MIT Concourse – the Humanities


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) investigates the more immediate sources of modern thought, reading early modern political theorists, and tracing the growth of the central modern value: freedom.
  • How to Rule the World (CC.116) considers fundamental political questions of justice and leadership, such as the tension between justice and interest, the causes of political crises, and the allure and limits of the political life, through a careful reading of original works that deal, in very different ways, with the theme of political ambition. Texts include works by Thucydides, Xenophon, Machiavelli, and Shakespeare, as well as portions of the Hebrew Bible. We will also discuss and read about contemporary political conflicts and leaders.
  • Medieval Economic History in Comparative Perspective (21H.134J )¬†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 in the Renaissance and Today (CC.120J)¬†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.