MIT School of Humanities, Arts and Social Sciences - Great Ideas Change the World



12 SHASS Research Fund recipients for 2015

The 2015 funding cycle will support MIT research on patient/doctor decision models; language technology for distance learning; U.S. class inequality; political violence; non-profit housing; electronic music archives; gender and history; identity and power; and new music and theater works.

Portfolio of the award-winning research projects

What does an
of Science do?

Meet Stefan Helmreich. In his new research on wave science, acclaimed MIT anthropologist Helmreich shows how waves are not only facts of nature, but a phenomenon mediated by considerable scientific and cultural interpretation.

Read more

Wi-Phi online platform presents "philosophy's greatest hits"

Can science describe everything there is to know about the world? Do humans have free will? What is it for a sentence to be "true"? Dig into these and other questions at Wi-Phi — an online, interactive toolkit for building a better mind.

Story + Wi-Phi

"Annotation Studio" empowers readers and writers 

Developed by HyperStudio, the new online tool improves on traditional techniques for entering marginalia and side notes in books — enabling readers to annotate texts across media, to share comments with others, and to enhance them with links, images, video, and audio.


Development Economics
What makes anti-poverty programs go viral? You!  

Study: getting the well-connected to spread the word helps more people learn about microfinance programs.

Story at MIT News

MIT's Jameel Poverty Action Lab

Tom Schilling 

HASTS doctoral student Tom Schilling is conducting an anthropological study of geology, forestry and First Nations-led mapping and modeling in rural British Columbia. Maps, he has found, are more than representations of the land as it is: they are visions for its future. Photocredit: Allegra Boverman


What were the links between slavery and American universities?

In his new book, Ebony and Ivy, historian Craig Steven Wilder, Head of MIT History, documents the manifold connections between universities and the slave economy in colonial America. Kirkus writes, "A groundbreaking history that will contribute to a reappraisal of some deep-rooted founding myths." 


NPR Interview  | NYT article

French Studies
The politics of adoption  

MIT Associate Professor of French Studies Bruno Perreau explores how adoption issues in France reveal deeply-held views about gender, parenthood, and "Frenchness."



SHASS alumnus Jean Tirole PhD'81 wins Nobel Prize in economic sciences

Alumnus, former faculty member, and current Visiting Professor, Jean Tirole has been awarded the 2014 Nobel Prize in economic sciences for his work on the behavior and regulation of powerful firms.


Tirole's Nobel Prize Lecture + Slides

Political Science
Can America have a renaissance in manufacturing? 

In Making in America, Suzanne Berger, Starbuck Professor of Poltical Science, describes ways to strengthen American manufacturing, including public-private collaborations, new government-initiated manufacturing innovation institutes, and industry-community college projects.

Learn more

News story: MIT PIE Report 


Public science education 
New era in science engagement 

"A sea change is underway in how people learn about science. One of our goals is to ensure that MIT remains on the vanguard of public science education.”   — Thomas Levenson, Director MIT Graduate Program in Science Writing   (Image: Little Sun project)


Sources of Innovation  
The power of the humanities at MIT 

Why MIT considers the humanites, arts, and social sciences essential — both for educating great scientists, engineers, thinkers, and citizens, and for sustaining the Institute's capacity for innovation. 

Op-Ed by Dean Deborah Fitzgerald

Monthly Digest 
Said and Done 

Research, News, and Kudos
from the Office of the Dean
MIT School of Humanities,
Arts, and Social Sciences


MIT Music Online 
The Listening Room 

The finest music by MIT’s Music faculty and student-musicians is available at The Listening Room—an online collection that showcases the Institute’s remarkable passion for music. The site presents recordings in four categories—Classical, Jazz, World, and Faculty Opus.  Image: MIT President L. Rafael Reif

The Listening Room 
Video at MIT News

Music and Theater Arts
Mens et Musica 

"Today, unprecedented numbers of incoming students—80 percent—arrive at MIT with deep experience in the arts, especially in music. In that context, the arts have never been more integral to the life of MIT nor more deserving of our focus and attention."  
— Rafael Reif, President of MIT

Story at MIT Spectrvm

Institute History 
The Rise of the Humanities at MIT

Part of the "Common Threads" video, produced for MIT's 150th anniversary celebration, this three-minute clip traces the rise of the humanities, arts, sciences, and social science disciplines at MIT.  

Watch for the appearance of Winston Churchill! 

Video Clip

CMS / Writing
The power of words 

"Every few months for twelve years, I have visited a Massachusetts prison to teach creative writing to a group of locked-up men.... It is not my job to unravel the skein of their guilt, to judge or absolve. I am here as a witness. I am here in the name of story and its power to transform."  

— from "Visible Men," essay by Helen Elaine Lee, MIT Professor of Writing

Essay: NYT Book Review
Profile: Helen Elaine Lee


What is Eurasian identity?  

MIT historian Emma Teng's new book Eurasian studies cross-cultural Asian-American families since the 19th century.  

Full story at MIT News

Teng named MacVicar Fellow

Studying History at MIT

(Photograph: Mae Watkins Franking and her children; courtesy of the Franking family)




Political Science
How do societies examine and confront histories of injustice?

"'All societies periodically have to do soul-searching,' says Melissa Nobles, the Arthur and Ruth Sloan Professor of Political Science, and Head of MIT Political Science. In her research, Nobles has developed a deep understanding of how different nations go about the process of self-examination, confront histories of injustice, and attempt to right the wrongs of the past."

Story | Video | Webpage 


Re-examining the venerable Theory of Competitive Advantage

MIT economist Arnaud Costinot studies international trade — and is looking again at David Ricardo's Theory of Comparative Advantage as a way to better understand trade between developed and less-developed economies.





"Meeting great challenges requires technical and scientific creativity, and an understanding of the world’s complexities—political, cultural, and economic. MIT's HASS disciplines empower young students, thinkers, and citizens to help them create innovations and lives that are rich in meaning and wisdom."  

— Deborah K. Fitzgerald,
Kenan Sahin Dean

Mission  | TOUR de SHASS 

The Townsend Thai Project

For 20 years, MIT economist Robert Townsend has explored the links between household finances and economic growth in rural Thailand. His new book, Chronicles from the Field, based on one of the most extensive datasets in the developing world, provides a template for policies that can help alleviate poverty. 

Full Story

Comparative Media Studies
Big Game Hunter 

Sociologist T.L. Taylor studies the subcultures of online gaming and online e-sports.

Full story

Erica James launches MIT Global Health & Medical Humanities Initiative

Resolving public health crises requires astute politcal leadership and an informed public as well as the best medical science. In their inaugural event, "Examining Ebola,” the MIT Global Health and Medical Humanities Initiative, led by anthropologist Erica James, presented an interdiciplinary discussion about the Ebola epidemic, bringing political, economic, social, and cultural experts together to help fight the disease.


Technology and Culture 
Assessing the Human Empire 

In a new book, MIT historian Rosalind Williams asks big questions about progress and the lived human experience. “There is a deep belief in progress of science and technologies," she says, "but there is also an anxiety that comes from that belief. This book explores that paradox. A subtext of the book is to take art seriously. That’s the first place to go to figure out what’s going on in the world!” 



Sources of Innovation
Language fluency is transformative

How important is it for MIT students to become fluent in new languages as they expand their horizons and prepare to serve the world? Amanda von Goetz's story is a good example: mastering Russian has proved to be a transformative experience in her life—not just once, but several times over.


Digital Humanities at MIT

The work going on in digital humanities and new media is one expression of the innovation that characterizes the Humanities more broadly. Using computational tools and methods, humanities scholars are opening new lines of research and discovery, revitalizing the study of objects from the past, and asking questions never before possible. 

