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The Aydelotte Seminar on Liberal Arts Education (Spring '18)

ENGL 094/HIST 090L. Spring 2018. M 1:15-4. 1 credit. HU or SS distribution. Professor Burke and Professor Buurma.

This research-intensive, partly project-based seminar surveys the past and present of liberal arts education, and speculates wildly on its possible futures. Drawing on research, writing, and in-person expertise from inside and outside the academy and from across a wide range of methods and disciplines (including including sociology, education studies, anthropology, religion, statistics, history, and English), the seminar examines how access and financial aid, curricular decisions, diversity, inequality, governance, and knowledge production play out in the context of liberal arts education. How do liberal arts practices appear within and inform higher education institutions of all kinds? How can we more capaciously and creatively imagine the relationship between liberal arts education and its implied opposite, vocational education, both in the past and in the present contemporary higher education landscape?  We will draw on the expertise of a wide range of Swarthmore staff (for example, from the offices of student life, institutional research, dining services, facilities) and faculty as well as outside experts in topics ranging from financial aid to the history of HBCUs.

One of the arguments this course seeks to test is that liberal arts education has been poorly understood because research and writing about higher education tends to repeat the imagined scales of the forms of education they treat: data for problems associated with “mass” education, anecdote for the realm of small liberal arts institutions. We seek instead to search more broadly for types of evidence and methods necessary for studying and making convincing arguments about liberal arts education.The class’s method will therefore pay special attention to the current and possible uses of qualitative and quantitative research in studies of higher education, drawing on datasets from sociological studies and curricular data-mining projects well as qualitative research from college and university archives. The final weeks of the class will feature a collaborative research project designed to connect our study of liberal arts education’s past with an imagination of its possible futures.

The topics of the Spring 2018 iteration of the seminar will center around Swarthmore’s Honors program and will include work in local campus archives and beyond.