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An interdisciplinary liberal arts department, History, Philosophy and the Social Sciences (HPSS) offers a wide variety of courses on the nature of human life—past and present—in its psychological, social, political, intellectual, philosophical and cultural contexts and manifestations. Courses in Western and world history, philosophy, psychology, anthropology, political science, sociology, religion and American and cultural studies are designed to help students broaden their knowledge while developing stronger critical thinking, reading and writing skills.

History, Philosophy + the Social Sciences Concentration

a focused liberal arts "minor"

In (and out of) the Classroom

RISD’s Kyobo Fund supports the development of innovative new courses that are team-taught by liberal arts and studio faculty. As a result, HPSS continues to offer an ever-evolving array of interesting interdisciplinary courses such as The Art of Scientific Communication (with Illustration), The Witness Tree Project (with Furniture Design), Aqua Incognita (with Photography), Representing the “Real” (with FAV) and Producing Meaning: Theories of Technology Since 1850 (with Architecture).

Elizabeth Early von Oehsen | HPSS concentrator

“I always knew I wanted to go to RISD as opposed to a liberal arts college, so when I got in, I screamed at the top of my lungs. But since I've always liked teaching and mentoring younger kids, I also knew I wanted to take a classes that really support this work. I'm now following the Self in Society track, taking amazing classes rooted in the social sciences. I find this incredibly useful as I forge personal connections with younger students like the ones I've been mentoring this year at Providence Country Day School.”

Jennifer Prewitt-Freilino | department head

“Teaching at RISD I get to educate people who create the culture we live in – the products we use, the buildings we inhabit, the films we watch, the books we read our children and the advertisements that engulf us. What students learn and how they apply it really can make a difference in the world. Therefore, we in the HPSS department want our students to have a deep understanding of the historical, social, political and economic context into which their work fits and a toolbox of various methodologies for approaching the complex social justice, environmental and global political challenges we face.”

HPSS also offers a growing curriculum of science courses available as Liberal Arts electives. Developed for art and design students interested in biology, ecology, cognitive science, mathematics, physics, geology and the natural world in general, each course emphasizes science literacy and encourages connections to studio work where possible. Increasing numbers of students now welcome classes such as Concepts of Math for the Visual Artist, Investigating the Botanical World, Urban Ecology and Visual Perception