A History of the Humanities at Stevens

"From Stevens Institute of Technology’s foundation in 1870 the humanities, social sciences, and the arts developed in tandem with Stevens itself."

"From its inception, Stevens embraced the concept of a “liberal-technical” education and broad exposure to the traditional humanities. Already by 1909, Stevens students took more hours of liberal arts courses than any other engineering program, with two semesters of English, four of history and government, four of foreign languages (French and German), and two of composition and public speaking.

In 1928 the Department of Humanities took shape and soon offered a landmark course in psychology. The emphasis shifted from a utilitarian notion of the humanities to one more cognizant of belles-lettres and history as ennobling the character of the Stevens graduate. This notion grew in the 1960s under Professor Richard Humphrey, and in the 1970s and 1980s Professor Harold Dorn and colleagues forged the humanities department into a “mini-liberal arts” college with an eight-course humanities requirement in academic subjects taught by trained specialists.

Professor Carol Gould succeeded Dorn as department head in 1988 and initiated the first Bachelor of Arts degree offered at Stevens. Majors were initially in Literature, History, Philosophy and the Social Sciences (now including emphases on Sociology, Political Science and Psychology), to which Science, Technology & Society (STS) and Science Communication were added, with minors available in these areas and, ultimately, Gender and Cultural Studies, Pre-Law and Public Policy, Medical Humanities, Theater and Technology, and Film Studies.

With such graduates as Alexander Calder (1898-1976) and John Marin (1870-1953) it might be said that Stevens was an incubator of the fine arts, but the move to institutionalize the arts began in 1957 with Professor William Ondrick appointed to head a Department of Music. Ondrick taught theory and music history courses and directed student music groups until he retired in 1998. In 1969 the artist Paul Franklin Miller (1932-2012) became artist-in-residence at Stevens. Miller oversaw a substantial art studio and taught humanities courses in drawing and sculpture until his retirement in 1994.

With the restructuring of Stevens in 1996, Erich Kunhardt, dean of the new Imperatore School of Sciences and Arts, and Professor Edward H. Foster, head of the renamed Division of Humanities and Social Sciences, launched new degree programs in Music and Technology and Visual Arts and Technology, programs that flourish today.

A further reorganization of Stevens in 2007 saw the establishment of the College of Arts and Letters as a separate school for the arts and humanities within Stevens. In 2011, the College instituted the Freshman Experience program to introduce entering students to the disciplines of the humanities and to nurture student writing and communication skills. More recently language courses (French and Spanish) and an accelerated law program in conjunction with Seton Hall School of Law have been added to the academic unit's offerings.

To more accurately capture the breadth of research and learning available within these disciplines, the university renamed the academic unit the Stevens School of Humanities, Arts and Social Sciences in 2023.

As Stevens prepares to commemorate its sesquicentennial, the humanities, social sciences and the arts are likewise proud to celebrate 150 years of a concurrent history and the fundamental role they have played in the education of generations of Stevens graduates."

Written by James McClellan III, Professor Emeritus of the School of Humanities, Arts and Social Sciences