February 28, 2017


1:32 a.m.

College Introduces Signature Courses

The College announced this week that it will offer a number of large lecture classes for students to explore disciplines outside their majors called “signature courses.”

According to the course website, “signature Courses are intended to introduce College students to exciting themes, ideas, and materials in the humanities and social sciences.” While they fall under the category of electives, signature courses can in fact count towards departmental major and minor requirements. 

Christopher Wild, deputy dean and master of the Humanities Collegiate Division, credited Martha Roth, the former dean of the Division of the Humanities, with coining the term “signature course.” Together they launched the Signature Course Grant Program to fund the creation of new classes. Wild went on to extend the program to include social sciences courses in addition to courses that are developed without grants. Wild explained that signature courses are intended to be “electives that ideally lead to a more substantive engagement with the topic, field, or discipline.”  

Wild stated that, historically, the college has served as a preparatory foundation for graduate study, often closing off opportunities for inquiry in a variety of fields. Alternatively, these new  courses will cater to non-majors and students who are undecided. Wild stated that the goal of signature courses is “to diversify the ways students can academically engage with the humanities” and “to offer courses that generate rather than presuppose an interest in an humanistic field or topic.”  

To maintain this standard, there are a few criteria that a course must meet in order to be considered a signature course. Primarily, there should be no prerequisites. In addition, the course must be broad in curriculum and ideally have an attractive title. Wild mentioned that some pre-existing courses, such as “Introduction to the Middle East” or classes offered in the Slavic department already meet these requirements and are now considered signature courses. Such classes have not been restructured, they are just recognized under the new category. 

For the remaining departments, however, this initiative is an “attempt to nudge departments and programs to redesign their curricular offerings and to include such courses regularly in their repertoire”, Wilde stated. The Signature Course Grant Committee is responsible for reviewing grant applications and choosing the ones that best fit the criteria. The grants themselves exist to incentivize the “creation of such courses and to provide the necessary resources to do so.”  

In addition to being signature courses, all classes are also cross-listed in their department of origin such as music or Near Eastern languages and civilizations, which would allow students to gain credit for a major or minor.   

Signature courses offered this spring include “Truth,” taught by Christopher Kennedy from the linguistics department, and “Self-Creation as a Philosophical and Literary Problem,” taught by Agnes Callard from the philosophy department.