Led by distinguished Stanford professors, Stanford Summer Humanities Institute lets rising high school juniors and seniors explore the big questions at the heart of humanities. What is evil? How do societies actually change? How does history affect our daily life?

Participants will spend three weeks on the beautiful Stanford campus in California, living in residence. They will attend daily lectures by Stanford faculty members and will participate in group discussions and activities in the afternoon. There will also be downtime for extracurricular fun, as well as supervised off-campus excursions to places of cultural and natural interest around the Bay Area.

During the program, participants will work closely with their professors, graduate students, and writing mentors to produce original research projects. These papers present an opportunity for participants to use the research skills they have acquired at Stanford to develop their own answers to the central questions that are addressed by the humanities. 

Courses - Through the following courses, participants will gain an appreciation for how the present world continues to be shaped and influenced by the past, but also a deeper understanding of how individuals in the past could view the world in ways that were sharply different from ours today. Participants will hone their skills for analyzing primary sources; formulating arguments from history, philosophy, and culture; and crafting a written research paper. The courses will be comparable to freshman-level introductory courses.


  • Session 1 (Monday, June 22 – Friday, July 10, 2020) 
    • The Age of Jefferson - This course will examine a few of these new ideas in the Age of Jefferson. Though we'll be using Jefferson's life, travels, and writings as a base, we'll range far afield to look at how he and famous contemporaries such as Voltaire, Rousseau, and Hume thought about their world. We'll frame our discussions around a series of questions that Jefferson and his contemporaries fiercely debated.
    • Revolutions - Revolutions have the power to reshape the political order of the world more than any other social, economic, or cultural forces. But what exactly is a revolution? Is it, like Marx believed, the inevitable result of a social conflict? Or does it take determined revolutionaries to make a successful revolution? To have a revolution, do you have to call it "a revolution?" To answer these questions, the course will take students back to the early revolutions of 17th-century England, and the revolutions of America and France.
    • Rome - From a few huts on seven hills in the eight century (or so they say), Rome would grow into an empire that, at its greatest expanse, comprised all of western Europe, the north of Africa, the Middle East, and the territory west and south of the Black Sea; more impressive than its expanse, it would last, in its eastern half, until 1453. In this course we will study aspects of this historical phenomenon: read many of its most famous texts, reflect on how the Romans thought of themselves and others, follow its rise and fall as an empire, and remark throughout on how different it is from western societies today, even though the latter are profoundly indebted to it.
    • The Greeks and Beyond - In this course, we shall read some of the foundational works in the ancient Greek philosophical tradition including all or part of Plato's Symposium, Aristotle's On the Soul, Sextus Empiricus' Outlines of Pyrrhonism, and Lucretius' On the Nature of Things. We shall focus on questions concerning knowledge (Can I know anything? If so, what can I know and how can I know it?), love (Is love good or bad for us? What is it to love someone and should we have reasons for loving?), identity (What makes me the same person over time? Could I be duplicated?), and death (Is my death bad for me? If so, why is my death bad for me?) On each topic, we shall also read some modern or contemporary philosophy.
  • Session 2 (Monday, July 13 – Monday, July 31, 2020) 
    • Racial Identity in the American Imagination - From Sally Hemings to Barack Obama, this course explores the ways that racial identity has been experienced, represented, and contested throughout American history. Engaging historical, legal, and literary texts and films, we will examine the major historical transformations that have shaped our understandings of racial identity. We will also explore autobiography, memoir, photography, and music to consider the ways that racial identity has been represented in American society.  
    • Magical Realism and Globalization - What is “magical realism?” Is it a genre, a style, a label for elaborated fiction from the Third World? How does magical realism, a globalized phenomenon, reflect upon globalization itself? The course will address such questions by studying fascinating works (excerpts) from places as diverse as Cuba, Colombia, India, Germany, and the U.S. The two main goals will be 1) to trace the trajectory of the concept from its origins in 1920s post-expressionist painting to its contemporary developments, and 2) to articulate well-informed positions on the scholarly debates that pertain both particular seminal works and magical realism as a whole.
    • Religion and Politics in America - This course explores two subjects often considered unsuitable for “polite conversation”: religion and politics. We’ll take a historical approach, covering topics from the American Revolution to the most recent presidential election. Along the way, we’ll learn about key concepts like civil religion, and explore different models for how to study and engage with others about religion and politics in the US: do we reveal our own beliefs? Conceal them? How might the history of religion in the US help us to understand and talk with each other about the current polarized political moment?
    • Film and Philosophy - What does it mean to be human? What role does memory play in making us who we are? What is involved in living authentically? How should we respond to injustice, evil, and tragedy? How should we make difficult ethical decisions? How might movies help us to think about these and other philosophical questions? How does philosophy make our experience as moviegoers richer and more rewarding? We’ll explore these questions through some of our favorite films of the last half century, including Spike Lee’s Do the Right Thing, Charlie Kaufman’s Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind, Denis Villeneuve’s Arrival, Ingmar Bergman's The Seventh Seal, Christopher Nolan’s Memento, Ridley Scott’s Blade Runner, and more. (Note: since some of these films are rated R, parental permission is required.)

Cost and Session Information

Tuition includes housing and dining in supervised Stanford residencies, towels and bedding, field trip expenses, instruction, course materials and transportation between Stanford University and San Francisco International Airport. Financial aid is available.

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