University of Massachusetts Amherst

UMass Amherst: General Education

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Social World

The classical Aristotelian doctrine that an intellectual activity is scientific when its aim is to ascertain the truth, and aesthetic when its goal is poetic creation, is very difficult to sustain today. Social scientific theories often involve an act of creation and are sometimes described as elegant if not beautiful. The arts, literature, and history are not simple flights of imagination, but derive from life, and are meant to teach us something lasting and profound about human behavior.

In combining the Humanities and Social Sciences, the unifying theme of the Social World is the focus on human beings and the fields of knowledge devoted to gaining insight into a world created by human beings with important consequences for their activities as individuals and as members of larger groups.

The Arts
Historical Studies
Social and Behavioral Sciences
Social and Diversity Component

The Arts
The arts do more than imitate life; they interpret and explain it. The arts area is made up of courses which consider the production, performance, function, and aesthetic evaluation of the arts -- visual, aural, verbal, and plastic -- in relation to one another and to the societies that have and will produce them.

Courses within this area may do any or all of the following:

  1. Provoke comparison and critical acuity
  2. Provide participatory experiences such as projects, performances, and attendance at plays, concerts, galleries, etc.
  3. Treat foreign literatures, either in translation or in the original language
  4. Encourage verbal expression through writing exercises

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Historical Studies
We learn from the past. All aspects of human existence, including our social, political, and economic systems, have evolved from the past and help to illuminate and shape our present and future lives. Courses within this area focus on human interaction in specific situations developing through time, covering a sufficient breadth of scope and time to consider the development of significant social, political, or economic institutions or ideologies. Students are exposed to historically important events, developments, or processes as a way of teaching them to understand the present and direct their futures as well as gain an awareness of and appreciation for an historical perspective.

Social and Behavioral Sciences
The Social and Behavioral Sciences have taught us that people are both creatures and creators of their own societies. Educated individuals should have some understanding of this reciprocity, and they should appreciate the diversity that exists in human societies. When we fail to grasp the variations among human cultures and social arrangements, we often perceive our own social milieu as both "natural" and "fundamentally right." Insights about the explanations for and causes of human behavior, the nature of human societies, the structure of social relationships, and the ways in which people and societies change should help students think more clearly about their own human nature and the social worlds in which they live. These insight may help them plan more effectively for their futures, and may help shape the future of our own society in positive ways.

Courses within the Social and Behavioral Sciences area seek to do the following:

  1. Introduce students to theory, methods, and results of systematic and critical inquiry about individual and social life
  2. Demonstrate the dynamic nature of both individuals and societies, leading to an understanding of change as a natural process
  3. Stress the systematic quality of individual and social life, leading to an understanding of the complex relationships among individual behaviors, human situations, and social institutions

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Social and Diversity Component
It is important that General Education address the complex ways in which societies and cultures differ from one another. Educated individuals should be guided by attitudes which value cultural differences. Their perspectives on and communication with people of different cultures, both within their own society and in other societies, should emanate from an understanding of cultural diversity rather than from applying ethnocentric sterotypes. More specifically, the purposes of the requirement are:

  1. To emphasize the need for educated citizens to understand that different cultures and societies provide unique contexts for human experience
  2. To analyze and appreciate the ways in which norms and values differ across cultures and societies
  3. To encourage pluralistic perspectives

Courses in this designation reach beyond the perspectives of mainstream American culture and the Western tradition. They may focus on the peoples of Africa, Asia, Latin America, or the Middle East; the descendants of those peoples living in North America; other minorities in Western industrial societies; and Native Americans. Since a sensitivity to social and cultural diversity is advanced by an understanding of the dynamics of power in modern societies, courses that focus on the differential life experiences of women outside the mainstream of American culture, minorities outside the mainstream of American culture, and the poor also come within the scope of this designation.

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This information derives from Faculty Senate Special Report 85-024A and 85-024B and Forms G-J.

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