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Humanities Sequence

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Humanities Sequence FAQs

Is it possible to manage the heavy reading load for this intensive double course alongside other significant extracurricular commitments (e.g., traveling varsity athlete, advanced mathematics work, frequent theater rehearsals)?

There is a great deal of reading in this course; it is a course for students who love to read. The workload, in terms of reading and writing, is intense, and the pace of Princeton’s 12-week teaching semester can seem fast, even though it is followed by a week long reading period and exams. But experience has shown that varsity athletes, advanced math and physics majors, engineers, and others with significant time commitments (e.g., theater rehearsals) perform very well. Often, they appreciate and benefit from the “team” mentality of the work, the focused and coherent syllabus, and the strong peer and faculty support that the course provides. Also, athletes sometimes find that having two courses rolled into one set of readings with one type of writing assignment makes it much easier to manage their time. In fact, students have told us that the highly structured nature of the HUM Sequence makes time management easier, allowing them to plan ahead around travel and rehearsal schedules, and easing the adjustment to multi-tasking college environment. For more information, watch this video profile of a varsity athlete and FSI student.

I was excited when I heard about this course and thrilled about taking it. But I do not have a strong background in the Classics or the Western tradition. My high school (large, urban, public, STEM, or international) did not offer many humanities courses. Will I be prepared to do well and get good grades?

The only prerequisite for the Humanities Sequence is to love reading, to be thrilled by the prospect of encountering these demanding and beautiful great books, and to enjoy talking about multi-layered, complicated texts and ideas. Fifty percent of the students in the course do not go on to major in the humanities; some are engineers, and others major in the sciences, math, economics, and public policy. Students tend to do well in this course, whatever their backgrounds, for a number of reasons:

  • The Sequence attracts a self-selecting group of students who are ambitious, dedicated, and willing to work hard. The reading load is heavy but manageable (you read excerpts of some texts), and you will write five short papers (5 pages) and take a final exam. In return, you receive two full course credits.
  • A strong network of peer and faculty support, and a “team” mentality or “boot camp” bonding, will cheer and motivate students through tough times.
  • There are 12 professors, all distinguished teachers, to consult when questions arise.
  • We will offer optional workshops to prepare for the first writing assignment (e.g., how to do a “close reading”), which will ease the anxiety that most first-year students feel, whatever their preparation.

Although there is a lot of reading, there is really only one kind of assignment and paper—a close reading of a passage from a text of your choice—so students are not asked to start over and learn a new kind of task each week. Over the semester, faculty see that students get better and better at writing the papers, and there is a great deal of feedback and guidance along the way. Sequence grades are not based on a “curve” like many other first-year course grades.

Introductory lectures and precepts will help you situate the difficult texts in their historical context and give you a number of ways to approach the texts.

Although the Sequence provides a strong foundation for future Classics majors, some students discover the Classics for the first time in this course. It is often the students without a strong background in Classics who can get the most out of taking the Humanities Sequence.

I am doing the summer reading now (The Iliad, The Odyssey, and The Aeneid), but I don’t have much knowledge of Greek mythology. Am I expected to fully comprehend the works?

It is understandably overwhelming to encounter the Odyssey and Iliad for the first time on your own. The goal of the summer reading is for you to become familiar with the overall thrust of the narratives, not to fully comprehend them. Your professors have been reading these texts for years, and each time we turn to them, we find something new. The goal of the HUM Sequence is not to “master” the texts but to open doors into them and build bridges to other texts. If you have the time, you might look at a brief introduction to Greek mythology (e.g., Edith Hamilton’s Mythology, or even D’Aulaire’s Book of Greek Myths, a literate, illustrated children’s book that will give you basic outlines of stories that would have been common knowledge in Homer’s time).

When do most students take the Humanities Sequence?

The Humanities Sequence is designed as a first-year course, and most students take it in their first year at Princeton. By taking the course right away, in your first year, you will meet 12 highly distinguished humanities faculty from a variety of disciplines, and you will fulfill a number of general education requirements (two LA, an HA, and an EC). The Sequence provides not only foundation for future studies but also creates for you an immediate community of engaged peers, who will support and enliven your studies not only during the adjustments of freshman year but across all four years at Princeton. Taking the course in the first year allows beginning students to meet and build close relationships with particular faculty in their areas of interest, and sometimes to find a new passion (e.g., philosophy, history, art history, classics, literatures in English, French, German, Italian, Spanish, Russian, etc.). HUM students often meet a faculty a member with whom they go on to take more advanced seminars in sophomore year and beyond.

