What are the humanities?
The humanities can be described as the study of how people process and document the human experience. Since humans have been able, we have used philosophy, literature, religion, art, music, history and language to understand and record our world. These modes of expression have become some of the subjects that traditionally fall under the humanities umbrella. Knowledge of these records of human experience gives us the opportunity to feel a sense of connection to those who have come before us, as well as to our contemporaries.
Study the Humanities at Stanford
The Art & Art History Department offers courses of study in the history of art, the practice of studio art, and film and media studies. The undergraduate program is designed to help students think critically about the visual arts and visual culture. The courses focus on the meaning of images and media, and their historical development, roles in society, and relationships to disciplines other such as literature, music, and philosophy.
Stanford Classics is at the forefront of the study of the ancient Mediterranean world, its languages, history, and cultures. One of the largest and most diverse Classics programs in the country, we are an intellectually vibrant community of 21 full-time faculty, more than 30 graduate students, and over 50 undergraduate majors and minors.
The Departments of Comparative Literature, French and Italian, German Studies, Iberian and Latin American Cultures, and Slavic Languages and Literatures, and the Language Center, are housed in the Division of Literatures, Cultures, and Languages.
While it seeks to prepare its students for reading and research in the languages and histories of different societies and periods, it is also dedicated to their critical and cultural analysis. Literary theory in all its forms helps to break down the borders between national literary fields, as well as between literary studies and other disciplines. Indeed, the discipline of Comparative Literature asks, often, just what "literature" is, and how it functions as a product of (and response to) our imaginations, our languages, and our social and economic lives. Students in our courses, majors in the department, and graduate students in the Ph.D. program all interact to shape debates about the place of the verbal arts (and the methods of their study) in past times and our own.
The French and Italian Department at Stanford has a unique profile among American departments of Romance languages and literatures. While providing an intensive training in French and/or Italian literary history, theory, and criticism, the Department has long been a leader in connecting the literary to broader issues in philosophy, anthropology, history of science, and cultural history. This commitment to interdisciplinary work can be seen in the profiles of our faculty, whose training and teaching encompass psychology, anthropology, art history, continental philosophy, and analytic philosophy along with their literary expertise. It can also be seen in the variety of programs run by or in conjunction with the Department. This long tradition of interrogating the relationship between literature and other cultural domains gives French and Italian at Stanford a particularly sharp perspective on the importance of literary studies today.
The Department of German Studies offers a variety of programs in German language and linguistics, literature, culture, and thought. The department’s goal is to provide students with the linguistic and analytic facility to explore the significance of the cultural traditions and political histories of the German-speaking countries of Central Europe. At the same time, the interdisciplinary study of German culture, which can include art, history, literature, media theory, philosophy, and political science, encourages students to evaluate broader and contradictory legacies of modernity, such as how the literary, artistic, and cultural responses to the belated and rapid modernization of Germany allow for reflection on the modern condition in general. An education in German Studies not only encourages the student to consider the effects of German-speaking thinkers and artists on the modern world, but also provides a lens through which the contours of the present and past can be evaluated.
The Department of Slavic Languages and Literatures offers a coordinated study of Russian language and literature, literary and cultural history, and literary theory. Improving cultural understanding is a critical part of the department's mission, and we offer a range of courses at all levels, devoted to Russian literature, music and visual arts that do not require specialized knowledge. Russian is still the lingua franca over the vast territory of the former Soviet Union, and a good command of this language offers a gateway to Eurasia’s diverse cultures, ethnicities, and religions, including Buddhism, Judaism, and Islam. Stanford students are in a privileged position in relation to Russian and, more broadly, East European and Eurasian Studies, because of our tremendous faculty and library resources. Our students master a difficult language and a rich and challenging literature, and are rewarded by gaining entry into a unique, powerful, and diverse civilization that defined major trends in the past century and continues to play an increasingly significant role in the world today.
The Department of Iberian and Latin American Cultures offers courses focused on the languages, literatures, and cultures of the Iberian Peninsula, Latin America, and Latina/o populations in the United States. The Department balances an emphasis on literary studies with a more diverse, humanistic set of approaches to cultural and social issues. Our faculty is made up of world-renowned scholars in fields as diverse as contemporary Catalan literature, twentieth-century Spanish poetry, nineteenth-century Spanish fiction, contemporary Latin American literature, Aljamiado and medieval Iberian literature, bilingualism, and Chicana/o culture and literature. The Department is committed to provide students with a contextualized knowledge of the literatures and cultures of the Iberian Peninsula from the Middle Ages to the present, of the Spanish and Portuguese speaking countries of Latin America, and of the Spanish-speaking communities of the United States.
The Department of Asian Languages at Stanford is dedicated to the languages, literatures, linguistics and cultures of East Asia. The Department prepares students for B.A., M.A. and Ph.D. degrees in Chinese and Japanese, and has a thriving program in Korean language. It also offers an undergraduate and a Ph.D. minor in Chinese or Japanese language and literature. The B.A. in Asian languages is a degree for the "new humanist" who wants her or his education to be broad enough to understand a non-Western language and culture. Many students have found that the language skills acquired can be advantageous to their professional careers and have combined studies in Asian Languages with offerings in other Stanford departments such as Anthropology, Art, Economics, Education, History, Law, Linguistics, Philosophy, Political Science, Religious Studies and Sociology.
