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Humanities Courses

CTY offers the Steven Muller Humanities Program in honor of Dr. Steven Muller, President Emeritus of Johns Hopkins University, who established CTY in 1979. In so doing, he committed the University to advancing academic talent among pre-collegiate students both in the US and abroad.

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.

Economics Course
CTY also offers Fundamentals of Microeconomics and Macroeconomics and the Global Economy, which are listed with our Intensive Studies math courses. These classes are also open to Intensive Studies humanities qualifiers, so long as they have taken Algebra I. Please see our Math course listings for more information.

Humanities Courses
Humanities courses require a minimum score on one of the designated tests. Learn more about eligibility.

Sample syllabi for all courses are also available with each course description. 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.

Given the nature of certain humanities courses, students occasionally confront controversial topics in class. These topics are approached from an academic standpoint with the support and guidance of instructors.

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Humanities Course Descriptions and Syllabi

The Art and Science of Filmmaking

New course; no sample syllabus

In the last scene of The Great Train Robbery (1903), the leader of a group of outlaws breaks the fourth wall and unloads his pistol directly into the audience. While this short clip has very little to do with the film’s narrative, it is arguably one of the most memorable moments in cinematic history. Is the success of this scene attributable to the novelty of a new technology or can we analyze it as a scientifically measurable phenomenon?  Why do contemporary audiences continue to have such visceral reactions to film? How do the physical properties of celluloid (and now digital film) connect to the biological and psychological responses of the viewer? 

This course examines the cinematic experience from the perspective of those who create films and those who consume them. Students gain insight into the biological and psychological processes activated during film-watching and question how humans can differ in their perceptual experiences of the same film: Do we all “see” the same story on screen, and, if not, what makes our responses different? In order to complete their introduction to psychocinematics, students work with the science behind visual and audio effects, designing experiments to assess the human experience of film.

Students address the myriad factors that inform film-making and film-watching. In addition to discussing abstract questions of history, philosophy, and art, they explore concrete connections between film and ecology, neurology, physics, and technology.

Note: Because this course involves work with film production techniques, students are required to bring a smartphone with video recording capabilities. The smartphone can be any brand, but must be able to shoot in HD quality (1080p), have at least 2 GB of free memory, and have a USB cable to connect it to a computer.

Sample text: New course.

Session 1: Lancaster
Session 2: Not offered

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In 1963, “King of Soul” Sam Cooke was arrested for disturbing the peace after a white desk clerk refused to honor his motel reservations. Shortly thereafter, Cooke penned lyrics that became an anthem for the Civil Rights Movement: “It’s been a long, a long time coming/ But I know a change gonna come, oh yes it will.” Although Cooke died two weeks before the song was released, his “A Change is Gonna Come” has lived on to voice the collective discontent—and attendant hope—of those confronting systemic inequities.

America has a long history of dissent. This course examines that dissent in its diverse forms, using the creations of the disenfranchised to get to the heart of the cultural, political, and social injustices they fought--and continue to fight--against. From anti-war demonstrations on college campuses during the Vietnam War to the Dakota Access Pipeline protests, from the Women’s Rights movement to the fight for same-sex marriage, from the writings of Ta-Nehisi Coates to Kristen Visbal’s “Fearless Girl,” students explore the various ways Americans empower change and express dissatisfaction with the status quo. Students also examine the ways politicians, activists, and demonstrators encourage or quell outrage and action, from the Occupy Movement to Donald Trump’s “Make American Great Again” Campaign.

In this course, students study social commentary through the arts and political discourse to develop a deeper understanding of American voices, culture, and history. They practice literary analysis and persuasive writing by crafting historically-grounded essays, and explore the theories behind social movements and protests.

Note: This course includes some controversial material; it is recommended for students who have completed 9th grade or higher.

Sample texts: Letter from a Birmingham Jail, King, Jr.; Dissent in America: The History of an American Idea, Young; The Politics of Protests: Social Movements in America, Meyer; materials compiled by instructor.

