Introductory courses in the humanities generally familiarize students with the field’s terminology and expose them to key texts. Literature courses, for example, ask students to identify themes, motifs, metaphor and symbolism, and cover plot structure, character development, genre and style. Required Pathways courses such as “Great Works of Literature” or “World Humanities” expose students to a wide variety of literary works while familiarizing them with the terminology and methods of literary research and the humanities more broadly.
Similarly, introductory courses in history cover a selection of important time periods or events and introduce students to historical research methods. Courses such as “The United States: Origins to 1877” or “The United States since 1865” survey a specific time and place, while courses such as “Themes in Global History to 1500” and “Themes in Global History after 1500” focus on a selection of important themes in history. All of these courses teach students how to read historical texts and introduce them to historical research, and they will most likely include instruction on how to locate, analyze, and evaluate primary as well as secondary sources. Research projects might still be guided; as an instructor, you might give students a list of topics and selection of secondary sources to work with and assist them in doing library research.
Building on the introductory courses, intermediate courses do two things: they reinforce the foundational knowledge and skills of the introductory courses (some of which are prerequisites), and expose students to sub-fields. English majors will, for example, be able to take courses in Shakespeare, Greek Tragedy, The Twentieth Century Novel, or Literary Criticism. History majors will be able to take courses on, for example, the Ottoman Empire, the US South, or Colonial Latin America. As students are becoming more knowledgeable in these areas, they will also complete an individual and usually longer research project that asks them to select a topic and find, locate, and evaluate primary and secondary sources themselves. Doing this, they learn to move and speak within their discipline more independently and more confidently.
Upper level courses in the humanities give students the tools to become experts in certain sub-fields and the ability to critically evaluate the field and its methodologies as a whole. An English major, for example, will be able to specialize in contemporary African-American literature and understand the area’s history and place within the larger discipline of American literature. Upper level history courses will give students in-depth knowledge of a particular time, theme, or event, and ask them to do original research in that area so that they can possibly contribute to existing knowledge.
Other disciplines, for example philosophy, art history, theatre, classics, music, and area studies, all follow roughly the same trajectory of introductory, intermediate, and upper level courses. Below are a few sample tracks for students majoring in English at City College and Cinema Studies at The College of Staten Island. If you want to know more about the course you’re going to teach and how it fits in your students’ Pathways, major, or minor trajectory, ask the department where you teach and check their major/minor requirements and course listings.
Sample Student Trajectories
The sample trajectories below give you an idea of what a student’s path might look like. Keep in mind that students take many other courses as well, from required Pathways courses to upper level electives (many majors require students to take a minimum number of electives). Students’ trajectories are often less linear than the ones described below: many students take a wide variety of classes before declaring their major, transfer in from other colleges, or double-major. All students also complete a minor in a field different from and not necessarily related to their major.
An English Major @ City College
Introductory: (100) World Humanities
(200) Introduction to Literary Studies
(200) Studies in Genre: Novel
Intermediate: (200) Literature of Diversity: Harlem Renaissance
(300) Toni Morrison
(300) Representative US Writers: 20th Century
Upper Level: (400): Advanced Topics in African-American Literature: James Baldwin and the Tradition of Black/Queer Literature
(400) Advanced Topics in American Literature: Immigrant Literature
(400) Capstone: The Novel Now: Contemporary Fiction
A Cinema Studies Major @ College of Staten Island
Introductory: (100) Introduction to Film
Intermediate: (200) Film Theory
(200) Politics, Cinema, and Media
(200) Women and Film (cross-listed with Women’s Studies)
(300) Screen Adaptations
Upper Level: (400) French Directors after 1960
(400) Postwar Italian Cinema (cross-listed with Italian Studies)
Resources and Sample Teaching Materials