Interdisciplinary Humanities: Ancient and Modern

Interdisciplinary Humanities: Ancient and Modern provides a cross-cultural, cross-historical exposure to the Humanities for students interested in obtaining a globally themed liberal arts education.

With geographical, thematic, and chronological breadth in the history of ideas, literature, language, art, religion, and archaeology, Interdisciplinary Humanities gives special attention to the intersections between ancient and modern modes of thought in each of these topic areas. This concentration also provides an opportunity for intensive training in critical skills (reading, writing, logic, rhetoric, literary, artistic, and historical analysis), and so offers excellent preparation for all of the liberal professions (journalism, law, teaching, diplomacy, etc.).  It also offers an attractive minor for STEM majors wishing to complement technical training with a humanistic education.

The humanities have always been dedicated to the deepening of self-awareness, both of individuals and of communities, through a study of literature, philosophy, history, language, and the arts. Interdisciplinary Humanities thus draws together the expertise of the Departments of Classics, English, Philosophy, World Languages, Sociology-Anthropology, Afro-American Studies, History, and others, for an interdisciplinary study of all these aspects of human culture, from the ancient civilizations of Egypt, ancient Mesopotamia, Greece, and Rome, up through and including Modernism and Afro-Modernity. The value of the humanities in modern society is often questioned. But while science and technologies improve our lives, it is the humanities that make life worth living.

Dr. Caroline Stark
Program Coordinator

Program Goals

Language and Communication

  • Demonstrate competence in academic writing, including a proven understanding of English grammar and syntax, argumentative structure, and word-choice.
  • Show effective oral communication skills in a variety of formats, including public speaking, team presentations, and other group settings.
  • Exhibit competence in receptive communication, including the ability to process and retain information delivered orally, in writing, or other media.

Critical Thinking

  • Demonstrate an ability to evaluate sources, to select relevant information, and accurately describe the central points and supporting arguments of source material.
  • Exhibit competence in evidence-based reasoning and hypothesis generation.
  • Use critical thinking skills to apply learning, solve problems, and make informed decisions.

Cultural and Historical Awareness

  • Understand the complex processes of cultural exchange and transmission.
  • Show an ability to compare and contrast perspectives of multiple cultures and multiple voices within those cultures.
  • Display an understanding of the interconnectedness of the ancient and modern worlds, as well as an appreciation of how our reception of the past influences modern concerns.

Special Examples of Several Areas of Possible Focus within the IDS Interdisciplinary Humanities Major-Concentration


The flexibility of this concentration can best be shown by offering a set of examples, one drawn from each of the three areas of focus. It must be stressed, however, that these examples are offered only by way of illustration. The full scope of possibilities that will emerge from faculty and students college-wide will be far richer and far more diverse than anything that can be presented here.  As such, these examples are intended only to be suggestive, and in no way aim to limit the scope of possibilities that a concentration in Interdisciplinary Humanities will make available.

A minor can be obtained by taking five courses (15 credits) distributed thus:

  • 6 credits of the two-semester survey of the ancient world
  • “Interdisciplinary Humanities I: Egypt and the Ancient Near East” [CLAS 050] (3 credits)
  • “Interdisciplinary Humanities II: Greece and Rome” [CLAS 051] (3 credits)
  • 9 credits in courses that satisfy one of the three areas of focus
  • one course in ancient studies and two courses in modern studies

Special Examples

Concentration in the Focus Area of Literature and Orality

The Literature of Dislocation: War, Slavery, and Imperialism. Classical Antiquity was no stranger to war, slavery, and imperialism. Greece and Rome were both slave societies. Throughout the ancient world, war was a daily fact of life.  Rome created an empire that, at its height, was roughly equivalent to the size of the United States. These realities were reflected in its literature: the Iliad, perhaps the greatest war poem ever composed, is the earliest surviving text from the corpus of ancient Greek literature; Euripides’ Trojan Women, a magnificent war play; or Aristophanes’ Lysistrata, a great anti-war play. Likewise, the Bible’s Exodus, like Vergil’s epic Aeneid, are both commonly read as powerful texts on the experience of dislocation caused by slavery and war, respectively.

An interdisciplinary Capstone Project on the literature of dislocation offers students the opportunity to think about how war, slavery, and imperialism have been remembered and shaped in literature, offering a deepening sense of reality and a broadening of the imagination.  Through the lens of texts ranging from the Trojan War to the Arab Spring and contemporary fiction from Gaza and Iraq, from Homer’s Iliad to Chinua Achebe’s Things Fall Apart, students will come to examine and understand how dislocations -- often of the most horrendous sort -- can be represented, memorialized, and imagined in literary and oral tradition long after they have ended.

