The Core Curriculum records contain teaching and administrative materials
chiefly pertaining to the longstanding Columbia College courses Contemporary
Civilization and Humanities A (now called Literature Humanities). Materials include
syllabi, exams, quizzes, teaching resources, administrative correspondence and
memos, and curricular reviews and reports. The Core Curriculum records contain
limited material pertaining to Core classes beyond Contemporary Civilization and
At a Glance
|Bib ID:||6953649 View CLIO record|
|Creator(s):||Columbia College (Columbia University).|
[Bulk Dates: 1937-1995]
|Physical description:||13.44 linear ft. (32 document boxes)
|Language(s):|| Materials are in English.
All administrative records of the University are restricted for 25 years from the
date of creation.
This collection is located onsite.
More information »|
This collection is arranged in six series and several subseries:
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Scope and Content
The Core Curriculum Records contains a range of materials from various offices,
departments, and committees that have administered or been involved with Columbia
College's Core Curriculum. Nearly all materials pertain to either Contemporary
Civilization or Humanities A (now called Literature Humanities), though a very small
portion of the materials have to do with other Core courses. The Records consist of
course materials such as syllabi, exams, quizzes, and teaching resources; as well as
administrative records, which include correspondence, staffing and enrollment
documents, review committee documents, and other materials. Administrative documents
discuss the mission of the Core Curriculum, course content, pedagogy and educational
goals, as well as organizational issues such as staffing and staff benefits.
Teaching resources include bibliographies, study guides, published articles, and
teaching aids. The first series contains course materials and program review
documents for Contemporary Civilization (CC), the earliest Core course. Materials
pertaining to the first 18 years of CC are not included here, as in the course's
first years syllabi were published as book-length course outlines by Columbia
University Press. Those syllabi, called Introduction to Contemporary Civilization; a
Syllabus, and other materials such as early textbooks are available in Butler
Library stacks as well as in the University Archives publication collection. The
second series contains course materials, including quizzes, and program review
documents for Humanities A/Literature Humanities. The series contains no syllabi or
materials for Humanities A's predecessor course General Honors, which ran from 1919
to 1928 and again briefly in the 1930s. Series III contains program review documents
pertaining either to both Contemporary Civilization and Humanities or to General
Education and the Core as a whole. Series IV contains the limited amount of material
contained in these Records pertaining to non-CC or Humanities Core courses, such as
Art Humanities, Major Cultures, African Civilizations, and Frontiers of Science.
Series V contains administrative files for both CC and Humanities, including
administrative and external correspondence, staffing and enrollment documents,
materials related to the weekly Core lunches and speaker series, student prizes, and
Spectator clippings. The final series contains the complete Core Library Catalogue
(a wide-ranging bibliography) from circa 2000.
Series I: Contemporary Civilization, 1937-2007
This series includes syllabi, assignments, exams, paper topics, teaching aids
and bibliographies, and reports and revisions.
Subseries I.1: Syllabi, 1937-2007
This subseries contains Contemporary Civilization syllabi for nearly all
years from 1937 to 1999, as well as from spring 2007. It also contains
some proposed syllabi from the 1960s and 1970s, and pilot syllabi
sections from 1993-1994. From 1937 to 1950, C.C. syllabi folders also
contain rosters, exams, and staff files and memos, separated with tabs.
N.b.: until the 1960s, C.C. was a four-semester sequence.
Subseries I.2: Assignments, Exams, Paper Topics, 1967-1997
This subseries contains C.C. exams and assignments. Materials are
arranged by exam type (mid-term, final, conflict final, etc.) and
alphabetically by the surname of the professor. Instructors wrote their
own exams, though the subseries also contains memos to staff on
guidelines and suggested questions for some exams. N.b.: for reasons
having to do with provenance, C.C. exams for 1937-1950 are included with
syllabi and other materials in Subseries I.1.