Session 1: Carlisle, Saratoga Springs
Session 2: Los Angeles

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Newton, Darwin, and Einstein

Although they may seem like historical figures, Sir Isaac Newton, Charles Darwin, and Albert Einstein live on through their revolutionary theories’ impact on modern society and science. Each great thinker sparked intellectual revolutions that defined the eras in which he lived. This course encourages students to consider Newton, Darwin, and Einstein’s commonalities and differences as they think critically about how each scientist was influenced by the society in which he developed, and how his scholarship affected not only scientific disciplines but also political, social, and cultural trends. 

Students explore the main theoretical contributions of Newton, Darwin, and Einstein, and examine the people, events, and theories that influenced their impact on their fields. To what extent did Newton’s relationship with the Royal Society affect the rate that scientific theories spread? How were Darwin’s ideas co-opted to support social Darwinism and eugenics? What role did Einstein play in the development of the atomic bomb? Using biographical, conceptual, and social perspectives on the history of science, this course provides students with a holistic understanding of these scientists and their theories in historical and cultural context.

Sample texts: The Structure of Scientific Revolutions, Kuhn; Einstein and our World, Cassidy; The Clockwork Universe, Dolnick; and Evolution: The History of An Idea, Bowler.

Session 1: Not offered
Session 2: Baltimore

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Law and Politics in U.S. History

In the 1830s, French scholar Alexis de Tocqueville observed, “Scarcely any political question arises in the United States that is not resolved, sooner or later, into a judicial question.” Although Alexander Hamilton believed the judiciary would be the weakest branch of government, decisions like Marbury v. Madison established that the Supreme Court’s power to review and interpret the law is arguably as great as the power to create it. In this history course, students consider the law and the judiciary who apply it. They examine such questions as: Should the law serve the interests of the majority or protect vulnerable minorities? To what extent should the law be interpreted independently of contemporary social context?

Students learn about the legal theories that inform the answers to these questions, such as formalism, realism, strict constructionism, originalism, and critical studies. They study the historical and social contexts which gave rise to these theories and the cases to which they were applied. Using examples such as Plessy v. Ferguson, the Brandeis Brief, Roe v. Wade, and Bowers v. Hardwick, students explore the cultures that brought these cases to the courts and the reasoning judges used in their rulings. As students consider the many complex issues raised by court decisions, they scrutinize primary documents, participate in discussions and debates, and write analytical essays.

Sample texts: American Legal History: Cases and Materials, Hall, Finkelman, and Ely; APeople's History of the Supreme Court, Irons.

Session 1: Baltimore, Carlisle, Los Angeles
Session 2: Baltimore

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International Politics

Why do states fight? Why do they cooperate? World affairs in the 21st century have raised new questions about international politics and complicated old ones. Where the field once primarily sought to understand the causes of war, scholars now debate the impacts of globalization, the relevance of sovereignty and the state, and the power of global norms in promoting international development and human rights.

Through discussions, debates, simulations, and individual research, students in this course explore these and other complex problems in international affairs. By approaching issues from a variety of interdisciplinary perspectives, students think critically about the world and the ways to comprehend and solve major global problems. Particular emphasis is placed on applying social scientific methods to explore case studies and better understand the systemic forces that shape actors and their relations on the international stage.

Sample texts: International Politics, Art and Jervis; Essentials of International Relations, Mingst and Arreguín-Toft; International Relations and World Politics, Viotti and Kaupi; a major newspaper.

Session 1: Baltimore, Carlisle, Saratoga Springs
Session 2: Baltimore, Carlisle, Los Angeles, Saratoga Springs

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Engaged Buddhism

Engaged Buddhism is a course on the history and culture of Buddhism from the ancient world to the contemporary present. In the past hundred years, Asian Buddhist activists and leaders such as Thich Nhat Hanh, B. R. Ambedkar, Tenzin Gyatso (His Holiness the 14th Dalai Lama), Sulak Sivaraksa, Chao Hwei, and Karma Lekshe Tsomo have transformed Buddhism through their insistence that Buddhism and Buddhists be socially engaged. Twentieth and twenty-first century American, Australian, and European Buddhist teachers have also combined Buddhist ethics, Buddhist patterns of community, and Buddhist practices (meditation, ritual, pilgrimage) with social and political activism, addressing issues such as war, social inequity, racism, environmental degradation, poverty, mass incarceration, and nuclear proliferation in a Buddhist mode. In this course we take contemporary engaged Buddhism as our point of entry for exploring the complexities of the world’s Buddhist cultures, especially the classical Buddhism of ancient India that is still authoritative for all Buddhist traditions globally, even modernist ones.  We will tack from now to then and back to now, delving into the pre-modern roots of engaged Buddhism and analyzing contemporary innovations on the classical tradition. Making use of the rich resources in Hong Kong, students will visit the Tsz Shan Monastery in Tai Po.

