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

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.

At NSO in September

If you are looking at this before New Student Orientation (NSO), you should consider:

  • Attending the Academic Planning Session on Getting Started in the Humanities & Arts on Friday of NSO

Finding Courses

Stanford offers classes in a variety of humanities subjects that you may not have encountered in high school, such as religious studies, philosophy, linguistics, classics, art history, film and media studies, musicology, and theater and performance 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. Take time during your first year to explore some of these fields and discover those that speak to you. 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. IntroSems are a great way to leap right into an interesting subject, and these small seminar settings give you the opportunity to develop a close relationship with a professor.
  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.
  3. Check out the  Humanities Core curriculum. Join a year-long intellectual community dedicated to exploring how ideas have shaped our world and future. The three Humanities Core tracks—East Asian, European, and Middle Eastern—introduce you to the literary, cultural, and philosophical traditions of entire regions.
  4. Cardinal Compass maintains a list of additional courses that departments think are suitable for frosh.
  5. Take a digital humanities class to learn more about this exciting new field bridging humanities and computer science.
  6. Use keyword search in ExploreCourses to follow a thematic interest--such as ethics, Mexico, science fiction, or whatever occurs to you.
  7. 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).
  8. 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?

You can begin research in the humanities even as a first year student.

  1. Apply for the Humanities Research Intensive . This five-day course, taught over spring break, introduces freshmen 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 post-program mentorship, opportunities to engage with faculty, and special grants.
  2. Apply to work as a research assistant at the Center for Spatial and Textual Analysis (CESTA),Stanford’s pioneering digital humanities lab. Check out the list of current projects and email Celena Allen (celena.allen@gmail.com) to apply.
  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. Many research opportunities arise serendipitiously--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.
  5. 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 AAD weekly newsletter.
  6. 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 Advising Director or AARC Advisor during your first year.
  7. Check out SURA, the Stanford Undergraduate Research Association, which organizes a number of events to help students get involved with original research.

More Opportunities

  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. 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 . Apply for a humanities-oriented summer internship, or check out BEAM, Stanford Career Education for career coaching appointments and workshops.
  4. Many more programs and opportunities exist!

See Also

For more information, check out our introductory guide on how to get involved in the Arts, Humanities, and Social Sciences.