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Humanities Courses

Why Take a Humanities Course?

The humanities are vital—not just if you’re an aspiring lawyer or novelist or college professor, but if you want to excel in virtually any field or endeavor. Students in CTY humanities courses gain knowledge about topics ranging from philosophy and political science, to history, psychology, and writing. They also master essential skills: how to solve problems, think critically, be creative, and effectively communicate ideas. These are valued talents that are in high demand and are increasingly hard to find.

What do humanities students do as they develop these skills at CTY? They debate the ethics of genetic engineering and argue the limits and possibilities of artificial intelligence. They evaluate case studies on such topics as Phineas Gage’s accident and its impact on impulse control or the influence of Donatello, Michelangelo, and Raphael on modern society. They simulate archeological digs of King Tutankhamen’s tomb and replay history through mock trials of Texas v. Johnson.

When students are introduced to competing ideas in a CTY humanities classroom, they craft their own connections and conclusions. By honing their rhetorical skills, they become adept at transmitting their knowledge and point of view. In learning how to critically examine a text, they perfect how to evaluate new opinions, information, and ideas.

The humanities at CTY, with their emphasis on analytical thought, creative problem-solving, and effective communication, prepare students for success—not only in college, but in careers ranging from engineering and scientific research to the arts, business, education, medicine, politics, technology, and more.

Humanities Courses

Humanities courses require a minimum score on one of the designated tests; please see refer to our Eligibility page for minimum test score requirements for humanities courses.

Please note that the sample syllabi are meant to provide an idea of the level of the course and whether or not the content area interests you. CTY instructors are given guidelines within which they each develop their own syllabi. Choice and sequencing of topics within the content area, as well as specific activities, labs, and assignments, will vary.

Etymologies

Emerson wrote that “language is fossil poetry.” This course explores how two “dead” languages, Latin and ancient Greek, are a vibrant and dynamic presence in the ongoing development of the English language. Students learn Latin and Greek prefixes, bases, and suffixes. Equipped with this basic knowledge, they explore the evolution of language: changes to word meanings, the relation of language to society, and the revival of ancient words in medical and other technical vocabularies. Students also use literature to chart the development of modern English from its Indo-European beginnings with particular attention to excerpts from, for example, Beowulf, Chaucer, Shakespeare, George Orwell, and Gwendolyn Brooks.

Through lectures, group and independent projects, readings, and exercises, students increase their vocabularies and reading comprehension, and they gain a more nuanced understanding of language. Students develop the skills necessary to memorize large amounts of material quickly and build a strong foundation for learning classical and Romance languages. No prior knowledge of Greek or Latin is assumed.

Sample texts: English Words from Latin and Greek Elements, Ayers; Beowulf: A New Verse Translation, Heaney.

Session 1: Easton
Session 2: Easton

Great Cases: American Legal History

Supreme Court Justice Oliver Wendell Holmes stated that the law is both a mirror of and a motor for society. Renowned trials frequently go well beyond the limits of a specific case to reflect deeper truths about American society, revealing each era’s cultural values and attitudes. Simultaneously, decisions can drive both legal and social thinking in new directions. Viewing law and society as intimately connected helps illustrate how each has affected the evolution of the other.

Students in this history course trace this evolution by examining famous cases in their historical, political, and social contexts. For example, Marbury v. Madison is explored within the framework of the early Federalist period; Dred Scott v. Sanford in the context of rising political fragmentation and sectional debate; Lochner v. New York as the legal aspect of the social and political movement known as Progressivism; Brown v. Board of Education in relation to the dynamic civil rights movement; and Hamdi v. Rumsfeld as representative of the tensions in America in the post-9/11 era.

Through debates, simulations, group projects, and individual research, students develop close-reading and persuasive-writing skills. Moreover, they learn to critique decisions about fundamental issues that have confronted the American legal system from the time of the ratification of the Constitution to today.

Sample texts: American Legal History: Cases and Materials, Hall, Weicek, and Finkelman; A People’s History of the Supreme Court, Irons.

Session 1: Bristol, Easton
Session 2: Easton

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Philosophy

Is there a real world, or is everything a figment of my imagination? Do we have free will, or do our brains simply respond mechanically to stimuli? What, if anything, distinguishes right from wrong? Philosophers relentlessly pursue the fundamental questions of life, and their techniques apply to problems in any discipline or endeavor. They establish standards of evidence, provide rational methods of resolving conflicts, and create techniques for evaluating ideas and arguments.

