At American University, scholars and students are bringing the humanities to life as they explore the ideas, cultures, languages, and people that shape the human experience. The AU humanities curriculum cultivates a wide variety of skills including critical thinking, innovation, and collaboration.
AU students can get involved in the humanities in many ways. They can major or minor in more than 20 areas of interest, join student clubs, attend events, learn a language, publish their writing, volunteer, and more.
Here we break down the humanities at AU — everything you need to know to get involved!
What exactly are the humanities?
It’s not always clear, according to Martyn Oliver, senior professorial lecturer in AU’s Department of Critical Race, Gender, and Culture Studies, and faculty chair of AU CORE.
“What exactly constitutes the “humanities” has a long and, perhaps surprisingly, contentious history,” he explains, “ranging from the Greek Sophist’s paideia (education, generally) to the narrower contours used today that indicate the study of human culture as distinct from the physical and social sciences.”
What humanities programs, majors, and minors are offered at AU?
- African American & Diaspora Studies
- American Studies
- Arabic Studies
- Arab World Studies
- Art History
- Asian Studies
- Creative Writing
- French Studies and French Language & Area Studies
- German Studies and German Language and Area Studies
- Jewish Studies
- CAS LEAD
- Literature, Culture, and Technology
- Religious Studies
- Russian Studies and Russian Language and Area Studies
- Spanish Studies and Spanish Language and Area Studies
- Teaching English to Speakers of Other Languages (TESOL)
- Women's, Gender, and Sexuality Studies
Will all AU students be exposed to the humanities, no matter what they choose as their major?
At AU, all students engage in the humanities through the AU Core, either in first-year writing and Complex Problems seminars, or later in many of the Habits of Mind courses. “Rather than think about the humanities as belonging to any specific discipline, it’s perhaps better to recognize how the study of culture and human history shapes all aspects a liberal arts education,” says Oliver. “For example, while literature is a distinct field, the study of literary works can shape and influence political science and international relations. And while biology or chemistry are treated as objective sciences, their histories as disciplines are wrapped up in human activity. As students move through their programs of study at AU, the humanities play a role in every part of their educational journey.”
What clubs does AU offer to help me explore my areas of interest?
From language and cultural clubs, there’s a club for everyone interested in different humanities. Here are just a few to get you started!
- Arabic Club: promotes the Arabic language through the lens of cultural awareness and strives to foster a sense of community for all students who are interested in the Arabic language or culture.
- Disabled Students Union (DSU): an affinity group for disabled students at AU. (Also, check out the interdisciplinary Disability, Health, and Bodies certificate of the American Studies program. Many DSU participants are enthusiastically engaged in the critical thinking fostered in the certificate’s courses.) Instagram account: @audisabledsu
- Korean Student Association (KSA): focuses on Korean culture, society, and history. Programs include Say Kimchi (language and culture,) a panel on Anti-Asian Hate crimes, a Lunar New Year Celebration, and K-Pop Dance Workshop. Instagram account: @americanksa
- League of United Latin American Citizens: brings together students of Latin American descent, not just from CAS but from across the university. Instagram account: @aululac
- Student Advocates for Native Communities (SANC): open to both Indigenous students and allies who are interested in supporting Indigenous causes in the US and abroad. The group also engages Washington, DC, as a site for advancing Indigenous issues on a policy level and is thoughtful about local, land-based engagements. Facebook: sanc.americanuniversity
- Student Historical Society of AU: a student organization dedicated to promoting the study of history, as well as advocacy, historic preservation, and public history. All AU students are invited to join; all you need is an interest in history.
- Student Association for Slavic Studies: brings together students of Slavic heritage and those interested in Slavic languages and cultures. It hosts cultural celebrations, film parties, Eastern European market trips, lectures, and even a fundraiser for Ukraine.
- Triota: the Women’s, Gender, and Sexuality Studies Honor Society, is a great item for student’s resumes, but also a wonderful space for feminist and queer students to build community with like-minded folks. Interested students can contact email@example.com or Professor Amy Barber at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Write and Get Published
American University offers many opportunities to flex your writing skills and get a byline. Here are just a few of the literary journals published each year.
- Atrium celebrates student writing. Its essays cover a wide variety of topics and formats, ranging from explorations of culture to accounts of overcoming personal obstacles to scholarly articles; styles vary from conversational prose to structured research to academic voices.
- Folio is a nationally recognized literary journal sponsored by the College, publishing original creative work by both new and established authors. It looks for well-crafted poetry and prose that is bold and memorable, and art that challenges.
- Café MFA is the online journal of the Creative Writing Program. Produced in conjunction with Visiting Writers Series and other program events, the blog features student, faculty, and visiting author interviews and excerpts.
- AmLit features poetry, prose, photography, art and short films submitted by the AU campus community and is published biannually at the end of the fall and spring semesters.
- Bishop McCabe Lectures
- Emerging Arts Leaders Symposium
- Feminist Art History Conference
- Visiting Writers Series
- Bishop Hurst Lecture
- Durfee Lecture
- Ethics Bowl
- McDowell Conference & Fellows
- Texts and Traditions
- AU’s Annual History Day: spring event (4/19/23) that invites “all folks interested in history.” It will feature food and fun, and the seniors will present their research to the department. It's a great opportunity for majors, minors, or anyone interested in history to come meet the department.
- Latina/o/x Studies Program Symposium: a celebration of the inauguration of the program with a symposium on September 30-31, open to the public and will feature a wide range of humanities scholars.
- Public Lectures: AU’s Phi Beta Kappa society has invited Dr. Charlene Villaseñor-Black, a feminist Latina art historian, to campus. She will be delivering two public lectures on September 19-20.
Read and Learn More
This year’s AU Common Read novel is On Earth We are Briefly Gorgeous by Ocean Vuong. Students who read the book might like to explore classes in AU’s Asia, Pacific, and Diaspora Studies Program; professors in this program teach work by Vuong and many other authors, artists, and activists with similar approaches.