Sample text: New course

Session 1: Hong Kong
Session 2: Not offered

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Logic: Principles of Reasoning

Logic is the science of proper reasoning. Lawyers, doctors, and mathematicians all employ logic as they build arguments, diagnose diseases, and prove theorems. In this course, students learn the techniques of logic and develop their analytical reasoning skills. They learn to produce valid arguments and to differentiate valid from fallacious reasoning.

After being introduced to foundational concepts such as validity, soundness, and consistency, students explore informal logic, the process of evaluating language-based arguments. They identify common logical fallacies, discern patterns of proper reasoning, and evaluate syllogisms using Venn diagrams. The heart of the course, however, is the study of formal logic, the method of analyzing and validating arguments by means of symbolic notation. Students employ truth tables to precisely evaluate complex arguments and use natural deduction techniques to prove arguments valid.

Throughout the course, students apply the methods they have learned by analyzing editorials, speeches, and philosophical works; constructing arguments about enduring questions and contemporary issues; engaging in debates; and writing proofs. They leave the course having developed the rigorous analytical-reasoning and critical-thinking skills crucial to all academic and professional inquiry.

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 asThe Trial and Death of Socrates, Plato, Jowett, ed.

Session 1: Baltimore, Lancaster, Los Angeles, Saratoga Springs
Session 2: Baltimore, Lancaster, Los Angeles, Saratoga Springs, Seattle

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Exploring Ethics

We all face ethical choices in our lives. How do we know what is “good” or “bad,” or “right” or “wrong”? For that matter, are there objective standards of ethics by which we can judge individuals or their actions?

Students address these issues by reflecting upon their commonsense intuitions about how we ought to live our lives. They revisit their initial thoughts by applying analytical reasoning to their own insights. In so doing, students investigate the debate between moral relativism, which denies ethical distinctions such as right or wrong, and moral realism, which upholds them. They then examine major attempts to develop coherent theories capable of guiding moral decisions. Among these are views like utilitarianism, in which moral choices are evaluated based upon their consequences; approaches inspired by Kant’s claim that moral actions derive from a universal principle of morality that is objective and rational; and virtue ethics, which focuses on the cultivation of morally worthwhile traits in each individual.

Throughout the course, students investigate how different ethical theories affect judgments on current ethical dilemmas such as capital punishment, animal rights, and war. As they wrestle with ethical issues, students critique primary philosophical works, participate in discussions and debates, and write analytical essays.

Note: Students who have taken CTY's Ethics should not take this class. 

Sample texts: Ethics: History, Theory, and Contemporary Issues, Cahn and Markie; primary source material from philosophers such as Aristotle, Kant, and Mill.

Session 1: Carlisle, Los Angeles
Session 2: Saratoga Springs

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Existentialism: On Being Human

When attempting to define existentialism, the French philosopher Jean-Paul Sartre said, “A simple formula would be to say that life taught me la force des choses—the power of circumstances.” In this course, students consider a number of major questions: Do human beings create their own nature through freedom of choice? In what ways do people affect the world around them? Is there a universal set of rules or values one should follow? By examining these complex issues, students gain a solid introduction to the study of existentialist philosophy.

Students approach existentialist philosophy as a way of understanding broader philosophical themes. They begin with a brief overview of Western philosophy, examining foundational thinkers such as Plato and Descartes, and then move on to the precursors of existentialism, exploring the writings of Søren Kierkegaard and Friedrich Nietzsche.

With this foundation, students turn to the works of writers such as Martin Heidegger, Simone de Beauvoir, Jean-Paul Sartre, and Franz Kafka. As they explore existentialist thought and its effect on broader issues in philosophy, students critique primary philosophical works, participate in discussions and debates, and write analytical essays.

