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



Arthur Bahr named MacVicar Faculty Fellow

Arthur Bahr, Henry/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 all!

Story at MIT News
Spotlight Profile

Monthly Digest 
Said and Done 

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


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

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 




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. The American Academy of Arts and Sciences has released a report — co-authored by MIT's Seth Mnookin — proposing research to help restore trust in vaccines.

Report: Public Trust in Vaccines

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


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.


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)


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

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.”


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

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. 

Video: Course Introduction 

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

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.




What were the links between slavery and American universities?

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

Story | NPR Interview 
NYT article

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)


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.


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


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.

Story at MIT News

Profile at MIT News 


Melissa Nobles named dean of MIT SHASS

“SHASS is so important because nearly all the rest of the endeavors at which the Institute so excels — science, engineering, business, and architecture — all exist within a social, political, cultural, and economic context, and that's precisely where SHASS lives.”  — Melissa Nobles, Arthur and Ruth Sloan Professor of Political Science, incoming Dean of MIT SHASS

Full Story | Interview

"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.


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

Shigeru Miyagawa, MIT Professor of Linguistics, says 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.


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

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


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.

Mission  | TOUR de SHASS 


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

MIT named one of three top universities worldwide for humanities and arts

Noting that all undergraduates at MIT take a minimum of eight classes in the humanities, arts, and social sciences, Nobles said, "The world’s problems are so complex they’re not only science and technological problems. They are as much human and moral problems.”


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

National Security
US-Iran Nuclear pact

What are the implications of the new US-Iran nuclear pact? MIT-SHASS political science and security studies experts Francis Gavin, Vipin Narang, Jim Walsh, and John Tirman weigh in.

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

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

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.  


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)




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


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

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



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

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 


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

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

Erica James launches MIT Global Health & Medical Humanities Initiative

Resolving public health crises requires astute political leadership and an informed public as well as the best medical science. The MIT Global Health and Medical Humanities Initiative, led by Erica James is bringing together expertise in political, economic, social, and cultural realms. 


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."




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