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I was taking a look at my planner today, and I realized that there is less than a month left in the semester.  This year has flown by so quickly, and I for one am a little unnerved about the fact that I’m about to wrap up my sophomore year.  Generally speaking, I’ve had an incredibly positive Harvard experience, but this spring has been my favorite semester by far.  I think that one of the reasons that this semester has been so enjoyable is that I have found my “academic soul-mate” in the History and Literature Department.

At Harvard, you do not declare your concentration until the end of your first semester during your second year.  I love that the College gives undergraduate students three semesters to shop around before they declare, because it gives students the opportunity to explore all of their options with minimal pressure.  In fact, I hadn’t seriously considered History and Literature as a concentration until this past fall.  Since I was able to take my time looking into prospective concentrations, I now go to class every day without any regrets about my decision to study History and Literature.

History and Literature (Hist and Lit for short) is an interdisciplinary field in the Humanities.  It’s actually the oldest concentration at Harvard (it celebrated its centennial in 2006 according to the Harvard Handbook), and is unique to the College.  In Hist and Lit we do our best to understand the historical and literary significance of a given text, and connect the text to larger themes.  To be honest, my own mother still gets a little confused when I try to explain the difference between “History and Literature” and History, Literature, and English, so feel free to check out the profile on the department’s website if you want more information!

In Hist and Lit, my field of interest is America (1607 to Present), but students can choose to study Latin America, Postcolonial Studies, Medieval Europe, Early Modern Europe, or Modern Europe as well.  Each field offers a selection of tutorials that are, without a doubt, the backbone of the department.  The tutorial is a required course that Hist and Lit students take every semester following their declaration.  Tutorials basically promote the integration of History and Literature.  The sophomore tutorial, which I am enrolled in now, is taught by two professors, one to represent each field, and all tutorials are kept small to facilitate discussion.  Tutorials allow students the opportunity to practice and perfect the research and writing skills that they need to succeed in interdisciplinary scholarship, but they shift their focus as students progress, so my junior and senior tutorials will be a little different.  The most exciting (and intimidating) part about being a History and Literature student will be my senior thesis.  Since it is an honors concentration, seniors are asked to produce a 10,000 to 15,000-word thesis about a subject that they find to be interesting, important, and relevant to their fields.

Me and a classmate as we get ready for our Hist and Lit tutorial! One of my tutorial leaders, Dr. Jeanne Follansbee, was kind enough to let me use some of the photos that she took during our tutorial for this week's post. Jeanne is the Department Head and the authority on literature for the class.

Harvard has over 40 concentrations that undergraduates can choose from, so there really is something for everyone.  Every department has something special to offer, and if you don’t feel at home in any of the departments you are welcome to declare a Special Concentration and design your own plan of study.  I love my concentration because I get to sample a little bit of what the other departments have to offer.  History and Literature is a unique and dynamic field, and I cannot imagine myself in another discipline.  Humanities or bust!

Tutorial in action! That's Dr. Steve Biel at the end of the table. He's the one of my tutorial leaders, and our history representative.

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Last year, as I sought to get my life in perspective, someone told me that yours choices after college are so hard because your whole life you were learning and increasing your areas of knowledge until after college you start whittling down you path narrower and narrower. I could immediately see why I was attracted to the secondary (also known as a “minor” in other schools) I ended up choosing, “Mind, Brain, Behavior”.


Mind, Brain, and Behavior (MBB) is a track program, which means that you can take classes from a number of related (and seemingly unrelated) departments and combine those classes into a concentration (major) or secondary. There’s a few other “track programs” such as this and it is great because it allows for exploration and a widening of knowledge that a single department concentration (e.g., government, English) often doesn’t. Don’t get me wrong, I’m concentrating in government myself, but the track program is a great opportunity to take advantage of and really offers a holistic education.


Consider the list of MBB departments that have integrated into the track program: Computer Science, History and Science, Human Evolutionary Biology, Linguistics, Neurobiology, Philosophy, and Psychology. The research in each department tends to tie into all the others anyway, so its great to integrate them through taking a variety of classes and utilizing the knowledge in a cohesive thesis (senior project).


Since I only did it as a secondary, my thesis was specific instead to my concentration. MBB as an integrated track program is a honors program, so that anyone who concentrates in it is required to do a thesis. But there are a number of other great track programs at Harvard to consider as well. One of the most popular, and my roommate’s, is Social Studies (also a honors program).


What sounds like a middle school history course is actually a great combination of the social sciences including government, economics, and statistics, among others. For your senior thesis, you even get to come up with an individualized focus field that you can then use to write about your thesis (“Inequality in the United States;” “Development in Africa”).


So if you are about to make your venture into college, embrace all the opportunities you can for exploration and widening your knowledge—you may be surprised at the cohesiveness of it all.


Hope you all have a great week!


PS. I thought since I didn’t have that many cool photos to go with this week’s post, I would supply you with a random photo from my week around Cambridge. Just walk down the street in this city and you come across the best things–for example, here, two Cambridge locals (Ben & Jerry’s and B.Good) giving out free donation-based ice cream & milkshakes).


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It’s the moment when you wake up and realize its still dark out that something is wrong—this happened twice in a one-day span. Don’t try this at home kids (unless you have it, but boy its rough), but when you have to wake up at 3am after a 2 hour nap to finish a paper due that morning, the next “nap” you take at 3pm may happen to turn into sleep (until 9pm). As a result, apologies for the late update.


Perhaps it was all the “I’ll finish it tomorrow” sentiments, but who could resist during this week of love and celebration. It began on Monday when my housemaster hosted his Open House—a great gathering in the master’s residence filled with friends, food, and fun including anything from costume parties on Halloween to pre-valentine card making as per this week. Even through the crowded residence my friends, after first greeting our housemaster, made a beeline for the Monkeybread.


And what is Moneybread you ask? If you have to ask, you have been missing out. The picture above describes it all, but this freshly made wonder from each Open House is basically a giant cinnamon roll. A Leverett House classic.


So there was that, and then there was Valentine’s Day, and a celebration with friends in the dorm. A ground meeting with the Food Literacy Project here, some planning for the Culinary Society Guacamole Festival (only weeks away!) there, and somehow its Thursday afternoon and work has just ended at 4pm. (At least there’s a delicious sandwich from Clover, my part-time job, involved).


In a sleepless daze that was the hours after I turned my paper in, I couldn’t help but be caught in awe as I admired the Harvard façade—yes, it was beautiful, but more it was quirky. The building for the departments represents each so well: the philosophy building—Emerson—with your large and clearly ancient armchairs, the Science Center in a shape of an—outdated—camera. And each with their own complimentary library filled the smell of old books—who doesn’t love that smell?


Needless to say, the paper turned out fine, and sleep is right around the corner. Have a good night!



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