Depending on the student’s interests, a Capstone Project in the focus area of Literature and Orality will engage ancient and modern literatures of different civilizations, periods, and genres drawn from disciplines with methodologies as diverse as those of Classics, English, Afro-American Studies, World Languages and Cultures, as well as from allied disciplines such as music, theater, film, art, and psychology.

To take just one example: after a close reading of the Iliad and the Odyssey of Homer, a student’s Capstone Project could examine the various ways in which the ancient Greek epics of war and dislocation have been engaged, adapted, and reinvented in modern works of fiction (James Joyce’s Ulysses; Ralph Ellison’s The Invisible Man; David Malouf’s Ransom; Margaret Atwood’s The Penelopiad); poetry (Ezra Pound’s Cantos I; Nikos Kazantzakis’ The Odyssey: A Modern Sequel; Derek Walcott’s Omeros; Christopher Logue’s War Music; Alice Oswald’s Memorial); art (Romare Bearden’s Black Odyssey, a series of 20 collages based on episodes of Homer’s eponymous epic); music (Monteverdi’s Il ritorno d’Ulisse in patria; Michael Tippett's King Priam; even Bob Dylan’s “Temporary Like Achilles”); philosophy/psychology (Simone Weil’s, The Iliad or the Poem of Force; Jonathan Shay’s Achilles in Vietnam: Combat Trauma and the Undoing of Character or Odysseus in America: Combat Trauma and the Trials of Homecoming); and, finally, film (Jean-Luc Godard’s Le Mépris [Contempt]; Charles Frazier’s Cold Mountain; or the Coen brother’s O Brother, Where Art Thou?). Throughout, the emphasis will be on the point of reception as a dialogue between antiquity and modernity.

Concentration in the Focus Area of Ideas and Beliefs

The Apocalypse. Christianity, arguably one of the most powerful and pervasive legacies of Antiquity, holds at its very core a message of messianic redemption and renewal at the ‘end time,’ a message that is shared with Judaism, Islam, and many other religions. Ancient notions of the end of the world, or of the world as we know it (apocalyptic eschatology) persist today in numerous religions, as well as in many secular, political and artistic aspirations that are themselves inspired by ancient apocalyptic texts. The apocalyptic worldview still operates for many today as a way of looking at Time itself, and at how it works to define and impact our role in the world, generating endless speculations on when and how this world will end and what will become of us when it does.

But while the influence of Antiquity in all this is clear, Modernity, in its turn, has also had a powerful impact on the development of apocalyptic thinking. Indeed, at few times since the 1st century AD has apocalypticism been as pervasive as it has become in many parts of the world today, in America, Africa, Latin America, the Middle East, and elsewhere. Therefore, the idea of the Apocalypse offers a particularly rich topic for an interdisciplinary exploration of the intersection of Antiquity and Modernity.

Students who select the Apocalypse as the focus of an Interdisciplinary Humanities concentration will be directed first to locate the origins of this idea in the historical-cultural context of Antiquity by taking the required survey courses on Ancient Egypt and the Ancient Near East, and on Greece and Rome; plus one year (two semesters) of an ancient language (e.g., Hebrew or ancient Greek). Additional courses, such as “Apocalypse Then and Now” (CLAS 083) or “Apocalypse: Religious & Cultural Meaning (CUA Consortium-TRS 386), that locate the ancient roots of modern apocalypticism in 2nd Temple Jewish or in early Christian texts (Enoch, the Dead Sea Scrolls, Daniel, Mark, the Revelation of John) will prepare students for an understanding of both the socio-historical context of the apocalyptic worldview in Antiquity and of the formal characteristics of apocalyptic prophecy. Depending on the student’s specific areas of interest, additional courses will be drawn from a rich array of classes offered by the local consortium schools (on the Consortium of Universities in the Metropolitan Area, see p. 14 infra) or by the Howard University School of Divinity’s planned Interdisciplinary Concentration in Religious Studies.

Topics for a Capstone Project might then include the role of the State of Israel in modern apocalyptic movements; global warming in the apocalyptic imagination; the idea of the rapture in contemporary Christian readings of Revelation; secular apocalypticism in revolutionary political movements, or in literature and film. Depending upon their special interests, students will be advised to prepare for the Capstone by choosing electives from areas that focus upon selected cases of the modern engagement with ancient apocalyptic ideas. Students will then be expected to create an interdisciplinary paradigm drawn from courses and electives that attempt, in diverse ways, to explain the enduring and, perhaps, surprising appeal of the idea of the Apocalypse on so many facets of Modernity and of the modern world.