Subseries I.3: Teaching Aids and Bibliographies, undated
This subseries contains teaching aids, bibliographies, and published
papers. First in the arrangement are the general teaching aids
addressing the entire course (Box 9 Folder 9). The next group's
arrangement follows the course outline, beginning with bibliographies
and teaching aids of the Greek period and continuing to the twentieth
century (Box 9 Folder 10 to Box 10 Folders 5). The last record group is
associated with women, politics of sexuality and family, and racism (Box
10 Folders 6-20). The women's issues documents begin with the research
material and reports of the "Committee on the Women's Question" for
Contemporary Civilization and is followed by materials arranged
according to the course syllabi. The last folder in the subseries
contains a 1990 document by Nancy Leys Stepan on integrating lessons and
readings on race and racism into C.C.
Subseries I.4: Reports and Revisions, 1948-1994
This subseries contains materials from the Contemporary Civilization
Revision and Advisory committees and faculty and administrators' reports
on the state and direction of the course. It also contains materials
from the 1968 Arden House Conference, where faculty members were asked
to make suggestions about the nature of the class. Box 28 Folder 1
contains more than 20 responses regarding the reading list, pedagogy,
and suggested changes in the structure of the classes.
Series II: Humanities, 1937-1999
This series consists of syllabi, exams, quizzes, classroom materials, and
teaching resources, and reports and revisions. This series contains no
materials for Humanities B, the optional art and music course.
Subseries II.1: Syllabi, 1937-1999
This subseries contains syllabi for Humanities A (Literature Humanities)
classes in chronological order, as well as some documents showing the
three-year cycles of readings and composite readings lists indicating
when each work was taught from 1937 to the date of writing. Nearly all
Humanities syllabi are standardized (i.e. there are no
instructor-specific syllabi), though there are syllabi showing the
respective schedules of different sections, and in the 1970s there was a
'free period' when the instructor might choose a final work to read.
Humanities A is a two-semester sequence (A1 and A2), with some sections
taught Spring to Fall and therefore designated 'reverse,' yielding
course names RA1 or RA2. The subseries contains one folder for syllabi
for Methods of Critical Analysis, a short-lived related course from the
Subseries II.2: Exams, 1938-1996
This subseries contains Humanities A exams in chronological order, as
well as one folder containing Methods of Critical Analysis exams.
Subseries II.3: Hum A Quizzes, 1937-1969
This subseries contains quizzes from Humanities A, organized
alphabetically by author, and then by work. Most folders are also dated,
though some for some authors years of folders overlap slightly; a few
are undated. Other materials include charts of aggregated results for
individual quizzes across the entire Humanities program, broken down by
Subseries II.4: Teaching Aids, Bibliographies, and Paper Topics,
This subseries contains resources such as teaching aids, bibliographies,
and published papers. The first three folders (Box 26 Folders 1-3)
consist of general Humanities teaching aids and bibliographies. The
second group (Box 26 Folder 4 to Box 27 Folder 15) is arranged in
alphabetical order by author, title, or theme. The final folder contains
study guides and discussion questions for Methods of Critical Analysis.
Subseries II.5: Reports and Revisions, 1938-1989
This subseries contains documents from various curricular reviews of
Humanities A, such as the Stern Committee, experimental sections to
merge English A and Humanities A, student questionnaires, and materials
related to the 50th anniversary of Humanities A. Folders are mostly
chronological, though Stern Committee folders are at the end of the
Series III: General Education and Core Curriculum Review, 1966-1985
This series contains proposals to merge Humanities and Contemporary
Civilization, reports on the Core Curriculum as a whole, and proposals for
the integration of courses focused on "non-Western" literature, culture,
philosophy, and history into either the Core or specific majors.
Series IV: Art Humanities, Extended Core and Frontiers of Science,
This series contains the Core Curriculum Records' limited amount of material
related to non-C.C. or -Lit Hum Core courses: folders pertain to Art
Humanities, Major Cultures, African Civilizations, and Frontiers of Science.
Types of materials include syllabi, lists of course offerings, and course
Series V: Administrative Files, 1951-2004
This series contains Core office correspondence, staffing end enrollment
documents, and materials related to Core weekly luncheon meetings, student
prizes, and Spectator Clippings. The series includes 5 subseries.
