The study of the humanities at Caltech is interdisciplinary, with particular emphasis on history, literature, philosophy, and the history and philosophy of science. With a deep commitment to archival research, the faculty examine how societies change over time, how individuals produce works of the imagination, and how scientific paradigms help explain human behavior and thought. Students not only gain knowledge of specific fields but also acquire the tools necessary for critical thinking and persuasive writing. In addition to the humanities options—an option is Caltech's version of a major and includes English, history, history and philosophy of science, and philosophy—and the minors offered in English, history, history and philosophy of science, philosophy, and visual culture, students can take courses in film studies, at least five foreign languages, music studies, and writing (creative writing, poetry, and others). The Caltech Catalog provides further details about the humanities curriculum. Many of these classes include field trips designed to enhance what students learn in the classroom and take advantage of Southern California's historical and cultural richness.
The study of social sciences at Caltech is a highly interdisciplinary endeavor, bringing together scholars in anthropology, economics, finance, psychology, and political science. Their work is connected by an underlying belief in the importance of rigorous theoretical, empirical, and experimental analysis in the study of economic and political institutions, in addition to how individuals behave in them. In particular, HSS's social scientists work to increase our understanding of the relationships between individual incentives, political institutions, and public policy—and to pass that understanding along to the next generation of great thinkers.
Current options and minors in social sciences include economics; business, economics, and management (BEM); and political science.
The social sciences faculty periodically organize an open house for Caltech undergraduates to learn more about the social sciences options and coursework at Caltech. Visit this page for information presented at past open houses.
Yes, HSS awards Bachelor of Science degrees to students who complete the requirements in one or more of the following seven options (an option is Caltech's version of a major): business, economics, and management (BEM); economics; English; history; history and philosophy of science; philosophy; and political science. Students may choose to minor in English, history, history and philosophy of science, philosophy, or visual culture; these minors are designed for students who are pursuing an option in another subject area but also want to work toward concentrated study in one of these fields without fulfilling all of the requirements for a degree.
Each member of the three undergraduate upper classes is assigned an option advisor, a faculty member in the option in which the student is enrolled. The advisor takes an interest in the student's selection of courses and progress toward a degree, and, eventually, in assisting the student toward satisfactory placement in industry or in graduate school. Normally, the association between student and advisor is established before the beginning of the sophomore year and continues through graduation. Students interested in completing an option in HSS can make arrangements directly with a faculty member of their choice or contact the option representative.
A faculty member serves as the representative for an option. The option representative provides consultation on academic programs, degree requirements, etc. and provides general supervision to students in the option. Here are the current faculty option representatives in HSS:
- English: George Pigman
- History: Warren C. Brown
- History and Philosophy of Science (HPS): Diana Kormos Buchwald
- Philosophy: Frederick Eberhardt
- Visual Culture: Brian R. Jacobson
Please visit the HSS Current Course Schedule. For previous academic years, scroll down to the bottom of the page and select the desired tab.
Yes! Please visit Beyond the Classroom to read about student research—through a senior thesis, summer research project, or internship opportunities—and explore examples of student projects in recent years.
Yes, students have two options for pursuing independent research:
- a reading and independent-study course undertaken through close collaboration with a faculty member
- a senior thesis, which typically takes place over the course of two terms and requires that the student research, write, and revise a substantial paper under the mentorship of a faculty member
Caltech students should ordinarily fulfill their course requirements by taking courses at Caltech. Students are expected to have a clear and carefully considered reason for taking courses elsewhere. The only regular exceptions are transfer students admitted with advanced standing. Credit for comparable work at other institutions with similar academic standards is not granted automatically and must be approved by the appropriate executive officer.
Students who wish to take courses elsewhere (whether on leave, during the summer, through a study-abroad program, or during the school year) should consult, in advance, the appropriate executive officer to minimize any misunderstanding regarding the nature of credit they may receive. Upon completion of the course, students must have a copy of the transcript of their work at the other institution sent to the Registrar's Office, obtain an allowance-of-credit form through the Registrar's Office, get the signed approval of the appropriate executive officer, and return the completed form to the Registrar's Office.
- Credit is not given for courses taken in high school (including advanced placement courses).
- Credit is not given for courses taken at junior or community colleges.
- Credit is given only for courses that are, in the judgment of the executive officer, comparable to courses at Caltech. In the social sciences, courses must have a substantial analytic content; descriptions of social, economic, and political situations (e.g., "The U.S. Constitution," "Money in Inca America") are insufficient if not accompanied with a thorough analytic component.
- First-year or advanced humanities credit is not given for courses that require little or no writing.
- First-year or advanced humanities credit is not given for any course unless the student completes the writing placement test and the results indicate that they are not required to take Writing 2.
- Courses taken at schools with which Caltech has a reciprocal registration agreement are presumed to be comparable to Caltech courses. Credit will be granted provided that the subject is appropriate—check with the appropriate executive officer, who is the final authority on allowance of credit.
- Credit will not be given for courses that Caltech offers but were taken elsewhere and could have been taken at Caltech. Attending such courses elsewhere during the summer to hasten graduation is not acceptable.
FURTHER SUGGESTIONS FOR STUDENTS
Students are responsible for taking care of any and all paperwork and keeping track of their credits throughout their time at Caltech. Waiting until the final term of one's senior year to obtain credit for coursework done earlier can create significant and avoidable difficulties.
