The Concourse program offers courses from the scientific-mathematical and humanities sides of the MIT General Institute Requirements (GIRs). For the Science Core, we offer math, physics, and chemistry. We also offer a variety of humanities electives, including some fulfilling the Communication Intensive-Humanities requirement (CI-H). In addition, our Friday lunch seminar brings together all aspects of our curriculum and poses big questions that cross the disciplines.
More information about specific classes can be found in the course catalogue.
Math, Chemistry, and Physics
The regularly scheduled science and math classes we teach during the year are:
- CC.801/CC.8012 Physics I (Mechanics)
CC.1802 Calculus II
CC.5111 Principles of Chemical Science
- CC.802/CC.8022 Physics II (Electricity and Magnetism)
- CC.512 Organic Chemistry
- CC.1803 Differential Equations
These courses stress technical competence in handling the material as well as the intellectual grasp of it. In scheduled as well as informal recitation sessions, the students may practice their mastery under guidance by faculty and tutors. In Concourse we can look every week at how you are doing in all your courses, and your teachers all talk to one another, as in any small school. As a result we generally detect any difficulties quite early, and we can avoid the classic MIT problem of work “piling up.” Classes in Concourse are at least as rigorous as the mainstream versions, but the approach is very personal, and the road to achievement can be made much smoother.
Our fall humanities subject begins at the beginning, tracing the ideas that order contemporary thought and the structure of our lives back to their roots. By looking at the origins of the ideas through which we filter our world, we gain some independence to critically assess those ideas.
Becoming Human: Ancient Greek Perspectives on the Best Life (CC.110) focuses on the approach of Greek thinkers to questions of ethics, politics, and human flourishing. The ethical focus for the ancient Greeks was not on formulating a set of rules that any human being can follow, but on discovering what it means to be the best kind of human being, and how we might become that. We will use works, which are both foundational to modern thought and also quite foreign to us, as tools for thinking about the goals and purposes of our lives, lived in community with others.
In the spring we offer a rotation of classes, with at least two offerings in each term. Upperclass students may also participate in these classes.
Modern Conceptions of Freedom (CC.111/17.04)
This course examines the theoretical story of our modern conception of freedom. We first examine the theoretical foundations of modernity in the writings of Machiavelli, Hobbes, and Locke. We then turn to the American founding, its complex attitude towards freedom, and Tocqueville’s reflections on the character of the regime it established. We next study the renewal and reexamination of freedom in America in the writings of Lincoln and Frederick Douglass. We conclude with works by the 18th-century philosopher Jean-Jacques Rousseau and the 19th-century German philosopher Friedrich Nietzsche, both of whom sharply attack the Enlightenment, Rousseau arguing that it destroys freedom and Nietzsche, on the basis of his critique of it, questioning the value of freedom itself.
How to Rule the World (CC.116)
This course explores the powerful allure and the enormous challenges of political rule, investigating how great leaders do, and should, confront both to rule well. We ask questions such as: What makes great leaders successful? What does it mean to rule well? Should we be guided above all by the demands for justice, or, rather, by the difficult demands of what is often politely called “national security”? “What is the nature of justice and does it differ in domestic and foreign affairs?” “What are the passions that lead individuals to aspire to political power?” “What are the charms and the pitfalls of love of honor?” With these and related questions in mind, we will read and reflect on a handful of foundational texts that all address, in different ways, the theme of what it means to be a great leader.We read selections from Thucydides’ monumental work on the Peloponnesian War, one of the most famous, or infamous, books about politics ever written, Machiavelli’s The Prince, the Bible’s account of King David in I and II Samuel, and, finally, Xenophon’s depiction of the founder of the Persian Empire in The Education of Cyrus. Through our study of these works, we will examine what these influential but contrasting traditions teach about great leadership and political crises in general. Throughout, we will discuss contemporary leaders and crises and consider the extent to which the texts can help us gain more insight into them.