What is the benefit of taking both the fall and spring semesters of the HUM Sequence?

The full-year sweep of the course, from ancient to modern, defines the Sequence. A broad survey course that “maps” the pivotal texts, events, and artifacts of the Western intellectual tradition, it is also an ongoing cultural conversation, with many unique opportunities to place these multi-layered, complicated texts in their material context (including excursions and trips to New York City). In the fall semester, you will gain a strong foundation in classical texts and develop important bonds with faculty and peers. These conversations reach their full fruition in the second semester, as bonds intensify, your reading and writing skills are honed, and you see the intellectual threads of classical and medieval influences powerfully revealed in the Renaissance and Modern eras. Students who complete the full year will be eligible to apply for international opportunities in the sophomore year.

I am a BSE student, and I need to take three science and math courses this fall. Can I take the HUM Sequence if that means taking five courses in my first semester?

The normal course load for a first-semester freshman is four courses. It is not recommended that students in their first semester at Princeton take five courses–especially not the HUM Sequence, along with three engineering courses. The HUM sequence represents two full, demanding courses, with a heavy reading and writing load. It is true that many engineering freshmen have taken the year-long HUM Sequence successfully. But these are BSE students who arrive with AP in PHY, MAT, or CHM, and whose advanced placement allows them to take only two engineering courses in the first semester, together with the two HUM sequence courses. Once you have completed your fall semester of four courses successfully (doing well in both engineering and humanities), it is then perfectly fine to continue in HUM and take five courses in the spring.

Looking ahead to the spring, I found out that I need to take Physics, Math, Biology, and my Writing Seminar. Could I also take the HUM Sequence, if that means taking six courses in the spring?

A six-course semester is not advisable during the first year at Princeton. If you foresee that you must take three science and math courses in the spring, along with your WRI seminar, you should not enroll in the HUM Sequence.

What general education requirements does the Humanities Sequence fulfill?

The Sequence fulfills four of general education requirements: an LA and HA in the fall, and an LA and an EC in the spring. Humanists often find the Sequence to be one of the most enjoyable ways to fulfill the EC requirement.

May I join HUM 218-219 in spring term, if I am unable to take HUM 216-217 in the Fall?

Absolutely. Students may join the course in the spring, when several spaces have always become available. In this case, you might consider taking a fall course that will parallel the Sequence. Professor Leonard Barkan will be teaching COM 205, “The Classical Roots of Western Literature,” while also teaching in the fall HUM Sequence; taking his course would give you a good idea of whether joining the Sequence in the spring would be a good fit, and it would prepare you well to join the course. Professor Tony Grafton’s survey course, HIS 211 “Europe from Antiquity to 1700,” is another excellent option, also taught by a frequent HUM Sequence professor and an equally good preparation for the spring.

How does the HUM Sequence relate to the Certificate program in Humanistic Studies?

By completing the HUM sequence, you will have fulfilled four of the eight course requirements for the new interdisciplinary certificate in Humanistic Studies. So you will be halfway done with the requirements and would need to take only one more explicitly interdisciplinary course and a capstone seminar, along with two other courses of your choosing (to create your own path along one of the certificate’s tracks). Enrolling in the HUM certificate program will give you priority for popular, advanced seminars that are team-taught by our faculty in small-seminar settings, a continuing community of peers, and guidance in bringing an interdisciplinary approach into your independent work.

If I have preenrolled in the Humanities Sequence, am I obligated to take the course? Am I required to continue to the spring, if I take the fall semester?

Reserving a seat in the year-long HUM Sequence indicates your intention to enroll for both the fall and spring semesters. If you are already sure that your schedule will not allow you to complete the entire year, it is best to email Stephanie Lewandowski to release your seat in the course. If you are uncertain about your level of commitment, please contact Dr. Crown for advice about your options and how to proceed. If you have been pre-enrolled in the Sequence, it is of course possible to drop the course, and you may do so at any point before Registration by emailing Stephanie Lewandowski. She will immediately offer your space to an eager student on our waiting list. You may also drop the Sequence during Registration, and if you let us know, we will be able in real time to make that space available to our waitlisted students. We understand that unexpected conflicts can emerge that prevent students either from enrolling in the course or from continuing on in the spring. If you do decide to release your space now, but you wish to keep your options open, we would be happy to move your name to the wait list so that you will be informed of openings as they become available.

