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Humanities Vision

Executive Summary

The liberal arts lie at the heart of any great university. At McMaster University, we believe in a liberal arts mission that builds on the strengths of our various disciplines.

Our Faculty is committed to:

Vision and Mission


The Faculty of Humanities is dedicated to cultivating a teaching and research environment which reflects the highest standards of our disciplines, and to undertaking ventures in new areas of interdisciplinary inquiry and pedagogy. In the Arts, we continue to strive for a balance between the best traditions of Humanities education and the new forms of knowledge emerging within and at the intersections of disciplines. By learning from past and pressing issues facing our global world today, we promote advances in knowledge that make innovative, positive differences in the diverse lives of our students.


Humanities promotes a research-intensive environment to promote humanistic inquiry and exchange by supporting innovative scholarly projects and by creating opportunities for interaction among scholars, students and lifelong learners. We aim to ensure that students acquire the analytical skills, historical depth, and appreciation of diverse cultures needed to assume leadership roles as responsible, ethical, and path-breaking scholars, cultural workers, creative artists, policy makers and professional communicators. We prepare our students to be thoughtful and engaged citizens in a global world.

Major New Initiatives and Gateways

The Faculty has proposed five new initiatives to advance this exciting agenda in the liberal arts. Building on our strengths, the initiatives represent significant new gateways to learning and discovery. Some of these initiatives will find their home in the new Liberal Arts building: others will be located elsewhere. They all intersect and support each other, each one being congruent with the directions outlined in campaign documents and with our own visioning exercise.

  1. Centre for Global Citizenship and Culture
  2. Language Learning Commons
  3. Wilson Institute for Canadian History
  4. Centre for the Performing Arts & New Media
  5. Humanities and Social Sciences Research Institute

Centre for Global Citizenship and Culture

Inspiring Innovation, the central document of McMaster University’s ongoing campaign, speaks to the desire for McMaster to become a ‘global’ university. We strongly support this goal. Our programs have always intersected globally, exploring diverse cultures and literatures, foreign languages, and historical periods. In the Humanities, we have had dozens of students participate in the Humanities Geneva Internship Program, travel to India on Peace Studies internships, and attend courses in countries as far afield as Japan, Israel, and France. As a national leader and champion in the liberal arts, we also have an international profile in globalization through, for example, our endowed chairs in Communications, in Globalization and Cultural Studies, our Peace Studies initiatives, and our links to the Institute for Globalization and the Human Condition.

Following on this tradition, we are excited about the establishment of a new Centre for Global Citizenship and Culture. The Centre would enhance our interdisciplinary programs, as well as support the endowed Chair in Global Islam. The Centre would also include an international opportunities office for undergraduate students to engage in an expanded program of international internships and other experiential learning outside of Canada.

The Centre complements our vision of the proposed Wilson Institute for Canadian History, which seeks to globalize the study of our nation’s past (see below).

Language Learning Commons

Global Citizenship can only be achieved through inter-cultural communication. Educating our students means providing them with the skills to understand and respect linguistic diversity, teaching them methods of cultural mediation and building their knowledge of other cultures, histories and geographies through a deep engagement with their own. Languages are an integral part of human communication on a more global scale and fundamental to promoting international understanding.

That is why we propose a Language Learning Commons for the new Liberal Arts building. The Language Learning Commons would enable language instruction and research across the university, by providing cutting-edge computer programs in language instruction and space for students to pursue self-directed learning. It would be a collaborative environment for the preparation of global citizens who can move with ease in a pluralistic and cosmopolitan world. It would also include a special Francophonie Media room to recognize French as an official language of Canada and our nation’s pivotal role in the international organization of French-speaking countries, la Francophonie. The Language Learning Commons would also intersect with a state of the art Cognitive Science of Language Laboratory which will study the acquisition of a second language from both cognitive and socio-cultural perspectives (see below).

Wilson Institute for Canadian History

McMaster University’s goal is to become a centre of excellence for the rethinking of Canadian history through an Institute that trains a new generation of historians to think about Canada as having a distinct and important role in the global community. The L.R. Wilson Institute for Canadian History will have as its mission the rethinking and reconfiguring of the history of Canada for the 21st century.

The Institute will train the next generation of historians to “globalize” Canadian history. That generation will go well beyond a “Canada in world affairs” approach, but study and teach others about Canada’s interaction with the rest of the world in terms of, to take just a few examples, international migration, Diaspora politics, civil society, world health, welfare and educational institutions, and global finance and trade. The Institute will enhance McMaster’s established reputation as a centre of scholars interested in the processes of globalization and make exciting new work accessible to Canadians generally.

Centre for the Performing Arts & New Media

Creativity is a common thread through the Humanities vision for Liberal Arts in the 21st Century: creativity of thought and creativity of expression. That is why we are proposing a Centre for the Performing Arts & New Media. Purpose-built facilities for music performance and theatrical productions, as well as improved Art Studios, as the core of a Centre for the Performing Arts would support the vital activity currently being pursued in these areas, but, perhaps more importantly, would encourage creative approaches to performance and stimulate curricular innovation. State-of-the-art performance venues will also attract professional musical and theatrical ensembles to campus, immeasurably enriching the cultural life of the university and the community.

A Centre for the Performing Arts will quickly become the hub of arts activity on campus. However, the spaces we propose will also bring together creative research and teaching at the intersection of the performing arts and science. The McMaster Institute for Music and the Mind (MIMM) offers a unique opportunity for researchers in the Department of Psychology, the School of the Arts and the Department of Languages and Linguistics to collaborate and disseminate their work to a very wide audience. Planning is well underway for the inaugural cohort of graduate students interested in the unique MSc/PhD program in the Cognitive Science of Language. A Master’s degree in Music Education and Cognitive Science is also envisioned in the very near future. The research activities of MIMM and the academic programs being implemented are already garnering national attention.

