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MIT staff blogger Matt McGann '00

Victorian Literature? by Matt McGann '00

MIT, perhaps surprisingly, has top programs in ethnomusicology, the history of Islamic architecture, and more...

Very frequently, we are asked about the humanities and arts at MIT. I think people are understandably concerned about whether you can continue to pursue interests in the humanities at MIT — I mean, the name of the school is the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, after all. Even as I was considering colleges a decade ago, I had this same concern. So how do we answer these concerns?

Yesterday, the Admissions Officers had an opportunity to meet with Dean of the School of Humanities, Arts & Social Sciences (HASS) Philip Khoury, to help us talk about and address the quality of MIT’s programs.

Like I said, I was concerned about this myself before I came to MIT, but now, I don’t have much of a problem telling students just how awesome the humanities and arts are here. I had great teachers, took interesting classes, and saw many great performances. But even I certainly learned a lot from Dean Khoury’s talk with us.

For example, do you know that we have one of the best faculties in the country in Victorian literature? Or in the history of Islamic architecture? Not to mention in music composition, and in ethnomusicology?

So I asked Dean Khoury the obvious question — how come no one knows this? The answer was as surprising as it was sensible.

National department recognition is largely focused on the reputation of faculties that have not only undergraduate but also graduate departments. MIT does not have graduate programs in many of its humanities and arts disciplines (including Literature and Music). Hence, these programs at MIT, as well as at many very good and highly-regarded liberal arts schools, fly a bit below the national radar.

What does this mean for you? For one thing, it means you’ll have MIT’s world-class faculty members like Pulitzer Prize winners John Harbison and John Dower all to yourselves, as they have no graduate student commitments. Relatedly, they have no graduate students to be Teaching Assistants, so they will be your only teacher in their subjects.

But perhaps the most important thing is that you’re not necessarily sacrificing your interests in the humanities and arts when you come to MIT. With top-notch faculties, 500 HASS classes a year (as much as many liberal arts colleges), and students who are genuinely interested in the HASS subjects they take, you’ll have a great experience here, even outside of the usual science & engineering.

Another important point Khoury made was that the analytical, research ideal extends to HASS. Professors not only are great teachers but are also highly regarded scholars in their field. And, yes, you can do a UROP in HASS. Currently, UROP students are being actively sought in departments including Literature, Anthropology, Comparative Media Studies, Foreign Languages & Literatures, Art History, and Writing & Humanistic Studies, and there are many more opportunities than only those. I’ve have a number of friends who have UROPed in HASS, and all have had good experiences.

Finally, you should know that it is very likely that while you are at MIT, a beautiful and cutting edge Laboratory for the Performing Arts will be built. The building is described: “An innovative structure designed with MIT’s performing arts capabilities and priorities in mind, it will be an ideal locale for the experimentation, hard work and group interaction that is at the core of much true creativity — and thus in the great tradition of MIT labs through the decades.”

What more can I tell you about the humanities and arts at MIT?

5 responses to “Victorian Literature?”

  1. FIRST!



    I actually didn’t know MIT didn’t have grad programs in the humanities and arts, but that’s kind of cool, since we DO have more time with the professors in that case, heh.

  2. errhode says:

    Another thing to realize regarding “humanities,” but more specifically performance arts, is that there won’t be that many people actually majoring in these things. Thus, unlike at a lot of institutions (my current grad school included… grr), you don’t have to be a theater major to act in Dramashop shows. And you don’t have to be a music major to play in MITSO or the Wind Ensemble. (There are still auditions for all of these things, but it’s much less intense and your odds are better.) Thus, if you need activities like this to be your temporary escape from science/math/engineering/etc, there’s a good chance you can do them, which might not be as true at other places.

    And don’t worry if you have no prior experience — I didn’t do any theater in high school (unless you count Odyssey of the Mind skits) because the auditions were so competitive and the shows were few. But at MIT, I was in eight shows, directed one, and produced another.

  3. thejoker says:

    But don’t forget that MIT still does have very good graduate programs in some specialized (and often offbeat) social science fields, like the Science, Technology and Society program, Comparative Media Studies, Political Science, and Science Writing, which I always forget about …

    Often classes taught in these programs include both undergrads and grad students, and I found that having grad students around in CMS classes provided more depth to the discussion than if it were just MIT undergrads. That’s not to say that all-undergrad classes couldn’t have interesting discussion as well (take R. Fogelson’s American Urban History class, for instance– no really, take it, it’s very good).

  4. sab says:

    After searching each corner of your blog page, I’m still unable to find your email address.. is it not on the page or I need to check again?! I want to ask some questions regarding admission to mit. It would be really convenient for me to use email.


  5. Timur Sahin says:

    Part of the reason MIT is my number one choice is that I can continue my linguistics/foreign language education there. Just because I’m widly passionate about science doesn’t mean I can’t be passionate about humanities, and MIT seems to understand that. There are some well-renown science/math institutes that don’t even have a foreign languages program. :/.