Is it advisable to take a Freshman Seminar along with the Humanities Sequence?

Yes, absolutely! Many students have done so, happily and successfully. The two classroom and learning experiences are very different and can be complementary. Both FRS and HUM offer an intense intellectual experience with a group of your first-year peers and a chance to get to know professors who are distinguished teachers and scholars. Freshman Seminars do not have lectures and usually are discussion based, focusing on a narrowly defined topic of particular interest to the professor and a small group of students. The HUM Sequence is broad and synthetic, with a larger enrollment and three lectures each week as well as precepts. Writing assignments also tend to differ in type; FRS students often write a end-of-term research papers using secondary critical sources, where HUM assigns five short “close readings” of passages that you select, from the texts that most interest you. The focus is entirely on the primary texts and interactions between them. The HUM Sequence will introduce you to several faculty members, whereas the FRS is led by a single professor in an intensive small-group setting, often for three-hour meetings once a week. It is wise to strive for a balance of kinds of reading and writing assignments in your schedule. Taking the HUM course along with a Freshman Seminar (or Writing Seminar) can sometimes provide that balance. (Note: An FRS that fulfills the STN requirement can be a particularly good choice for humanities majors.)

My Writing Seminar was assigned for the fall term. Is it OK to take HUM with a Writing Seminar? If I can’t fit in the courses I need, may I request to switch my Seminar to the spring?

It is absolutely fine to take your Writing Seminar alongside the HUM Sequence! The courses, although very different, mutually enhance one another. Some students find, however, that their fall semester schedule has become too constricted to fit in all the courses they need (since freshmen may enroll in only four courses). In that case, you may request to have your Writing Seminar moved to the spring, when you may enroll in five courses, if necessary and advisable. The Writing Program accommodates as many requests as possible, within limits of available space. In making your request, you should explain that enrollment in the HUM sequence is part of your reason. How to request a change in term of Writing Seminar assignments.

I was notified of my placement into a Freshman Seminar that meets on a Tuesday (or Thursday) afternoon for 3 hours. Will it conflict with the HUM precepts?

Yes, Freshman Seminars that meet from 1:30-4:20 on either Tuesday or Thursday pose an irreconcilable conflict with HUM precepts, which meet on both Tuesday and Thursday afternoons, at either 1:30-2:50 or 3:00-4:20 pm. If you are placed into a Freshman Seminar that conflicts with all the HUM precepts, we ask that you email Stephanie Lewandowski immediately to release your seat in HUM (or write to FRS to release that space), rather than hold up two conflicting spaces–especially since there is a wait list of eager students. The Registrar will not be able to pre-enroll you in both courses. In weighing your options, consider that the HUM Sequence offers an intense, year-long experience with 12 professors as well as 40 to 60 students, all of whom have made an unusually significant commitment to dedicate half their freshman year to a wide-ranging course of humanistic study. You will find that many spaces open up in Freshman Seminars on the day of Registration, including in popular seminars that are closed and have a wait list. You may also take a Freshman Seminar in the spring semester.

Do sophomores take the HUM sequence?

Yes, two or three sophomores enroll in the Sequence every year. Usually this is because they regret not having taken it during freshman year—either because they were not aware of the course, or decided against it. They decide to enroll after witnessing the close bonds among classmates and hearing from them about the advantages of the course (amazing lectures, high-quality precepts, special dinners and trips, and opportunities for travel to Greece and Rome trips in sophomore year). Usually sophomores who take the Sequence are planning to enter a humanities department that will count the Sequence toward prerequisites. Students in the sciences and social sciences can find it difficult to fit the Sequence into their sophomore-year schedules while fulfilling major prerequisites.

May I enroll in the HUM Sequence if I know that I can enroll only for the fall?

Given that the course will likely be fully subscribed, we hope that students who reserve a seat in the HUM Sequence intend (at this time) to enroll for both semesters. We expect to have a substantial wait list of students eager for a seat in the year-long course. Although it is certainly acceptable to drop the Sequence after the fall semester—if you encounter an unanticipated conflict, a difficulty, or a change in interests—that should not be your intention at the outset. In most cases, students who have reserved a seat should be planning to benefit from the full course of study, enrolling in both the fall and the spring. If your situation is unique, however, please discuss with Dr. Crown your rationale for being granted a space in the fall even though you cannot complete the year-long program. Should additional spaces open up in the course during Registration or drop/add, these extra seats certainly may be taken by students who intend to enroll only for the fall or spring.