Undergraduate HPSS concentration
In History, Philosophy and the Social Sciences faculty teach and conduct research in a broad range of humanities and social sciences fields. All courses in the department emphasize critical thinking and the development of writing and research skills. Such study enables students to fully explore the department's course offerings while fulfilling Liberal Arts requirements in a way that is most meaningful to them. Working across the disciplines of HPSS requires intellectual curiosity, excellent communication skills and the ability to bring together disparate methods and approaches. Such qualities are essential to both the creative work of artists and designers and for growth and success in everyday life.
Undergraduate students who wish to complement their studio major with an in-depth study in a field supported by the department's curriculum may elect to pursue a concentration in HPSS. The concentration can be completed as part of a typical 4- or 5-year degree program and is open to all RISD BFA candidates. Interested students should email the HPSS Concentration Coordinator, Barbara Von Eckardt. The concentration requires careful selection of courses and, typically, concentrators meet or communicate with the concentration coordinator once or twice a year to discuss course options and to update their records. As part of the process, HPSS concentrators may preregister for HPSS courses, SCI courses, and other departmental courses for which they have obtained instructor permission that apply to their concentration track. The concentration coordinator will contact all concentrators with the relevant instructions shortly before the official registration period; this opportunity is offered in the fall and spring semesters only. All courses a student pre-registers for must be part of the student's approved plan of study.
Concentrators are able to:
• approach issues critically, reflectively and with regard for cultural and historical context
• formulate informed, logically coherent arguments
• communicate orally in articulate, informed and persuasive ways
• write clear, accurate and grammatical prose
• explain the parameters and content of the core disciplines studied
• interpret current theories, methodologies and debates
• utilize standard research and bibliographic tools
• construct and defend arguments relating to the core disciplines
• identify and critique arguments within related scholarly literature
Each concentrator shapes an individual course of study around one of the department’s 10 established tracks, which build on faculty teaching and research strengths and represent a key intersection of one or more of the core disciplines in HPSS.
The tracks are: Belief Systems; Environmental Studies; Gender, Sexuality and Race; Global Processes; Media, Technology and Cultural Studies; Mind, Self and Behavior; Politics and Policy; Regional Studies; and Scientific Inquiry. In addition to the introductory HPSS course Topics in History, Philosophy and the Social Sciences (S101) each concentration track requires seven courses.
Concentration track descriptions and requirements
Description: the study of the religious beliefs, philosophical traditions, scientific and political theories, and traditional understandings developed in cultures and societies throughout history.
Requirements: In addition to S101, students will take seven courses related to Belief Systems (five in HPSS; two from any department).
We encourage students with an interest in this area to consider the interdisciplinary Nature–Culture–Sustainability (NCSS) concentration.
Description: the study of human-nature relationships both past and present, including the role of science and technology, the impacts of cities, suburbs and rural worlds on the environment, and the ways in which art, design and creativity can contribute toward more sustainable and just socio-ecological futures.
Requirements: In addition to S101, students will take seven courses related to Environmental Studies (five relevant HPSS or SCI; two from any department).
Gender, Sexuality, and Race
Description: the study of the socio-cultural, legal/ethical, historical, anthropological, psychological, political and sociological aspects of social identity worldwide, with a particular focus on gender, sexual orientation and race.
Requirements: In addition to S101, students will take seven courses related to Gender, Sexuality, and Race.
Description: a consideration of cultures, economies and societies globally, with particular attention to systems and flows of people, information, capital, products, imagery and ideas; i.e. to the relationships, connections and disconnections of the globalized world.
Requirements: In addition to S101, students will take seven courses related to Global Processes. Typically, the preponderance of these courses will be taken in HPSS, with relevant non-HPSS courses subject to the approval of the HPSS Concentration Coordinator. Language and study abroad courses may count toward the fulfillment of this concentration track.
Media, Technology and Cultural Studies
Description: the study of the relationships between communications, politics and culture, past and present, including the rise and role of culture industries, theories of production, reception and influence, and theoretical debates about culture and society from anthropology, media studies, sociology and psychology.
Requirements: In addition to S101, students will take seven courses related to Media, Technology and Cultural Studies.
Mind, Self and Behavior
Description: the study of how people perceive, construct, manipulate and maintain views of themselves and the world around them, and how philosophical principles, physical and social environments, as well as biological factors inform us about people’s identities, motivations, feelings, beliefs and behavior.
Requirements: In addition to S101, students will take seven courses related to Mind, Self and Behavior (five relevant HPSS or SCI; two from any department).
Politics and Policy
Description: the study of social and political issues worldwide, and the various methods that shape understanding of such issues, including empirical research, legal theory, political analysis and social theory and practices.
Requirements: In addition to S101, students will take seven courses related to Politics and Policy (five HPSS; two from any department).
Description: the in-depth study of a region with a focus on histories, cultures, societies, philosophies, religions, aesthetics, political developments and institutions.
Examples of the regions where students could concentrate their studies include:
- The Americas (including North America, the Caribbean, Central America, and South America)
- Europe and Russia
- The Middle East and Africa
- Asia (East, Southeast, South, and Islamic Asia)
- The Atlantic World
- The Mediterranean Sea
Requirements: In addition to S101, students will take seven courses exploring their specified region in depth.
Description: the study of the physical and natural sciences, with an emphasis on the importance of understanding science in society, and the influence of the scientific method and experimental practice across the disciplines. This concentration is designed to help students develop a broad range of science-based literacies and explore the potential contribution of the sciences and of scientific methodologies to critical making and critical thinking.
Requirements: In addition to S101, students will take seven courses related to Scientific Inquiry (five relevant HPSS or SCI; two from any department).
- Concentration-relevant courses that fulfill requirements in Liberal Arts may simultaneously be used to fulfill requirements in the concentration.
- Except for HPSS-S101, all courses applied to the concentration must address the theme of a student’s chosen track. The concentration coordinator has the discretion to determine whether or not a course is appropriate for a particular track.
- Only one thematically appropriate independent study can be applied to the concentration.
- No more than one course earning a grade of a C+/C/C- can be counted for the concentration. A grade of P (or “pass”) counts as a C. No course receiving a grade of a D+/D can be counted towards the concentration.
- There is no penalty for withdrawing from the HPSS concentration. Simply inform the concentration coordinator of your intent to withdraw.
- A course at Brown that has been approved for HPSS or LAEL credit (in the case of science or math courses) by the Division of Liberal Arts may be applied to your concentration, provided it addresses your chosen track. Other transfer credits may be applied at the approval of the concentration coordinator.
Barbara Von Eckardt | concentration coordinator
"HPSS concentrations are organized around areas of topical interest and—like the department itself—are deliberately multidisciplinary. We encourage students to explore issues of particular concern to them through classes in the humanities and a variety of social sciences. They build a foundation in HPSS that supports informed and thoughtful social engagement through art and design."
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