The humanities constitute our shared inheritance—those cultural ties that link us to one another. Sarah Lawrence offers courses in French, German, Italian, Russian, and Spanish language and literature; a variety of courses in art history, Asian studies, film history, and music history; literature courses in everything from ancient Greek theatre to the grammar of narrative; and courses in philosophy and religion. Our students have followed the paths of these disciplines and traced the connections between them into nearly every walk of life.
The art history curriculum at Sarah Lawrence College covers a broad territory historically, culturally, and methodologically. Students interested in art theory, social art history, or material culture have considerable flexibility in designing a program of study and in choosing conference projects that link artistic, literary, historical, social, philosophical, and other interests. Courses often include field trips to major museums, auction houses, and art galleries in New York City and the broader regional area, as well as to relevant screenings, performances, and architectural sites. Many students have extended their classroom work in art history through internships at museums and galleries, at nonprofit arts organizations, or with studio artists; through their own studio projects; or through advanced-level senior thesis work. Sarah Lawrence students have gone on to graduate programs in art history at Columbia, Johns Hopkins, Northwestern, Bard, Williams, Yale, University of Chicago, Oxford University, and University of London, among others. Many of their classmates have pursued museum and curatorial work at organizations such as the Guggenheim Museum, the Metropolitan Museum of Art, and the Art Institute of Chicago; others have entered the art business by working at auction houses such as Sotheby’s or by starting their own galleries; and still others have entered such professions as nonprofit arts management and advocacy, media production, and publishing.
Sarah Lawrence students approach film, first and foremost, as an art. The College’s film history courses take social, cultural, and historical contexts into account; but films themselves are the focus of study and discussion. Students seek artistic value equally in Hollywood films, art films, avant-garde films, and documentaries, with emphasis on understanding the intentions of filmmakers and appreciating their creativity. As a valuable part of a larger humanistic education in the arts, the study of film often includes exploration of connections to the other arts, such as painting and literature. Close association with the filmmaking and visual arts departments enables students working in these areas to apply their knowledge of film to creative projects. And within the discipline, the study of film gives students insight into stylistic techniques and how they shape meaning. Advanced courses in specific national genres, forms, movements, and filmmakers—both Western and non-Western—provide a superb background in the history of film and a basis for sound critical judgment. Students benefit from New York City’s enormously rich film environment, in which film series, lectures, and festivals run on a nearly continuous basis.
At Sarah Lawrence College, we recognize that languages are, fundamentally, modes of being in the world and uniquely reveal the way that we exist as human beings. Far from being a mechanical tool, language study encourages self-examination and cross-cultural understanding, offering a vantage point from which to evaluate personal and cultural assumptions, prejudices, and certainties. Learning a new language is not about putting into another verbal system what you want or know how to say in your own language; rather, it is about learning by listening and reading and by gaining the ability to think in fundamentally different ways.
The College offers seven modern and two classical languages and literatures. Students may take Chinese, French, German, Italian, Japanese, Russian, and Spanish from beginning to advanced levels that equally stress the development of communicative skills such as speaking, listening comprehension, reading, and writing, as well as the study of literature written in these languages in Europe, Africa, Asia, and the Americas. We also offer Greek (Ancient) and Latin at the beginning, intermediate, and advanced levels, emphasizing the exploration of ancient texts in their original historical, political, artistic, and social contexts and encouraging an assessment of ancient works on their own terms as a means of elucidating both timeless and contemporary human issues and concerns.
As is the case for all seminars at Sarah Lawrence College, our language classes are capped at 15. Students have unparalleled opportunities to engage with the language in and out of class—including individual and group conferences, weekly meetings with language assistants in small groups, language clubs, and language lunch tables. Our proximity to New York City offers terrific opportunities to encounter the cultures and languages that we teach—through lectures, exhibits, plays, films, opera, and many other cultural events that are readily available. Conference work in a language class provides an opportunity for students to pursue their own particular interest in the language. Student conference projects are exceptionally diverse, ranging from reading or translation, internships, or work on scholarly or creative writing to listening to music, watching films, or the extended study of grammar. In Greek (Ancient) and Latin courses, beginning students acquire in one year a solid foundation in grammar, syntax, and vocabulary. Equivalent to three courses at other colleges and universities, one year of Greek (Ancient) or Latin at Sarah Lawrence College empowers students to read ancient texts with precision and increasing facility. At the intermediate and advanced levels, students refine their linguistic abilities while analyzing specific ancient authors, genres, or periods—often in comparison to later artists, writers, theorists, or critics.
