Gregorian Chants, "Fat Chance," Global Health, American Food

Harvard’s new undergraduate General Education curriculum takes shape.

The undergraduate General Education curriculum, formally launching for students enrolling in Harvard College this fall, is now taking shape. The curriculum, described in the on-line course catalog, aims to “connect a student’s liberal education--that is, an education conducted in a spirit of free inquiry, rewarding in its own right--to life beyond college.” As such, it stands in contrast to the Core Curriculum, its predecessor, which sought to expose students to a number of different “ways of knowing.” Students will be required to take a one-semester course in each of eight categories: Esthetic and Interpretive Understanding; Culture and Belief; Empirical and Mathematical Reasoning; Ethical Reasoning; Science of Living Systems; Science of the Physical Universe; Societies of the World; United States in the World.

The website lists the course offerings in each of those areas. Most are existing departmental courses which have been reviewed and found suited to the aims of the new curriculum. In addition, a number of Core courses have been carried over into the General Education listing, either as they existed or with some modifications.

As well, there are a number of intriguing new courses, including these selected highlights:

“Gregorian Chants” (in Culture and Belief), by Thomas Forrest Kelly, Knafel professor of music, whose Core course “First Nights: Five  Performance Premieres” (described here in Harvard Magazine’s 2000 article) has had a long and popular run. Students in the new course, which debuts in 2010-11, “will learn to sing, memorize, teach, and compose chant, as was done in the early middle ages.”

“Fat Chance” (Empirical and Mathematical Reasoning), by Joseph D. Harris, Higgins professor of mathematics, and Benedict H. Gross, Leverett professor of mathematics and former dean of Harvard College, who previously created “The Magic of Numbers.” The course objectives: “to learn to calculate probabilities precisely, when we can; to learn how to estimate them, when we can’t; and to say exactly what we can and can’t infer from these calculations.” No background beyond high-school algebra is required.

“Nutrition and Global Health” (Science of Living Systems) by Wafaie W. Fawzi, professor of nutrition and epidemiology, and Clifford W. Lo, assistant professor of pediatrics. Public-health and medical-school faculty members offer a new course in which students explore the global burden of disease and malnutrition; the historical role of nutrition in various diseases; nutrition in the treatment and prevention of various clinical disease states; food security; effective nutrition-based interventions; and the effects of economy-related issues including access to food, nutritional status, and global health.

“Introduction to Technology and Society” (Science of the Physical Universe), a new course by Venky Narayanamurti, Peirce professor of technology and public policy and past dean of the School of Engineering and Applied Sciences. Students can expect to be exposed to “applied science and engineering concepts that span disciplines and examine broadly how technology shapes society and vice versa. It will emphasize qualitative and semi-quantitative analysis, modeling and the conceptual basis of some of the grand challenges facing society”—from biomedical research to global warming.

In addition, there are new offerings by:

Steven Pinker, Johnstone Family professor of psychology, and Daniel Gilbert, professor of psychology, “Psychological Science” (Science of Living Systems);

Niall Ferguson, Tisch professor of history and professor of business administration, “Western Ascendancy: The Mainsprings of Global Power from 1600 to the Present” (Societies of the World). Read Harvard Magazine’s 2007 profile of Ferguson here.

Melissa Franklin, Mallinckrodt professor of physics; Andrew Berry, lecturer on organismic and evolutionary biology; and Logan McCarty, lecturer on chemistry and chemical biology, “What Is Life? From Quarks to Consciousness” (Science of the Physical Universe); and

Joyce Chaplin, Phillips professor of early American History, “American Food: A Global History” (United States in the World).

For background on General Education, consult this Harvard Magazine report.

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