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The multidisciplinary studio-based curriculum, which focuses on the design of innovative products, services, and systems that address the social and environmental needs of the 21st century, has been so successful that the Institute launched an official bachelor of science degree in design, innovation, and society in fall 2007.

“H&SS used to be viewed as the school students had to pass through to get on to their engineering classes,” says Harrington. “Now many come to Rensselaer specifically for the H&SS offerings.” The school, says Harrington, has become “a destination unto itself.”

Sponsored research annual expenditures, which stood at less than $1,000 in the year 2000, have increased dramatically to an annual average of $2.5 million during Harrington’s tenure.

The school’s students are 50 percent more female and 100 percent more diverse than the rest of the Rensselaer campus, according to Harrington, who attributes this to the diversity of program offerings. In addition, the rising prominence of its programs also has led to a 300 percent growth in applications over the last three years.

Support Grows for “Digital Humanities”

At a time when technological advancement is accelerating, the potential for the humanities to shape the world is ever more apparent, and support for research projects that explore where the discipline intersects with technology is becoming increasingly prevalent. The National Endowment for the Humanities (NEH) — an independent grantmaking institution dedicated to supporting research, education, preservation, and public programs in the humanities — recently launched a new “digital humanities” initiative.

The NEH defines the “digital humanities” as the melding of digital technologies and humanistic research — and the resulting creation of new methods for humanists to conduct research, conceptualize relationships, and present scholarship. The funding organization is fostering the growth of the new field of study by supporting projects that study the impact of technology on the humanities and projects that digitize important materials to increase public access to humanities information, among others.


Marking its 50th anniversary, the School of Humanities, Arts, and Social Sciences has come into its own — launching pioneering programs that have drawn national recognition and a growing number of talented and diverse students.

Other organizations, such as the John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation, are funding projects to analyze how growing up in the Information Age has changed the ways today’s youth view, use, and interact with technology in order to develop new methods of capitalizing on technological tools as academic resources.

An independent funding organization, the MacArthur Foundation has launched a $50 million digital media and learning initiative to investigate the role and impact of digital technology in the lives of young people.

“Let us be clear: we do not believe that digital media tools will replace the book, paper and pen, face-to-face interaction, or all the other ways that we socialize, learn, and communicate — not anytime soon,” says Jonathan Fanton, president of the MacArthur Foundation. “But they are taking their place alongside these other means and modes of learning and communication. MacArthur’s new initiative aims to help all of us understand the possible shape and consequences of these changes.”

H&SS joined the digital humanities research community in 2007 when it launched The Humanities Center at Rensselaer, a research center that seeks to identify ways in which the humanities can form more constructive partnerships with science and technology in the 21st century.

“The Humanities Center is dedicated to capitalizing on the opportunities brought to humanities disciplines by digital tools for research and communication,” says Harrington.

“Today we have immediate electronic access to nearly anything we might need in hard copy — and even some additional resources that only exist in the digital domain. And the Internet is just one of many electronic mediums that are shaping the future of the humanities.”

The center provides a network to help faculty members make connections with people and places outside the Institute, and Harrington says it has potential to become a future conduit for research grants, as well as an entity that brings external fellows to campus.

* “Humanities at the Half Century”  Page 1 | 2 | 3 | 4     Previous |Next    *
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Rensselaer (ISSN 0898-1442) is published in Spring, Summer, Fall, and Winter by the Office of Strategic Communications and External Relations, Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute, Troy, NY 12180-3590. Opinions expressed in these pages do not necessarily reflect the views of the editors or the policies of the Institute. ©2008 Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute.