Why I Declared 2019: Humanities
Concentration declaration is a rite of passage at Harvard. Some students know what they want to concentrate in from the moment they step foot on campus, and others are still wavering at 11:59 p.m. on declaration day. To get some perspective on concentration declaration, we asked Flyby sophomores studying the humanities why they declared.
History and Literature: Sarah M. Lightbody ’22
I started saying I was going to concentrate in History and Literature after getting absolutely freaked out in an Opening Days orientation meeting about concentrations. Mid-meeting, I pulled out my phone and scrolled through the requirements for just about every concentration, searching for something that seemed right for me. To be completely honest, Hist and Lit stood out to me because it had very few actual class requirements — it’s a pretty DIY concentration. So I started saying I would concentrate in Hist and Lit.
A little over a year later, I still want that flexibility, interdisciplinarity, choose-your-own-way course of studies. It’s a way to read books, consider art, have tiny class sizes and get to spend more time in the Barker Center (like almost every Hist and Lit concentrator, I’ve fallen head over heels for Barker Cafe). Plus, as someone who wants to study fashion, at a school with not a lot of fashion-centric courses, Hist and Lit will allow me to explore my options without having to worry as much about which department courses I’m required to fit into my schedule.
I’m planning on tying my Hist and Lit concencentration to an Economics secondary. My hottest Harvard hot take is that Ec10: “Principles of Economics” is great, and so I’m leaning into my inner snake. The combination of the two provides an analytical framework from multiple perspectives, which sounds like something straight out of a brochure, but is actually pretty genuine. In any case, I’m excited to see where the next few years take me.
History of Science and Romance Languages and Literatures: Maya S. Bhagat ’22
Coming into Harvard, I was really interested in biology — I’d wanted to be a scientist since I was a kid, and my high school mostly offered STEM classes. Having moved to a new country at age 12, I was also really excited about learning two new languages (Hindi and French) and enjoyed teaching myself history on the side. I took LS50: “Integrated Science” my freshman year, and while I liked and learned a lot from the class, along the way I realized that perhaps molecular biology was not the only thing which was very important to me. I discovered that I enjoyed a good balance of psets and paper classes, and found myself frequently bringing concepts from I learned in history class over to science and vice versa.
I still feel a twinge of guilt when I consider the possibility of leaving behind a career in the lab and question my abilities to be a good historian when I can’t remember the difference between modernism and postmodernism. I’m slow at learning new languages, but I genuinely enjoy the opportunity to peruse literary and cinematic texts at a place where there is less and less time for pleasure reading. Eventually, I do need to decide which way I want to swing in this tussle between biology and history, but History of Science and Romance Languages and Literatures, at this moment, provides me the best configuration to marry all my interests.
English or Philosophy: Michelle Lara ’22
“That’s so different — the admissions committee might like you!” is a reaction I typically get when I tell people my prospective concentration and that I’m also on the pre-med track. I always smile and continue the conversation, but I never know how to feel about it; it’s sad to think I would do it mainly for that reason. The Humanities departments at Harvard are absolutely phenomenal, and they offer opportunities that I'll never have again in my lifetime. I can casually get lunch with one of my favorite authors who is teaching a seminar next semester! I can finally learn how to make a college-level argument and articulate my thoughts in a convincing way! But sure, I'm just doing it for those medical school applications.
Literature is essentially a study of people. It’s fun to think of ourselves as sturdy people with definable — or almost “factual” — traits; by virtue of being human, however, how we define ourselves is a dynamic entity that changes at life’s every turn. Sometimes it takes a dramatic hypothetical to see it, but other times a week-in-the-life will suffice. Literature is the best way to explore the human condition in a life vastly different from yours.
If English is a study of people, then Philosophy is a study of truth. Since humans are such undefinable creatures, it’s impossible to assert how they think and act in a broader sense. Isn’t it fascinating how 2,500 years after Socrates was born, we still can’t agree on the right way to live? And that this issue remains at the heart of contemporary debates? When we then start making claims about the reality of human life and choices, it takes such meticulous argumentation that it leaves you wondering if you’ve been thinking incorrectly your entire life. I’m so tired of hearing about the “uselessness” of it all; I still believe there’s great value in paying close attention to other people.