This course is a survey of several major areas of Western analytic philosophy: metaphysics and epistemology, ethics, philosophy of mind, philosophy of language, philosophy of religion, and philosophy of science. Students explore such concepts as the nature of the world and how we have access to knowledge of the world; moral behavior and the nature of good and evil; the relationship between minds and bodies; the relationship between our thoughts and the external world; arguments for and against the existence of God; and how to use logical analysis and empirical observation to evaluate arguments.

For each topic, students consider positions of historical thinkers such as Plato, Descartes, and Hume, as well as those of more contemporary philosophers such as John Rawls and Hilary Putnam. Students reflect upon philosophical issues through debate, discussion, and formal critical essays in order to develop the analytical skills necessary for effectively evaluating arguments and thinking independently.

Sample texts: Philosophical Problems: An Annotated Anthology, Baker and BonJour; Ultimate Questions: Thinking About Philosophy, Rauhut.

Session 1: Easton, Haverford, Seattle
Session 2: Haverford, Santa Cruz

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Introduction to Logic

Too often in today’s society, solid argumentation gives way to appeals to majority opinion and personal attacks. This course introduces students to logic, the science of proper reasoning. Students learn how to evaluate arguments using informal logic—the process of analyzing language-based arguments—and formal logic—the method of analyzing and validating arguments by means of symbolic notation.

Students learn to produce valid arguments and to differentiate valid from fallacious reasoning. They apply these skills to texts such as Plato’s writings about the trial and death of Socrates, political speeches, and current events blogs. Students participate in discussions, work problem sets, write proofs, and construct arguments relevant to current topics in both philosophy and modern society, substantially strengthening their analytical-reasoning and critical-thinking skills.

Note: While this is a humanities class, students are asked to use symbolic notation and write proofs, much like they do in math classes.

Sample texts: Introduction to Logic, Gensler; a philosophical work such as The Trial and Death of Socrates, Plato.

Session 1: Bristol, Haverford, Santa Cruz
Session 2: Easton, Haverford

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Bioethics

From the early days of vaccine research to the current debate over genetically engineered foods, scientists, policymakers, and the public have turned to philosophers to help them navigate the complex ethical issues surrounding the various uses of scientific technology. In this course, students learn about scientific issues, such as stem cell research and genetic testing, while beginning to address the overarching questions that philosophers and scientists face.

Bioethics first introduces students to some of the classical foundations of ethical reasoning; they examine the underpinnings of logical argumentation as well as philosophical methodologies. Next, students apply these philosophical frameworks to engage complex ethical dilemmas ranging from experimental drug trials to abortion for the purpose of avoiding genetic defects. As students critically confront issues posed by popular media sources and the scientific community, they analyze primary philosophical works, participate in discussions and debates, and write analytical essays.

Sample text: Intervention and Reflection: Basic Issues in Bioethics, Munson.

Session 1: Haverford
Session 2: Bristol, Haverford

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Foundations of Psychology

From exploring the anatomy of the brain to predicting social behavior, psychology seeks to answer the questions humans ask about our own nature. As the science of behavior and mental processes, psychology systematically explores phenomena as diverse as phantom limbs, sleep paralysis, false memories, and the bystander effect.

This course introduces students to the major content domains in modern psychology, ranging from the biological to the behavioral to the socio-cognitive. Students begin by learning what constitutes an effective research design and are then able to critically analyze theories stemming from both historical and contemporary studies. Building upon this foundation, students examine important topics in the field, including sensation and perception, social psychology, learning, memory, personality, and abnormal psychology.

Each topic enables students to evaluate human thought and action through a different lens, continually demonstrating the| interdisciplinary nature of psychology. As a result, by the end of the course students are able to pose incisive questions about diverse disciplines and formulate sophisticated hypotheses around their own theories.

Sample texts: Exploring Psychology, Myers; Forty Studies That Changed Psychology, Hock.

Session 1: Bristol, Easton, Haverford, Santa Cruz
Session 2: Bristol, Easton, Haverford, Santa Cruz, Seattle

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