Sample texts: Existentialism from Dostoevsky to Sartre, Kaufmann; No Exit and Three Other Plays, Sartre; The Stranger, Camus.

Session 1: Not offered
Session 2: Carlisle

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Philosophy of Mind

What is the nature of mind? How is the mind related to the brain? What is consciousness? Can we be certain that others have minds and conscious experiences? Is artificial intelligence possible?

In this course, students explore questions such as these as they analyze both historical and contemporary philosophical attempts to explain the mind. Beginning with philosophers such as René Descartes, students investigate traditional dualist attempts to characterize the mind as a non-physical entity existing independently of our bodies. Students then analyze various versions of materialism, which purport that the mind and mental phenomena are purely physical entities. Among the materialist formulations that students examine are the mind-brain identity thesis, materialist functionalism, and supervenience. With a foundational understanding of the central philosophical positions on the mind-body problem, students contemplate to what extent other animals and machines can be said to possess minds.

As students attempt to shed light on the nature of mind, they critique primary philosophical works, participate in discussions and debates, and write analytical essays.

Sample text: Philosophy of Mind: Classical and Contemporary Readings, Chalmers.

Session 1: Lancaster
Session 2: Lancaster

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Cognitive Psychology

While you read this sentence, your eyes alone are transmitting approximately 10 million pieces of data per second to your brain. Nevertheless, your attention remains focused on these words, you quickly decipher their meaning, and your memory stores make the whole process feel seamless. How is this possible? Cognitive psychology — often referred to as the “science of the mind” — examines how we represent and process the information we receive from our environment. It seeks to identify and understand the elements of consciousness and the atoms of thought.

In this course, students examine the diverse range of cognitive processes, including perception, learning, memory, forgetting, attention, problem-solving, reasoning, and language. They gain a greater understanding of this perspective by applying core research methodologies to models, principles, and discoveries within the discipline, as well as by investigating the fundamental neurological structures associated with cognitive processes. Through simulations, group discussions, readings, and evaluation of research and theory, students conceptualize human beings as information processors.

Students leave this course with a richer understanding of how people make sense of the complex would around them, as well as an awareness of their own cognitive illusions, predispositions, and mental capacities. For instance, how is it taht rdaeres are albe to usrtadennd tihs setnecne wuhtoit mcuh dcuifflity eevn tgouhh olny the fsrit and lsat lrettes of mnay wrods are in the pperor pclae?

Sample text: Cognitive Psychology: Connecting Mind, Research, and Everyday Experience, Goldstein.

Session 1: Lancaster, Los Angeles, Saratoga Springs
Session 2: Lancaster, Los Angeles, Saratoga Springs

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Linguistics: The Science of Language

From Twitter’s 140 characters to War and Peace’s 1,400 pages, language is an essential part of our psychological, cultural, and social experiences. As an ever-growing field of academic research, linguistics uses rigorous methodology to study four primary aspects of language: phonology (sound patterns), morphology (word formation), syntax (sentence structure), and semantics (meaning). Using this framework, students analyze language as both a biological human instinct and as an important cultural artifact in human history and society. For example, by examining Yoda’s speech in the movie "The Empire Strikes Back", students might analyze the syntax employed to determine the patterns by which he alters his word order from standard English, thus exploring questions of meaning and communication.

Investigating language through the lenses of psychology, vocal anatomy, cultural studies, and history, students discuss both the universal qualities of human language and the unique qualities of individual languages and dialects. In so doing, they come to understand language as a force that dynamically shapes and is shaped by history, biology, class, status, ethnicity, gender, and institutions like the media and the law. Students develop a diverse set of skills, ranging from a mastery of tools for the systematic study of language (e.g., the International Phonetic Alphabet) to a practical ability to evaluate the rhetorical tricks used by advertisers and politicians. Through lectures, discussions, group and independent projects, and readings, students examine the roots, complexity, and power of language.

Sample text: Language Files, The Ohio State University Department of Linguistics.

Session 1: Baltimore
Session 2: Baltimore, Lancaster

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