Gallery: Digital Humanities at MIT

"Visualizing Cultures" transforms scholarship

Typically, researchers interested in visual artifacts have had to travel far and wide, digging through library basements and museum archives to examine posters, drawings, paintings, and prints. MIT's spectacular "Visualizing Cultures" brings historical images to light online, along with interpretative commentary.
(Image: detail, Imperial Family Portrait, Meiji Emperor series, 1868-1912)

Take a look

The strangely familiar browsing habits of Medieval readers

Today we frequently switch from one text to another browsing news, blogs, email, workplace documents and more. A book by MIT professor Arthur Bahr reveals that this is hardly a new practice: in the 14th century, for instance, readers browsed manuscripts composed of very diverse texts. 

Story  |  Profile

Global Studies & Languages
SHASS announces new Cynthia L. Reed Chair in French Studies and Language

The new chair was made possible by a gift from Cynthia L. Reed and her husband, John S. Reed ’61, former chairman of the MIT Corporation, in continuation of their long-standing support of French at the Institute. Associate Professor Bruno Perreau will be the inaugural holder of the Reed Chair.

Full Story

Political Science
Repairing America’s social safety net

In her recent book, MIT political scientist Andrea Campbell gives a firsthand perspective on how America’s means-tested social insurance programs inadvertently keep the people they are intended to help in a state of perpetual financial distress. In her analysis, Campbell also points the way toward more sensible social policy.

Read more

Science Writing 
Mnookin co-authors AAAS report on vaccination research

Years after a groundless report linked vaccines to autism, grievous consequences of the fallacy are still being felt in undervaccinated communities. The American Academy of Arts and Sciences has released a report — co-authored by Seth Mnookin, MIT assistant professor of science writing — proposing research to help restore trust in vaccines.


Report: Public Trust in Vaccines

Knight Science Journalism
KSJ Bootcamp speakers cite communications as key to climate change progress

"The climate change crisis is no longer primarily a scientific problem. At this stage, it is a communications issue...The future of our species depends on better policies in energy and climate issues — and that progress requires an informed public.”  


Music + Engineering
MIT students make music from particle energy.

In Keeril Makan's most recent Introduction to Composition class, students were asked to design a musical instrument. Some made flutes, chimes, and homemade drums. Sergheyev, Lopez, and Liu decided to make musical textures from nuclear radiation — gamma sonification.


Walley wins James Best Book Award for Exit Zero 

Christine Walley has won the CLR James Award for Best Book, awarded by the Working-Class Studies Association, for Exit Zero: Family and Class in Postindustrial Chicago (University of Chicago Press, 2013). Exit Zero explores the effects of de-industrialization on Chicago workers and their families.  


Creative Industry
MIT Game Lab 

The Game Lab, a program of Comparative Media Studies / Writing, has new research facilities in the Karl Taylor Compton Laboratories.

Story |  Game Lab

What’s the best remedy for inequality within the 99%?

“Higher education, and public education, is America’s best idea,” says MIT economist David Autor. “Our decision to send our entire public through high school over the first 30 years of the 20th century was probably the single most important factor in U.S. economic predominance for that century.”


MIT PIE Commission  
Keys for new American innovation

“There is no reason manufacturing has to disappear in an advanced industrial society.”  
— Suzanne Berger, Starbuck Professor of Political Science, Co-chair, Production in the Innovation Economy 

Full story  |  PIE Report 




Studying the literary record to understand violence

MIT Associate Professor of Literature Sandy Alexandre studies the literary record to shed light on the history of violence against blacks in the U.S. In her first book, Alexandre explores the multiple meanings of "property," showing through examination of visual and textual narratives how and why the notion of property, in the context of America's history of violence against blacks, needs to extend beyond ownership in land. 