Second, the Centre for the Performing Arts & New Media will include the state of the art Cognitive Science of Language Laboratory, part of the CFI application provisionally entitled CATCHR (Communication, Arts, Technology, Cognition and Health Research). This proposal – one which underpins the new graduate MSc/PhD program in the Cognitive Science of Language – will foster innovative multidisciplinary research in communication, arts and sciences. It will attract the best and the brightest minds from around the world to study the interplay between music, language, communication technology, culture and the brain. These students will use cutting-edge brain imaging, multimedia, communication and musical technology in leading edge, flexible laboratories.

Humanities and Social Sciences Research Institute

We propose a Humanities and Social Sciences Research Institute, one that will broaden the relevance of the Humanities and Social Sciences in contemporary life. As a promoter of informed debate on matters of public importance, a Humanities and Social Sciences Research Institute within the new Liberal Arts building will host public seminars, symposia and conferences. The Institute would bring academics, community leaders, students and public officials into dialogue around problems of local, national and international importance. The objective will be to build civic engagement and intellectual community.

The Institute would serve as an umbrella for a communal space where faculty and students could conduct conversations and research around designated themes. This will be done by promoting a transdisciplinary conversation among historians, philosophers, and scholars of political science, literature, economics, religion, music, languages, cultural studies, art and all the media that contribute to the cultural universe we inhabit—not just within the University, but beyond the academic pale.

Humanities Teaching Vision Statement

“The unexamined life is not worth living.” — Socrates

The value of an examined life stands at the heart of a humanistic education. Challenged to look at the intricacies and multifaceted layers of the human mind and society, Humanities students become keenly aware of the diverse threads and interconnections of our social and cultural fabric.

I. Experiencing Discovery: How We Learn to Think

A Humanities education teaches that the process of discovery is as important as the knowledge acquired.

Our students are not mere recipients of information, but rather active agents of learning acutely aware of the processes of learning, creating and thinking.

Our disciplines are the means by which our students variously arrive at what are shared goals among all departments in the Faculty: an acuity of mind; an internalization of the very processes of learning, creating and thinking.

Humanities provides a forum in which students nurture their capacity to synthesize information, weigh evidence, evaluate points of view, and think critically and creatively.

We aim to cultivate imagination in our students, as well as the problem-solving and critical-thinking skills they will need to succeed in their personal and professional lives.

Our students are not mere recipients of information, but rather active agents of learning acutely aware of the processes of learning, creating and thinking.

A Humanities education is principled, comprehensive, and challenging; it encourages contemplation and enlightened self-development while fostering an inclusive community of learning.

In order to achieve our goals, we seek to engage students in thought and learning through a variety of approaches: lectures; research intensive study; collaborative group work; shared inquiry in seminars; discussion, deliberation, and debate. We foster a broadening of cultural and critical horizons through the study abroad program and hands-on practical training in the performance arts and in media technologies.

II. Creating and Critiquing: What We Do

The Humanities teaches that knowledge is not simply a collection of information, but rather the analytical, argumentative and creative use of information.

Humanistic study of the multiple relationships between mind and culture, past and present, art and artistic expression, language and communication, is a study of the means by which all other human skills and technologies have developed.

In the Humanities, we are committed to discovering innovative and creative responses to fundamental human questions, to fostering interdisciplinary understanding, to testing and examining our beliefs and commitments, and to building integrated knowledge of a complex, inter-connected world.

The cornerstone of the humanities is an understanding of diverse works in philosophy, literature, the visual and performance arts, history, ancient and modern cultures and languages. All inform our contemporary world: its roots and origins, its thought and values, its media, its culture, its politics and society.

The Humanities teaches that knowledge is not simply a collection of information, but rather the analytical, argumentative and creative use of information. We interpret, explain and make sense of it in light of different perspectives (disciplinary, multidisciplinary, interdisciplinary).

III. Making a Difference: How We Connect

In the Humanities, we discover the interconnections between our disciplines, the nature of a complex, interconnected world, and the connection between learning and the living of our lives.

The flexible training methods in our various disciplines help students keep abreast of, or even anticipate, the changes in society and culture that they will encounter in their lives.

Learning in any of our disciplines is a means to the greater end of becoming a critically aware person and living an examined life through the faculties of imagination, informed interpretation, analytical and creative reflection, and systematic argumentation.

In the Humanities, we discover the interconnections between our disciplines, the nature of a complex, interconnected world, and the connection between learning and the living of our lives.

By active, engaged study of how human beings fashion their worlds, the Humanities seek to cultivate people whose critical awareness will better equip them in shaping their own worlds.

The product of a humanistic education is a critical and creative individual who is equipped with the tools needed to engage in an increasingly complex set of personal, public and professional responsibilities.

Through individual and shared experiences of the complexity of knowledge and its various interpretations, the Humanities graduate will respond to the big and small questions of their lives with wisdom, understanding, and insight.

IV. Student-Centered Learning Committee (2006)

Dr. Suzanne Crosta, Chair (Associate Dean, Faculty of Humanities)
Dr. Sean Corner (Classics)
Dr. Jeffery Donaldson (English & Cultural Studies)
Dr. Michael Egan (History)
Dr. Catherine Grisé (English & Cultural Studies)
Dr. Janice Hladki (School of the Arts)
Dr. Jill Leblanc (Philosophy)
Dr. Anna Moro (Linguistics & Languages)
Dr. Stephanie Posthumus (French)
Dr. Geoffrey Rockwell (Communication Studies & Multimedia)
Dr. Alex Sévigny (French / Communication Studies & Multimedia)
Dr. Diana Spokiene (Linguistics & Languages)
Dr. Jean Wilson (Linguistics & Languages)