Humane Warfare: Ancient and Medieval Perspectives on Ethics in War (CC.117/17.05)
This course explores the norms of war by focusing on primary texts of pre-modern approaches to this topic, namely, the classical rationalist tradition and the Biblical monotheistic tradition (in Christianity and Islam especially) as it was codified in the Middle Ages and which was informed by and in some sense a response to the rationalist tradition. We return to these pre-modern thinkers for two main reasons. First, because they lived amid almost continuous war, the stresses of which present the demands of justice especially starkly, these thinkers addressed the nature and extent of these demands in an especially vivid and thorough way. Second, returning to different, even alien, ways of articulating the norms of war and bringing them into conversation with each other, will help us gain a critical distance from our own assumptions about questions of justice in war, enabling us to examine those questions with fresh eyes. Our study proceeds through the early Renaissance, with the beginning of a formalized doctrine of just war theory by Francisco de Vitoria. We discuss throughout but devote direct attention at the very end to readings about current ethical dilemmas and different ways of addressing them.
Medieval Economic History in Comparative Perspective (21H.134J)
This course surveys the conditions of material life and changing social and economic relations in medieval Europe using the comparative context of contemporary Islamic, Chinese, and Japanese experiences. Covers the emergence and decline of feudal institutions, the transformation of peasant agriculture, living standards and the course of epidemic disease, and the ebb and flow of long-distance trade across the Eurasian system. Particular emphasis placed on the study of those factors, both institutional and technological, which contributed to the emergence of capitalist organization and economic growth in western Europe in contrast to the trajectories followed by the other major medieval economies.
Making Books: The Renaissance and Today (21H.343/CC.120J)
This course explores the impact of new technology on the recording and distribution of words and images at three different times: the invention of the printing press ca. 1450; the adaptation of electricity to communication technology in the 19th century (telegraph, telephone, phonograph); and the emergence of digital media today. Assignments include essays and online projects. Students participate in the design and construction of a hand-set printing press. Limited to 12.
Technology and the Global Economy (21H.383)
This course examines the global history of the last millennium, including technological change, commodity exchange, systems of production, and economic growth. Students engage with economic history, medieval and early modern origins of modern systems of production, consumption and global exchange. Topics include the long pre-history of modern economic development; medieval world systems; the age of discovery, the global crisis of the 17th century; demographic systems, global population movements; the industrial revolution, the rise of the modern consumer; colonialism and empire building; patterns of inequality, within and across states; the curse of natural resources fate of Africa; and the threat of climate change to modern economic systems. Students taking the graduate version complete additional assignments.
Credit and Grading
Credit, quizzes, problem sets, papers, and exams are handled in exactly the same manner as in the mainstream curriculum. In accordance with MIT Rules and Regulations of the Faculty section 2.62, Concourse does not grade on a curve. Students are assessed individually, and there is no predetermined grade spread in any subject.
First Year Students
With few exceptions, Institute-wide rules limit first year students to 54 units of credit in the first semester and 57 units in the second semester.
In the fall, first year students are graded under Pass/No Record where D and F are not passing. In the second semester, they will be graded under the A/B/C/No Record system.
Concourse offers standard versions of physics, chemistry and math, but in a unique setting. This ensures that our students can take most of their classes within Concourse. However, to help students adapt to the mainstream style of classes we only require that they participate in the Freshman advising seminar (CC.A10), one of our humanities offerings (see Humanities page for details), and one additional course in the fall. We do not currently offer Biology, which is a General Institute Requirement (GIR) and recommended for the first year. Based on the class schedule in Concourse and the recommendation of that department, the typical Concourse student will take Chemistry in the Fall.
In the Spring semester we require enrollment in the Friday seminar (you can read more about this on our seminar page) and one additional class from the variety of options available. We continue to offer chemistry, math, physics, humanities classes, and some seminars are available to both freshmen and upper-class students.