A Caltech education requires not just the depth of an option but also considerable breadth in basic science, humanities, and the social sciences. Caltech's core curriculum prepares students for the interdisciplinary nature of contemporary research in science and technology. This encourages a culture of problem-solving, collaboration, and communication in addition to providing valuable experience in all fields of science. Significant study in the humanities and social sciences is an important component of Caltech's core curriculum, giving alumni the ability to navigate the societal, political, and economic factors that influence, and are influenced by, their work.
Coursework in HSS helps students communicate more effectively, formulate logical and persuasive arguments, and understand the social, political, and cultural environment in which they live, making them better able to assess what our society needs from its citizens and scientists. To qualify for a Bachelor of Science degree at Caltech, students in all disciplines must complete 36 units in the humanities, 36 units in the social sciences, and 36 additional units in either the humanities or social sciences, in addition to other required coursework. These must include introductory and advanced courses in the humanities (English, history, history and philosophy of science, humanities, music, philosophy, and visual culture) and introductory and advanced courses in the social sciences (anthropology; business, economics, and management; economics; law; political science; psychology; and social sciences).
For more details about the Institute's core requirements—including which courses do or do not meet the requirements—as well as the humanities and social sciences requirements, see the Caltech Catalog from the year in which you began your studies at Caltech.
The mission of the humanities core is to offer Caltech students the conceptual tools required to tackle enduring questions that cross temporal, geopolitical, and disciplinary boundaries. Students will learn to engage with these questions in ways that are both critical and conversational: they will learn not only how to argue well but how to argue with–how to appreciate, respect, learn from, and respond to the ideas of others. These conversations engage not only the self and other people, but also the texts, art, societies, and traditions of the world.
Study in the humanities offers students a chance to reflect on the implications of scientific and other forms of knowledge over time and space, to challenge existing paradigms, and to understand the broader context in which they live and work. It involves unlearning assumptions about the individual, social structures, and human experience.
Students in the humanities will learn to
- Read actively, questioning and criticizing what they encounter
- Fashion original and persuasive arguments, in writing and in conversation, based on the best evidence
- Challenge their assumptions about themselves and the world
- Engage with archives and other source material
- Express themselves in clear, compelling prose
With training in the humanities, tomorrow's citizens and scientists will be better able to communicate, critique, and innovate.
Learning to think like a humanist will also afford students the opportunity to understand better and thus experience more deeply the pleasures of visual, literary, intellectual, and cultural achievements from across the globe and across the centuries.
The social science core curriculum initiates students in the study of how humans organize, decide, govern, and allocate their resources. It teaches students how to analyze and reason about individual behavior, markets, and other institutions. Our curriculum covers methods, as well as substance. The issues facing our students in the future will be different from those that are current, but the analytical principles and methodology needed to understand those problems will likely remain the same, albeit improved. Thus the social science core curriculum provides students with the knowledge and tools to, in the words of the catalog, "navigate the societal, political, and economic factors that influence, and are influenced by, their work."
The objectives of the social science core curriculum can be broken into three broad categories of courses: introductory courses that teach basic principles; methods courses that seek to transmit skills and analytical tools; and courses exposing students to substantive ideas and problems in the social sciences. More concretely: "Fundamental ideas and principles" classes expose students to a broad and introductory overview of basic ideas in anthropology, economics, psychology, and political science. "Methodology and analysis" courses focus mainly on giving students the theoretical and empirical tools to analyze problems. They cover the theoretical modeling tools most commonly used in the social sciences, as well as statistical and econometric techniques that are needed to analyze data. "Substantive problems in social science: Individuals, institutions, and markets" courses expose students to an array of substantive questions in social science, from resource allocation via markets and prices, the workings of political institutions, the consequences of poor governance, the psychological basis of human behavior, and an understanding of financial markets.
Institutional Learning Outcomes
The Institute aims for these educational outcomes:
- Graduates can analyze, synthesize, and communicate ideas.
- Graduates demonstrate integrity, personal and professional responsibility, and respect for others.
- Bachelor of Science graduates can identify, analyze, and solve challenging problems within and across science and engineering disciplines.
- Bachelor of Science graduates can apply their analytic skills to other areas of knowledge and understand issues important in our society.
- Master of Science graduates can apply advanced knowledge in a specialized area in preparation for their professional careers.
- Doctor of Philosophy graduates can independently identify, analyze, and solve fundamental research problems with breadth and depth.
Core Curriculum Learning Outcomes
The Caltech core curriculum provides:
Substantive experience in problem solving, collaboration, and communication.
Students will be able to:
a. Manage increasing academic challenges while developing resilience and confidence.
b. Develop and satisfy their intellectual curiosity.
c. Collaborate effectively and ethically, recognizing diverse models of academic collaboration.
d. Communicate to a range of audiences through a variety of media.
A broad and rigorous foundation in the sciences.
Students will be able to:
a. Demonstrate understanding of foundational concepts from the sciences.
b. Use disciplinary thinking, analytical skills, and a range of methods in the sciences.
c. Apply their knowledge and skills to diverse problems within and across disciplines.
Significant study in the humanities and social sciences.
Students will be able to:
a. Explore and expand upon learning in fields beyond intended areas of specialization.
b. Appreciate and understand the contributions of the humanities, social sciences, and arts to human endeavors.
c. Engage in informed analysis of cultural, political, and economic issues.
Yes! Please visit Student Prizes to read about the range of prizes HSS faculty award each year for student achievement and to see the list of recent prizewinners.