/ Undergraduate Catalogue / History and the Social Sciences

History and the Social Sciences

The area of history and the social sciences comprises those disciplines by which we read the stories of political, psychological, and societal life. Courses in economics investigate such issues as globalization, the interaction of growth and social policy, and the glories and inequalities of capitalism. Others in anthropology, geography, political science, psychology, public policy, environmental studies, and sociology examine such subjects as death and dying, personality development, and women in the Muslim world. Through focused study, students explore many sides of the human condition.


The study of anthropology traditionally covers four fields: sociocultural anthropology, linguistic anthropology, biological anthropology, and archaeology. At Sarah Lawrence College, we concentrate on sociocultural and linguistic anthropology.

Behind almost every aspect of our lives is a cultural realm, a shared construction that shapes assumptions and determines much of how we perceive and relate to the world. Sociocultural anthropology is the study of that realm—its extent and its effects. As students learn to approach with an anthropological eye what they formerly might have taken for granted, they gain insight into how social forces govern the ways in which we relate to ourselves and to each other: how we use words, how we define ourselves and others, how we make sense of our bodies, even how we feel emotions. Through examining the writings of anthropologists, viewing ethnographic films, and discussing these and other materials in seminar and conference sessions, students develop a comprehensive and multipatterned sense of the cultural dimensions of human lives. By studying the underpinnings of language, symbolic practices, race, gender, sexuality, policy and advocacy, medical systems, cities, modernity, and/or social organization across a range of Western and non-Western settings, students come to understand better how meaning is made. With seminar dynamics and content characteristic of graduate-level work, Sarah Lawrence’s anthropology courses take students in often unexpected and challenging directions.

Asian Studies

Asian studies is an interdisciplinary field grounded in current approaches to the varied regions of Asia. Seminars and lectures are offered on China, Japan, India, Bangladesh, Nepal, and Indonesia. Courses explore Asian cultures, geographies, histories, societies, and religions. Visual and performing arts are included in the Asian studies curriculum. Faculty, trained in languages of their areas, draw on extensive field experience in Asia. Their courses bridge humanities, social sciences, and global studies.

Students are encouraged to consider studying in Asia during their junior year. The Office of International Programs assists students in locating appropriate opportunities. Recent Sarah Lawrence College students have participated in programs of study in India, China, and Japan.


At Sarah Lawrence College, economics is not taught as a set of techniques for working in a static field but as an evolving discipline. In the liberal arts tradition, Sarah Lawrence students approach the study of economics by addressing issues in historical, political, and cultural context. They analyze and evaluate multiple schools of thought as they relate to actual situations, exploring from an economic perspective such topics as globalization, growth and social policy, inequality, capitalism, and the environment. Students who have focused on economics have gone on to become union organizers, joined the Peace Corps, interned with United Nations agencies, gone to law school, and entered graduate programs in public policy and international development.

Environmental Studies

Environmental studies at Sarah Lawrence College is an engagement with human relationships to the environment through a variety of disciplines. Sarah Lawrence’s Environmental Studies program is a critical component of a liberal arts education; it is an intersection of knowledge-making and questions about the environment that are based in the humanities, the arts, and the social and natural sciences. Sarah Lawrence students seeking to expand their knowledge of environmental studies are encouraged to explore the interconnections between disciplinary perspectives, while developing areas of particular interest in greater depth. The Environmental Studies program seeks to develop students’ capacities for critical thought and analysis, applying theory to specific examples from Asia, Africa, and the Americas and making comparisons across geographic regions and historical moments. Courses include environmental justice and politics, environmental history and economics, policy and development, property and the commons, environmental risk and the rhetoric of emerging threats, and cultural perspectives on nature, as well as courses in the natural sciences.

Environmental studies, in conjunction with the Science, Technology, and Society program, offers an annual, thematically focused colloquium: Intersections: Boundary Work in Science and Environmental Studies. This series brings advocates, scholars, writers, and filmmakers to the College, encouraging conversations across the disciplines among students, faculty, and guest speakers, as well as access to new ideas and lively exchanges. Students may participate in internships during the academic year or in rural and urban settings across the country and throughout the world during the summer. Guest study at Reed College, the Council on International Educational Exchange, the semester in environmental science at the Marine Biological Laboratory (Woods Hole), or other programs are available to qualified Sarah Lawrence students. Vibrant connections across the faculty mean that students can craft distinctive competencies while building a broadly based knowledge of environmental issues, problems, policies, and possibilities.


Geography is a fundamentally interdisciplinary field, often seen as straddling the natural and social sciences and increasingly drawing upon the arts and other forms of expression and representation. For these reasons, Sarah Lawrence College provides an exciting context, as the community is predisposed to welcome geography’s breadth and interdisciplinary qualities. Geography courses are infused with the central questions of the discipline. What is the relationship between human beings and “nature”? How does globalization change spatial patterns of historical, political, economic, social, and cultural human activities? And how do these patterns provide avenues for understanding our contemporary world and pathways for the future?

Two seminars are taught on a regular basis: Introduction to Development Studies: The Political Ecology of Development and The Geography of Contemporary China and Its Place in a Globalizing World Economy. In addition, a lecture course, Food, Agriculture, Environment, and Development, provides students an opportunity to investigate these issues and their connections both in lecture and in group conference activities that include debates and special presentations.

As a discipline built on field study, students in geography classes participate in field trips—most recently, for example, to farming communities in Pennsylvania but also to Manhattan’s Chinatown, where students engage aspects of Chinese culture in walks through the community that expose the heterogeneity of China through food, art, religion, and language while simultaneously clarifying the challenges facing recent immigrants and legacies of institutions imbued with racism that are carved into the built environment. That is one of the overarching goals of contemporary geography: to investigate the ways that landscape and place both reflect and reproduce the evolving relationship of humans to each other and to their environments.


The history curriculum covers the globe. Most courses focus on particular regions or nations, but offerings also include courses that transcend geographical boundaries to examine subjects such as African diasporas, Islamic radicalism, or European influences on US intellectual history. Some courses are surveys—of colonial Latin America, for example, or Europe since World War II. Others zero in on more specific topics, such as medieval Christianity, the Cuban revolution, urban poverty and public policy in the United States, or feminist movements and theories. While history seminars center on reading and discussion, many also train students in aspects of the historian’s craft, including archival research, historiographic analysis, and oral history.


The study of politics at Sarah Lawrence College encompasses past and present thinking, political and interdisciplinary influences, and theoretical and hands-on learning. The goal: a deep understanding of the political forces that shape society. How is power structured and exercised? What can be accomplished through well-ordered institutions? And how do conditions that produce freedom compare with those that contribute to tyranny? Questions such as these serve as springboards for stimulating inquiry. Rather than limit ourselves to the main subdisciplines of political science, we create seminars around today’s issues—such as feminism, international justice, immigration, and poverty—and analyze these issues through the lens of past philosophies and events. We don’t stop at artificial boundaries. Our courses often draw from other disciplines or texts, especially when looking at complex situations. Because we see an important connection between political thought and political action, we encourage students to participate in service learning. This engagement helps them apply and augment their studies and leads many toward politically active roles in the United States and around the world.


Psychology—one of the largest programs at Sarah Lawrence College—offers students a broad array of courses at all levels, covering areas from experimental to social and developmental psychology. In small seminars, students read primary sources and explore issues through discussion and research, often making important connections between psychology and other fields.

Using the College’s resources—including a new Child Study Lab and a computer psychology laboratory—students design and conduct experiments, analyze data, and post results. At the campus Early Childhood Center, students have the opportunity to explore firsthand the development of young children by carrying out fieldwork in classrooms for children ages two through six and/or by carrying out research in the Child Study Lab located in the same building. The lab has a room dedicated to conducting research, complete with one-way mirror and video and audio equipment. An adjacent room provides space and equipment for students to view and transcribe videotapes and to analyze the outcome of their research projects. These facilities provide a range of opportunities for conference work in psychology.

Fieldwork placements with organizations in New York City and Westchester County, as well as in the College’s own Early Childhood Center, expand the opportunities for students to combine their theoretical studies with direct experience beginning in their first year. Sarah Lawrence College prepares students well for graduate programs in psychology, education, or social work; some enter the College’s Art of Teaching program as undergraduates and receive a BA/MSEd after only five years of study.

Public Policy

Sarah Lawrence College’s Public Policy program addresses the most pressing public policy issues of our time, including promoting peace, protecting the environment, providing education and health services, and safeguarding human and workers’ rights. Supported by the College’s Office of Community Partnerships, students partner with unions, community organizations, and legal groups in the New York City area as a required element of their course work, gaining direct experience that they can relate to theoretical issues. Students also participate in international fieldwork, including at a labor research exchange in Cuba, a health-care worker conference in the Dominican Republic, a community organizing project to help establish a medical clinic for residents of the impoverished community of Lebrón in the Dominican Republic, and a study trip to the US/Mexico border area of El Paso/Juarez. This combination of study and direct experience exposes students to various approaches to problems and builds an enduring commitment to activism in many forms.


Class, power, and inequality; law and society (including drugs, crime and “deviance”); race, ethnicity, and gender issues; and ways of seeing—these are among the topics addressed by Sarah Lawrence College students and professors in sociology courses. Increasingly, social issues need to be—and are—examined in relation to developments in global politics and economics. Students investigate the ways in which social structures and institutions affect individual experience and shape competing definitions of social situations, issues, and identities. Courses tend to emphasize the relationship between the qualitative and the quantitative, between theoretical and applied practice, and the complexities of social relations rather than relying on simplistic interpretations, while encouraging student research in diverse areas. Through reading, writing, and discussion, students are encouraged to develop a multidimensional and nuanced understanding of social forces. Many students in sociology have enriched their theoretical and empirical work by linking it thematically with study in other disciplines—and through fieldwork.