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University of Missouri

What’s New at the Honors College

Honors College makes changes large and small to curriculum.

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Since its founding in 1958, the Honors College’s curricular heart and soul has been its four-semester Humanities Sequence, a great-books look at literature, philosophy, religion and the arts from Homer and Plato to Louis Armstrong and Toni Morrison. At 260 students each fall semester, the sequence still draws the most students of any honors offering. But changes large and small are afoot at the college under the leadership of Nancy West, a professor of English who has directed the college for the past two years. 

For instance, those legendary humanities lectures by top faculty are now organized by semesterlong themes, such as “Epic Destinies, Individual Journeys.” Soon, students will be able to earn honors credit by linking honors study-abroad trips to the three major course sequences: humanities, science (energy, environment) and human sciences (social and behavioral sciences).

A new upper-level series called “Interdisciplinary Topics in the Humanities” reaches 40 to 60 students a semester with team-taught offerings on fresh topics. West teaches one such course, on color, with Jim Van Dyke, associate professor of art history and classical archaeology; and Carsten Strathausen, professor of German and Russian studies. West calls it “a sprawling, wide-ranging course with limitless material for making connections across disciplines.” The course covers the science of color as well as its uses in poetry, art and film. Students love it, she says. “In traditional courses, it can be defeating when students go to research projects and find that the well of originality is tapped out. But in a course like this, one could build a paper around Newton’s theory of color and how it shaped romantic poetry. That’s new terrain.”

Interdisciplinary work is an old approach that West keeps alive in the Honors College. “That’s how the greats did it before the 19th century when scientific writers brought poetry into their work and vice versa. Students are excited to feel that same spirit of intellectualism.”