Subseries V.1: Correspondence (CC and Hum), 1965-1988
This subseries contains administrative correspondence related to Core
funding and resources, staffing deliberations (especially related to
retaining senior faculty's participating in the Core and the allocation
of graduate preceptorships), communications with department chairs, and
responses to student inquiries and complaints. It also contains
applications from Barnard students interested in taking Core courses and
a folder of external correspondence with other universities offering
their own Great Books curriculum or interested in adopting one.
Subseries V.2: Staffing, 1966-1997
This subseries consists of Core staff directories and memos, room
assignments, and schedules.
Subseries V.3: Enrollment, 1976-1998
This subseries contains documents on Core course enrollments, sometimes
broken down by non-Columbia College student populations (Engineering,
Subseries V.4: Core Luncheon and Lecture Series, 1966-2004
This subseries consists of materials related to the long-running lunch
staff meetings for both Humanities and Contemporary Civilization. It
also contains records of lectures by both Columbia and visiting scholars
on weekly readings. (Subseries I.1 contains some memos on the lunch
meetings for C.C. from 1937 to 1950.)
Subseries V.5: Miscellaneous, 1951-1965
This subseries contains documents related to several prizes given during
this period for excellence in the Core. It also contains a folder of
Spectator Clippings on the Core.
Series VI: Core Library Catalogue, circa 2000
This series contains the complete Core Library Catalogue, an extensive
bibliographic resource for instructors and students. The Catalogue is broken
down by Author and by Subject, and includes a Reference List.
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Using the Collection
All administrative records of the University are restricted for 25 years from the
date of creation.
This collection is located onsite.
Restrictions on Use
Single photocopies may be made for research purposes. The RBML maintains ownership of
the physical material only. Copyright remains with the creator and his/her heirs.
The responsibility to secure copyright permission rests with the patron.
Additions are expected.
a Identification of specific item; Date (if known); Core Curriculum records; Box and
Folder; University Archives, Rare Book & Manuscript Library, Columbia University
in the City of New York.
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About the Finding Aid / Processing Information
Columbia University Archives; machine readable
finding aid created by Columbia University Libraries Digital Library Program
The records were first processed prior to 1995 by Rhea Pliakas and her staff. Dr.
Marilyn Pettit revised the finding aid and notes in 2001. In 2018, newly accrued
records were integrated into the the collection, tripling them in size, and a
finding aid was written by Will Glovinsky (GSAS 2020).
Machine readable finding aid generated from MARC-AMC source via XSLT
conversion May 24, 2018
Finding aid written in English.
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The subject headings listed below are found in this collection. Links below allow searches at Columbia University through the Archival Collections Portal and through CLIO, the catalog for Columbia University Libraries, as well as ArchiveGRID, a catalog that allows users to search the holdings of multiple research libraries and archives.
All links open new windows.
|Nat'l / Int'l Archives:|
|Barzun, Jacques, 1907-2012.||Portal||CLIO||ArchiveGRID|
|De Bary, Wm. Theodore, 1919-2017.||Portal||CLIO||ArchiveGRID|
|Stern, Fritz, 1926-2016.||Portal||CLIO||ArchiveGRID|
|Trilling, Lionel, 1905-1975.||Portal||CLIO||ArchiveGRID|
|Universities and colleges.||Portal||CLIO||ArchiveGRID|
|Van Doren, Mark, 1894-1972.||Portal||CLIO||ArchiveGRID|
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History / Biographical Note
History of the Core Curriculum
Contemporary Civilization and General Honors
Columbia's Core Curriculum began with the 1919 introduction of Contemporary
Civilization, the peacetime successor to a "War Issues" course developed during
World War I at the request of the United States government's Student Army
Training Corps. As the war came to a close and the "War Issues" class began
losing its relevance, a group of deans and professors in History and Philosophy
called for a "Peace Issues" class. In the fall of 1919, Contemporary
Civilization met five days a week in three sections. For the first twenty years
of the course's existence, extremely detailed syllabi – really book-length
outlines of the course – were published by Columbia University Press. The course
originally covered, in sequential order, geography and natural resources,
concepts of human behavior and instinct, a brief historical survey of Western
modernity, and finally examined what were considered the pressing problems of
the day, including questions of nationalism, internationalism, and imperialism;
industrialism and economics; politics; and education. Despite initial concerns
that the course would be "superficial," "impossible to administer," and "a
threat to scholarship" due to the breadth of material covered, Contemporary
Civilization became a permanent feature of the Columbia College curriculum.
