United States in the World

Students need to learn something about societies other than the United States, but they should also leave Harvard with a sophisticated and nuanced understanding of American society. Courses in this category examine American social, political, legal, and economic practices and institutions, and they make connections between the United States and societies elsewhere. These courses should challenge the assumptions with which many students come to college—about what it means to be an American, about the persistence and diversity of American values, about the relations among different groups within the United States and between the United States and the rest of the world. They will help students to understand this country as a heterogeneous and multifaceted nation situated within an international framework. Courses on The United States in the World help to prepare students for civic agency by framing the study of social, political, legal, and economic institutions of the United States in a historical and/or comparative context.

Courses may adopt a variety of disciplinary approaches to the examination of economic, political, and legal systems and social relations. Courses may also treat cultural practices or religious traditions, by showing their effect on the way American society has been structured. In effect, courses in this category complement courses in Societies of the World, looking at the United States itself, and from the United States outward. Whether courses consider the subject in a historical or a contemporary context, they must make connections between the material studied and the kinds of issues involving American social, political, legal, and economic institutions that students are likely to confront in an era of globalization.

There are many topics of wide practical and intellectual interest that courses in The United States in the World might explore, including income disparity, health care and the state, affirmative action, immigration, election law, zoning and urban sprawl, red state-blue state, bilingualism, originalism and the interpretation of historical documents.

Courses on The United States in the World should:

  • examine American social, political, legal, cultural, and/or economic institutions, practices, and behaviors, from contemporary, historical, and/or analytic perspectives;
  • demonstrate the connections between those institutions, practices, and behaviors and those of other societies in the world, and/or show change over time within the United States and its colonial antecedents; and
  • use the material studied to give students critical tools to understand the social, cultural, political, legal, or economic issues confronted by the United States in a global context.

See my.harvard for a list of courses that satisfy this category.  Using the Advanced Search function, select United States in the World from the drop-down menu found under FAS – Additional Attributes.

Learn about other General Education categories.