We live in a world saturated with the written word. The English Department studies the culture of the word in its most sophisticated form, literature, with a focus on literary traditions in English across a range of media. Courses emphasize interpretive thinking and creative writing, examining the dynamics of literary and cultural history, the structures of literary form and genre, and the practice of reading, writing, and critical analysis. The undergraduate English major provides an excellent background for many professional fields, including law, education, writing, publishing, medicine, and technology. The graduate program features rigorous training in the research and analysis of British, American and Anglophone literary histories and texts, preparing students to produce scholarship of originality and importance, and to teach literature at the highest levels.
History courses teach the foundational knowledge and skills (analytical, interpretive, writing) necessary for understanding the deep connections between past and present. History is a pragmatic discipline in which the analysis of change over time involves sifting the multiple influences and perspectives that affect the course of events, as well as evaluating critically the different forms of evidence historians exploit to make sense of them. Teaching students how to weigh these sources and convert the findings into a persuasive analysis lies at the heart of the department's teaching. Graduates with a History major pursue careers and graduate study in law, public service, business, writing, and education.
The Department of Linguistics is a vibrant center of research and teaching, where the range of languages studied is diverse and the scope of active research and teaching is broad. As a field of study, linguistics explores and attempts to explain our ability to use language. Language is our most fundamentally human capacity, yet represents the most intricate set of behavior patterns that humans exhibit. Language has both cognitive and social facets, and so the Linguistics major cuts across the humanities and social sciences. Any background the student brings to the major is likely to enrich the study of language, and knowledge acquired about linguistics is likely to rub off on most any other discipline.
The Department of Music was formally founded in 1947, but music has been an important facet of the University from its inception, when founder Jane Stanford encouraged sacred concerts in Memorial Church. The undergraduate major in Music is built around a series of courses in theory, musicianship, analysis, and music history, as well as performance (both individual and ensemble) and piano proficiency requirements. The program is rooted in the Western, classical tradition; however, courses in modern composition and theory and jazz theory and history are available as well. The Department of Music presents approximately 150 concerts and recitals each year, providing performance opportunities for students throughout the University.
The Philosophy department examines the efforts of past thinkers to understand the world and people’s experience of it. The fundamental problems that philosophers address, help to guide and enhance our understanding of other subjects by placing emphasis on methods of reasoning and the way in which judgments are formed. Since philosophical ideas have had an important influence on human endeavors of all kinds – including artistic, political, and economic – students of the humanities should find their understanding of these topics deepened through an acquaintance with philosophy. A philosophic background also provides analytical skills and a breadth of perspective helpful to those called upon to make decisions about their own conduct and the welfare of others.
Founded in 1973, Stanford’s Department of Religious Studies offers a variety of disciplinary perspectives on religion and on the history, literature, thought, and practice of particular religious traditions. The department is home to a dozen regular faculty, with strengths especially in the study of Buddhism, Christianity, Islam, and Judaism; it enrolls about thirty graduate students and roughly fifteen undergraduate majors, minors, and joint majors at one time.
The Department of Theater & Performance Studies (TAPS) integrates theory, criticism, and performance. Our interdisciplinary department welcomes students from across the University who want to be involved in intensive, innovative, intellectual work. We foster students' engagement with performance in multiple modes. Students in the department learn analytic skills through research-based scholarship. In collaboration with our academic mission the department produces numerous events through its creative program. Our workshops and artistic productions include canonical plays, commissioned dance works, experimental projects, and work by visiting artists. The Department serves many audiences and facilitates engaged scholarship in dance, theater, and performance.
Over twenty-five interdepartmental programs grant degrees in areas of study that incorporate courses from more than one department.
At Stanford, there are over thirty centers where humanities related research takes place. Each center sponsors research projects in its field.
Experience the Humanities at Stanford
Stanford Continuing Studies offers a broad range of courses, seminars, and workshops, primarily in the liberal arts, designed to enhance the learning and enrich the lives of people in the Bay Area.
Humanities related events at Stanford, including lectures, conferences, performing arts, exhibitions and cultural activities can be found on the Events at Stanford website.
Stanford Live is the premier arts presenter and producer in Silicon Valley. Now entering its 38th year at Stanford University, Stanford Live reaches a diverse audience through performances of music, theater, dance, spoken word, and multimedia works and is a destination for artists developing new work.
The Cantor Arts Center's diverse collections span continents, cultures, and 4,000 years of art history and include the largest gathering of Rodin bronzes outside Paris.
Stanford on iTunes U provides access to a wide range of Stanford-related digital audio content via Apple’s iTunes Store. If you have iTunes software click on the “Open Stanford on iTunes U” button and the Stanford iTunes page will open. You will find humanities related content under the Arts and Humanities category section.
The Arts, Humanities and Medicine Program promotes creative and scholarly work at the intersections between the arts, humanities and medicine in order to enhance our understanding of the contextual meanings of illness, healthcare, and the human condition.