Concentration in the Focus Area of Language, Art, and Archaeology

In the visual arts, early 20th cen. African American artists were able to draw upon an enormous and quite unique wealth of multicultural influences, from ancient Egypt (see, e.g., Meta Warrick Fuller’s The Awakening of Ethiopia, 1914), to traditional African motifs (Alfred Janniot’s sculptural relief for the façade of the Museum of African and Oceanic Arts in Paris, in 1933; Richmond Barthé’s African Dancer, 1933; or Augusta Savage’s Lift Every Voice and Sing [The Harp], 1939), to the important and pervasive influence of European Modernism on the Harlem Renaissance – including, for example, the influence of the French landscape painters of the Barbizon School (1850-1870) on the works of Edward Mitchell Bannister (d. 1901); the influence of Matisse and the colorists of the Fauve School on Beauford Delaney (1901-1979); the impact of Picasso, Vorticism, and other modernist trends on the so-called “Dynamic Cubism” of the highly eclectic Jacob Lawrence (1917-2000) or on William Johnson (1901-1970; see, e.g., his famous Self-Portrait, c. 1930-1935, now in the Smithsonian American Art Museum); and, finally, Aaron Douglas, whose work, developed in the 1920’s, is thought to have synthesized aspects of European Modernism, ancient Egyptian, and West African art.

Students interested in this topic of early 20th cen. African American visual arts will be uniquely positioned to study it in depth through Interdisciplinary Humanities. In addition to the formalist and thematic approaches already adopted by traditional departments in art history, students will now be able to draw on the wealth of historical and cultural influences that were available to these artists by studying these influences directly through departments that specialize in these very areas, often with methodologies of their own. So, in addition to the required survey course on Ancient Egypt and the Ancient Near East (AFRO), this student will be able to take various other courses on ancient art (both African and European), such as Black Aesthetics (AFRO 199), Survey of Visual Art (ARTH 164), West African Art (ARTH 172-173), Ancient Rome/Modern America (CLAS 090), Classical Art (CLAS 103), Blacks in Antiquity (CLAS 110), Egyptian Archaeology (CLAS 119), as well as numerous courses on modern art, again from multiple departments, such as The Harlem Renaissance (AFRO 192), African Languages and Cultures (AFST 105), Topics in Art Criticism (ARTH 167), African American Art I-II (ARTH 178-179), Trends and Ideas in African American Art (ARTH 189), Heritage: Art of Romare Bearden (ARTH 196). Then, relying on these courses, plus further classwork on the vibrant literary activities of this period offered by the Department of English, and along with specialized readings (such as Romare Bearden and Harry Henderson, A History of African American Artists from 1792 to the Present [1993]; Albert Boime, The Art of Exclusion: Representing Blacks in the Nineteenth Century [1990]; R.J. Powell, Black Art: A Cultural History [1997]; and Frank M. Snowden, Jr., Blacks in Antiquity: Ethiopians in the Greco-Roman Experience [1970], whose work includes many reproductions of Greco-Roman sculpture and statuary), the student will be able to put together as a Capstone Project a rich cultural study of the multiple streams of influences that flowed into the visual arts of the Harlem Renaissance. Thus enriched by the topics and methodologies of several departments, the student will be able to produce a lengthy, well-researched, multidisciplinary and interdisciplinary research paper, or the student could develop any number of multimedia presentations, including an Exhibition on, for example, Style and Influence (Ancient and Modern) of the Visual Arts in the Harlem Renaissance.

Interdisciplinary Humanities Ancient and Modern Curriculum Scheme

Outcomes and Career Paths

Precisely because it is not a vocational degree, a degree in Interdisciplinary Humanities forms an excellent training-ground for all of the so-called liberal professions such as:

  • academia 
  • law 
  • journalism 
  • government 
  • writing 
  • theology 

Here we have one of the fullest possible range of career paths open to those who seek to better understand and articulate the daunting challenges of the global 21st century and to assume leadership in meeting them. Moreover, as part of a double major, Interdisciplinary Humanities is valuable for deepening the sense of purpose and potential for those entering more technical fields like medicine, entrepreneurship, and technology.


The famed 20th century American philosopher, W.E.B. Dubois, writing (in 1908) about the great 16th century Italian astronomer and physicist, Galileo Galilei, argued:


“Science is a great and worthy mistress, but there is one greater and that is Humanity which science serves; one thing there is greater than knowledge, and that [is] the Man who knows.”


This is the aim that a concentration in Interdisciplinary Humanities has set.

Study Abroad and the Consortium of Universities

Interdisciplinary Humanities: Ancient and Modern will be able to offer students opportunities for study abroad. The Howard University Department of Classics already hosts an annual summer trip to Greece, Italy, or Turkey, and the Department has additional contacts that enable it to partner with the American School of Classical Studies at Athens and with the American Academy in Rome. There are further opportunities for study abroad in Egypt, in association with the College of Arts and Sciences’ Summer Study Abroad Initiative. The Consortium of Universities of the Washington Metropolitan Area will also provide students with additional opportunities to participate in further course work, or in archaeological digs throughout the world. Please consult: