Societies of the World

Harvard undergraduates have grown up in a single-superpower world. The influence around the world of the United States culturally, economically, militarily, and scientifically is unprecedented. Yet, for that very reason, it is difficult for students inside the United States to understand this country from an international perspective, as a nation in continuous engagement with societies around the world, sometimes cooperatively and sometimes confrontationally. Students may be easily persuaded, by the manner in which other societies are represented in the press and in the culture of public life, that other people are, in some universal sense, “essentially” Americans. An important aim of the courses in the Societies of the World category is to help students overcome this parochialism by acquainting them with values, customs, and institutions that differ from their own, and by helping them to understand how different beliefs, behaviors, and ways of organizing society come into being.

These courses may take a variety of disciplinary approaches to the examination of economic, political, and legal systems, and social relations. Courses may also address cultural practices or religious traditions, and their effect on social structures. Topics may be treated from a contemporary perspective or a historical one, as long as they help students develop an awareness of the diversity of ways in which human beings have organized their social existence. Some courses in this category might concentrate primarily on a single society, past or present, but they should demonstrate its connections, across time or geographical space, to one or more other societies (including, as appropriate, the United States). Other courses might address issues or themes that transcend national boundaries, analyzing the flow and transformation of money, goods, people, resources, information, or ideas between and among different societies.

There are many topics of wide practical and intellectual interest that courses in Societies of the World might explore, including immigration policy, ethnic identity and statehood, religion and government, global markets, constitutionalism.

Courses in Societies of the World should:

  • examine one or more societies outside the United States;
  • demonstrate connections between societies and/or across historical periods in a single society; and
  • relate the material studied to the kinds of social, cultural, political, legal, linguistic, or economic issues students might encounter in a global context.

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

Learn about other General Education categories.