The interdisciplinary approach across the curriculum at Sarah Lawrence College also means that students can take their study of language to conference work for another class; for example, reading primary texts in the original Spanish for a class on Borges and math, studying Russian montage or 20th-century Japanese cinema for a class on film history, or performing German lieder or Italian opera in voice class or Molière in a theatre class. The language faculty also offer literature courses in translation, so that students can choose to combine literature study with conference work in the original languages. We also sponsor an annual journal of translation, Babel, which invites submissions from across the College.
Finally, our open curriculum encourages students to plan a semester or an entire year abroad, and a large percentage of our students spend their junior year in non-English-speaking countries. In addition to our long-established programs in Florence, Catania, Paris, and Cuba, the College has recently initiated study-abroad programs in Barcelona, Peru, and Tokyo. There are also two summer programs: German Studies, Art and Architecture, and Dance in Berlin and Translation Studies in Buenos Aires. Our study-abroad programs are usually based on a concept of “full immersion,” including experiences such as study at the local university, homestays, and volunteer work in the country. We also send students to many non-Sarah Lawrence College programs all over the world.
Languages offered include:
Literature at Sarah Lawrence College is a disciplined and cross-disciplinary study founded on the belief that reflective attention to a variety of fictions can lead to deeper insight into the truths of self and society. Among the goals of the discipline: to strengthen critical skills; widen cultural literacy; refine writing, discussion, speaking, and research skills; and open students to engagement with the concerns of other disciplines—including history, philosophy, political science, psychology, religion, and anthropology—as they emerge within literature’s rich discourse.
Curricular offerings include core American and European texts but range widely through world literature—African, Asian, and Latin American. Courses may be broadly organized around a historical period (for example, the Middle Ages or the 17th century) or around a genre (comedy, autobiography, the novel); or they may combine historical and generic concerns (ancient Greek theatre, 20th-century American poetry). Some courses are devoted to the study of a single author, such as Chaucer or Virginia Woolf, or to a particular thematic or critical goal: examining ideas of culture since the Enlightenment, exploring postcolonial revisions to classics of the Western canon, or developing an inclusive approach to American literature that includes African American and Native American texts along with more traditional works. Throughout the literature curriculum, meeting with faculty members in regularly scheduled conferences allows students to individualize their course work, to combine it with other disciplines where appropriate, and to write with the deep understanding that can result only from intense, guided study.
At Sarah Lawrence College, the study of philosophy retains a centrality, helping students synthesize their educational experience with the discipline’s many connections to other humanities and to social science. Through conference work, students also find numerous ways to connect the study of philosophy with their interests in the arts and natural sciences. Stressing the great tradition of classical and contemporary philosophy, the College offers three types of philosophy courses: those organized around thematic topics, such as Philosophy of Science, Aesthetics, and Philosophy and Literature; those organized historically, such as Moral Philosophy, Political Philosophy, and 20th-Century Philosophy; and those that study the “systems” of philosophers such as Kant, Nietzsche, and Wittgenstein. Philosophy faculty use the latest technology in their teaching, including Web boards for posting course material and promoting discussion. Yearlong courses make extensive textual work possible, enabling students to establish in-depth relationships with the thought of the great philosophers and to “do philosophy” to some degree—particularly valuable to students preparing for graduate work in philosophy. Conference work often consists of students thinking through and writing on single philosophic and literary works, ranging from Greek tragedy, comedy, or epic to Plato, Aristotle, Aquinas, Machiavelli, Descartes, Shakespeare, Hobbes, Locke, Rousseau, Hume, Kant, Hegel, Marx, Nietzsche, or Heidegger.
Religious traditions identify themselves with and draw sustenance from the texts that they hold sacred. In Sarah Lawrence College religion courses, these texts command and hold our attention. As students explore the sacred text of a particular religion, whether studying Buddhism, early Christianity, or the origins of Islam, they gain insight into the social and historical context of its creation. Using critical, hermeneutical, and intellectual historical approaches, they enter into the writings in such depth as to touch what might be the foundation of that religion. In addition, work with contemporary texts (such as those by religious activists on the Internet) gives students insight into what most moves and motivates religious groups today. The College’s religion courses provide an important complement to courses in Asian studies and history.