Story at MIT News 

Profile at MIT News


Political Science
How voters make choices

Any analysis of exit polling reveals a welter of numbers whose meaning remains slightly elusive. Now, a new paper co-written by Assistant Professor Teppei Yamamoto suggests a way to assess the relative impact of several factors at once, using a method known as “conjoint analysis." (Photocredit: Stuart Darsch)


24.00x — the first introductory philosophy MOOC at an American university   

"This course focuses on big questions. You will learn how to ask them and how to answer them," says MIT Philosopher Caspar Hare, who has created the first introductory philosophy MOOC offered by an American university. "In a very concrete sense," he adds, "analytic philosophy teaches you life skills—because most of the problems we face in life do not have an instruction manual.” 

Story | Video: Course Introduction 

Linguistics + Biology
A new theory on the deep roots of human speech    

MIT researchers say the balance of evidence suggests human language is a grafting of two communication forms found elsewhere in the animal kingdom: the elaborate songs of birds, and information-bearing expression seen in various other animals. “It’s this adventitious combination that triggered human language,” says Shigeru Miyagawa, MIT Professor of Linguistics, and co-author of a paper in the journal Frontiers in Psychology.  

Full story

Technology and Society
Illuminating African innovation

In his recent book, Transient Workspaces: Technologies of Everyday Innovation in Zimbabwe, historian Clapperton Mavhunga explores the confluence of innovation, hunting, and nature in Zimbabwe to illuminate African contributions to technological knowledge.

Read more

Economist Solow receives Presidential Medal of Freedom

“Robert Solow is one of the most widely respected economists of the past 60 years,” the White House said of the MIT economist, who received the Nobel Prize in economics in 1987.


What is "natural" and what is "social"? 

"The supposed line between the 'natural' and the 'social' is of crucial importance for theories of justice: the 'natural' is not as fixed as we might think, and the 'social' can be much more fixed than we imagined. Some differences between us must be respected, and others should be overcome—but which are which?"

Q&A with MIT Philosopher Sally Haslanger

Political Science & EECS join forces for "Elections and Voting Technology" class

Ensuring that elections are fair and equitable is fundamental to democracy — yet easier said than done, as MIT students discover in a new class called "Elections and Voting Technology." Taught jointly by Professors Charles Stewart III and Ronald Rivest the class explores challenges embedded in election systems from both the technical and the political science perspective.

Full story

Can water create more peaceful cooperation?

"While water is often perceived to be the source of future wars, rethinking water agreements—and the costs to desalinate seawater— could lead to more cooperation between nations."  (Image: wave analysis, Anastasia Azure, Art+Science Synergy project)

Read more


J-PAL's 10th Anniversary
A global community dedicated to alleviating poverty gathers at MIT

"J-PAL fits in perfectly with MIT’s mission and values — to make the world a better place through service to humanity. Everyone gathered here is concerned with questions of deep moral importance — and that is how to relieve human poverty and the suffering it creates."  
— MIT President L. Rafael Reif,  speaking at the J-PAL@10 anniversary event 

Story + Photographs

Videos of the anniversary event

Science and Society
Loren Graham on sources of innovation  

"Innovators particularly need different frames of mind in crisis moments, when one doesn't know how to go forward. Sometimes these frames of mind are philosophical, sometimes they are moral, religious, or ethical."  — Loren Graham, MIT Professor Emeritus of the History of Science, foremost Western scholar on Russian science and techology 


What makes MIT Philosophy so successful?  

Consistently ranked among the top ten philosophy departments in the nation, MIT Philosophy recently also drew attention for extraordinary success in placing its PhD graduates in tenure-track positions nationwide. What's the secret?  (Image courtesy of MIT150 and Sputnick Animation)

Story + Photographs

Arthur Bahr named MacVicar Faculty Fellow

Arthur Bahr, Alfred Henry and Jean Morrison Hayes Career Development Chair and Associate Professor of Literature, and three other MIT professors, have been named 2015 MacVicar Faculty Fellows — the Institute's highest undergraduate teaching honor. Congratulations to all!

Story at MIT News | Spotlight Profile


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