Program Overview:

Undergraduate Humanities Major

Humanities majors engage in interdisciplinary study of the circumstances and lives of humans in the past, of literature, the English language and the arts, and of ethical problems and systems of thought in order to understand and interpret the world today. Students also acquire essential intellectual skills through close analysis of texts, critical thinking, and expository writing.


Within the scope of the humanities major, students explore related disciplines--including art history, English, history, and philosophy--to develop cultural literacy and analytical, interpretive, communication, and research skills that can be applied to complex problems and issues. In curriculum taught by Northwestern University faculty, humanities disciplines are equally represented in the core courses, while research and methods courses foster engagement with key texts, scholarly sources, and academic inquiry. Advanced elective courses offer the opportunity to emphasize certain academic subjects and to engage in exploring others including African American studies, classics, music history, philosophy, religious studies, theatre studies, and film/media studies.

Career Options

The study of humanities offers preparation for any profession that requires knowledge and understanding of humanity and society, or that involves proficiency with communication and the organization of information. Humanities majors are prepared to enter a variety of fields and careers with skills that translate directly to current and future performance. They study in professional schools, including law, business, medicine, education, library science, public policy, or pursue graduate studies in liberal arts and sciences, or build on their rigorous training in thinking and writing for work and advancement in areas as diverse as communications and media, technology, marketing and sales, management and business, consulting, public service, research, and education.

Program Goals

Graduates will be prepared to:

  • Explain the significance and evaluate interpretations of political, economic, social, and cultural events and structures over time and space, and demonstrate an understanding of the role of these in shaping human experiences
  • Recognize and evaluate literary elements in works written in English across history, and articulate how literature displays and interrogates the human experience
  • Analyze how works of the humanities are situated within and shaped by their historical and cultural contexts, and how they influence cultural beliefs, values, and institutions
  • Demonstrate applicability of literary, historical and art analysis across cultural, social and geographical situations and events
  • Identify subjects and formulate compelling questions for academic inquiry, critically evaluating and using appropriate methods and sources for research
  • Demonstrate mastery of critical skills including observation, reasoning, argumentation, and written and verbal communication for a variety of audiences

Program Requirements

Students are required to complete 45 units. The degree program includes major requirements, distribution requirements, and electives.


Choose from two degree programs for this major:

Bachelor of Philosophy – 45 units

  • The bachelor of philosophy (BPhil) is conferred by the Judd A. and Marjorie Weinberg College of Arts and Sciences. To earn the BPhil degree, students must complete a total of 45 units (courses), including a writing requirement, two years of study in a foreign language (or demonstration of equivalent foreign language proficiency), distribution requirements, a major and electives. Foreign language proficiency may be demonstrated by completion of a second-year language sequence with a grade of C or better at an accredited college or university. Minors are optional.

Bachelor of Science in General Studies – 45 units

  • The bachelor of science in general studies (BSGS) is conferred by the Judd A. and Marjorie Weinberg College of Arts and Sciences. For the BSGS degree, students must complete 45 units, including a writing requirement, distribution requirements, a major and electives. Minors are optional.

Humanities Major Requirements

5 core courses

  • Art History – one 200-level ART HIST course
  • English – one 200-level English course 
  • History – both of the following: HISTORY 250-A Global History: Early Modern to Modern Transition; HISTORY 250-B Global History: The Modern World
  • Philosophy – PHIL 110 Introduction to Philosophy

2 research/methods courses

  • ENGLISH 300 Seminar in Reading/Interpretation
  • Research Seminar – one of the following: ART HIST 390 Undergraduate Seminar; ENGLISH 397 Research Seminar; HISTORY 395 Research Seminar

6 electives

Six 300-level courses in English, history, art history, classics, comparative literary studies, philosophy, or religious studies. At least two courses must be selected from English, history and art history. At least one course must focus on a non-western culture or non-dominant U.S. culture. At least one course must engage with culture or history primarily before 1830. Courses in African American Studies with a humanities focus may also be included with academic adviser approval. An additional research seminar may be counted as an elective. 

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Distribution Requirements

English - 2 units

  • ENGLISH 111 or 205
  • ENGLISH 113 (completion of ENGLISH 300 exempts humanities majors from completion of ENGLISH 113).

Humanities – 4 units

  • 4 courses from the following areas: art history, classics, comparative literary studies, English literature, foreign languages (up to two units), history, music history, philosophy, religion, and some courses in African American studies, foreign languages with literature, gender studies, performance studies, radio/television/film, Slavic languages and literature and theatre.

Social Sciences – 4 units

  • 4 courses from the following areas: anthropology, economics, history, linguistics, political science, sociology, and some courses in African American studies, gender studies, psychology and statistics.

Science – 4 units

  • 4 courses from the following areas: astronomy, biological sciences, chemistry, earth and planetary sciences, engineering, geography, information systems, mathematics, physics and some courses in anthropology, psychology, radio/television/film and statistics

Modern Foreign Language (BPhil degree only) – 6 units

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Bachelor of Philosophy (BPhil)

  • Up to 15, depending on transfer credits

Bachelor of General Studies (BSGS)

  • Up to 21, depending on transfer credits