips once you decide, “I’m taking that humanities class 🙂 ! But, what class should I take? Who should I reach out to? And what projects should I take part in during my time at the U of R?”

Please don’t worry. There are a ton of solutions to your questions. 

Before anything else, I would recommend you look on the U of R’s Humanities Center website. That’s where you will find everything I just mentioned, all the programs, departments, requirements for majors, minors, and clusters, and possible faculty you will meet during your time here. The humanities site helped to guide me through my academic career in African and African American and Gender, Sexuality and Women’s studies, showing me what was required for the major and events that I attended throughout the year. It also introduced me to the Meliora Scholars (funded) independent research program which I consider to be one of the biggest highlights of my academic journey. (P.S. Mel Scholars is looking for new applicants!)

Secondly, this may sound obvious, but really focus and think about your academic and personal interests. While the U of R is amazing and has an extensive amount of resources to offer students, the classes definitely are not easy. Typically in humanities classes you will face an extensive amount of reading, writing, and in-class dialogues, which some people find more appealing than others. Because of that, you should strive to take classes that you are actually interested in, not courses that you think will give you an easy A. Try to assess your interests, and find courses that will fit that. So you can hopefully enjoy the work or the purpose of the work that you are doing. 

If you are a student confident in what you want to specialize in within the humanities field, that’s great! You will probably spend most of your first year taking introductory classes, to familiarize yourself with your workload and what type of work your professors want you to produce. Later on, you can zero in on these topics and really throw yourself into the material as a somewhat-seasoned academic, with a real passion for what you’re studying.  

If you are a student interested in the humanities, even in the slightest, though you are not exactly sure what department you want to be in within the humanities, that’s totally fine too! And, be sure to know that the humanities program will welcome you with open arms. You may be struggling to find what field in the humanities you find the most compelling and what material you want to dedicate time to study. For situations like this, I would strongly recommend reading the details of a variety of the introductory courses offered in the humanities program. Maybe an element of the course, even its name, can compel you to dive into the curriculum. I, for example, wanted to take some courses in medieval history. But those courses didn’t exactly align with my other academic interests and I didn’t really know where to start. Then, when I was looking at classes for the spring semester I saw, “Science, Magic, and The Occult”. I didn’t love science but I was very interested in the history surrounding magic and the occult. And because of that interest I was able to take a class that otherwise, I don’t know if I would have. 

Last, you can use the first few weeks of class to try out classes and make a decision about which class to take. There is a sort of grace period for transition during the first couple weeks of school where students can add or drop courses quickly and easily via the online scheduling site UR Student. Students can attend classes even if they are not formally enrolled in the course to preview if this course may be right for them. Now I want to caution, this is not something that you should do with every class, or just for fun if you want to join a friend in a class for the day. This is if you consider yourself seriously interested in a course, material, or professor and are trying to assess if you should add that to your schedule. Though, it is a great way to find different classes if you want to swap a current class you are taking. Another way to discover your academic interests is through attending lectures and events that happen frequently during the year across every U of R department, including humanities. Sometimes guest speakers come, other times individual professors or a group of professors and academics share their work in a public forum. These are completely optional (unless a professor requires your attendance for the class) but they are very interesting and help students understand how their work can expand outside of the classroom. 

This past year, U of R has announced their new humanities director, Peter Christensen. He’s a great resource to reach out to if you find yourself interested in humanities and/or the programs it offers. In addition to reaching out to him, he wanted to share the significance of the intimacy within humanities classes. Most of them are smaller in comparison to STEM classes where professors know students’ names and can devote time to assisting the student body in our interests and help us become stronger academics. Additionally STEM programs and the humanities are not mutually exclusive, Director Christensen details how throughout the time students spend at the university, when we take classes across humanities, social sciences, and natural sciences, we are able to garner an understanding of “the larger implications of all that happens”. As students, we grow to be confident in our fields while still having background from other disciplines. Along with natural and social sciences, humanities only adds to that collective understanding of the world around us. 

Try a class or two in the humanities, I promise you won’t regret it!


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