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The Humanities Conference 2003

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General Multicultural Humanities: A Fresh Approach to an Old-Fashioned Course

Andrew P Vassar.

When one thinks of a course title like General Humanities I and II, the immediate reaction is that such a course is archaic, looking only at "the best that has been produced" by dead white males only. After all, the core definition of general in this context is "not precise or detailed," or "not restricted or specialized," though surely such a title usually indicates that the course will focus on Western art, music, philosophy, and literature.

However, within the past few years the artistic canon has been broken up, changing the notion that courses such as General Humanities are even needed. Now we have "Medieval Arabic Literature," "Global Humanities," or simply "Non-Western Art." Such courses and their topics are all fine and dandy, and we need more and more of them, but for those of us stuck as generalists until we can return for post-docs in more non-Western topics, there has to be some other way to establish survey courses that are multi-cultural, non-sexist, and global; in other words, General Humanities courses with a multi-cultural spin.

Therefore I have developed, over the course of teaching General Humanities over the last four years at a small state regional institution, a general Humanities course that I believe reflects the ideas and hopes of multi-culturalism while still preserving core content of the Western canon that still some university administrators and traditional faculty demand. In other words, what I have found may be a way out, a compromise. Sacrifices are a necessity: longer epics must be cut in favor of smaller material, and cross-cultural comparisons between similar works of art must be made to accommodate the shorter amount of time to cover any of the material. The result is a General Humanities Course with another of the meanings for general: diversified.


Andrew P Vassar  (United States)
Assistant Professor of Humanities and English
Humanities and English
Northeastern State University, Tahlequah, OK

Andrew Vassar grew up in the small town of Chandler, Oklahoma, in the middle of the great plains. He went on to receive his B.A. in Art History and English (with a Philosophy minor) from the University of Tulsa, then received his M.A. in English from the University of Oklahoma. He went on to the University of Arkansas, where he took his Ph.D. in English last year. His speciality is Native American Theater, a seldom-discussed field of scholarship, thouhg maintains interst in 19th century American literature while teaching General Humanities courses.

  • Humanities
  • Multiculturalism
  • Non-Sexism

(30 min Conference Paper, English)