In 1920, Columbia English professor John Erskine initiated the "General Honors"
program. Together with Contemporary Civilization, the new program demonstrated
Columbia College's budding commitment to interdepartmental cooperation,
seminar-style teaching, and an emphasis on liberal rather than pre-professional
education. While the Contemporary Civilization requirement introduced students
to scholarly methodologies, conceptual tools, and the classics of Western
knowledge, all of which functioned as a foundation for further study, the
General Honors program offered advanced students complete original readings (in
English translations), small class discussions, and opportunities for individual
undergraduate research. Among the inaugural instructors of General Honors were
Mortimer J. Adler, who later founded the University of Chicago's Core
curriculum, Rexford Tugwell, later a prominent New Dealer, and the longtime
Columbia professor and poet Mark Van Doren.
Contemporary Civilization met five hours a week for two semesters; from 1928
until the 1960s the course was a two year sequence comprised of CC A and CC B,
the latter dealing with "Contemporary Problems in the United States." Discussion
dominated the format of the classes, with students actively participating and
instructors facilitating the day's inquiry. Class size was limited to 25. The
structure of General Honors took shape as a more advanced arena for scholarly
investigation. This class met once a week in the evening for an unlimited amount
of time and with a maximum enrollment of 15. Two instructors led the class and
on occasion invited independent scholars to contribute their expertise.
Though founded on the premise of reading canonical works, the Contemporary
Civilization program was also committed to ongoing reevaluation of its
historical perspectives, scholarly approaches, and teaching methods. From the
program's inception, Contemporary Civilization staff met weekly over lunch to
discuss course administration, regulate the pace of readings, and debate the
latest relevant scholarship. In 1922, the General Honors program instituted
similar discussions among its faculty. Concerns differed among these scholars.
Honors instructors worried about issues of standardization and developed
strategies focused on maintaining the informal atmosphere necessary for high
level and effective discussion.
Contemporary Civilization and General Honors together formed the cornerstone of
the Columbia College curriculum. A course in the history of science was added in
1923, but this was replaced in 1934 with Science A and B, an optional
requirement for students who chose to pursue non-scientific studies. This course
continued until 1941, when World War II diverted the scientific resources of the
University to the war effort. In 1948, the faculty voted to accept revisions of
the science requirement, instituting a two year course of physics and astronomy
for two respective semesters, and chemistry and biology for semesters three and
Masterworks of Western Literature (Humanities A/Literature Humanities)
By 1928, it was apparent that General Honors course required significant
restructuring to make it an introductory level class that could form a part of
the Lower College curriculum (during the first two years of undergraduate
study). In 1937, therefore, Columbia College instituted a new Lower College
four-semester sequence called "Humanities." The new course brought Erskine's
"great authors" into the introductory portion of the Columbia College
curriculum, where the focus on primary texts and class discussions provided
students with a solid foundation for further study in the humanities. The
Humanities class completed the Lower College tripod of fundamental knowledge
which educators believed every student needed: Social Science, Pure Science, and
Humanities. The first two semesters of Humanities ("A") covered literature and
philosophy (now called Literature Humanities), while the second two semesters
("B", originally optional) focused on music and art (now Art Humanities and
Music Humanities). Humanities met for four hours a week (which demanded a
reduction in Contemporary Civilizations allotted time from five to four hours a
week) and class size was limited to 25.
The Core Curriculum continued to evolve in the postwar years. In 1946, after a
decade of experiments with primary sources, Contemporary Civilization A staff
published the two-volume Introduction to Contemporary Civilization in the West:
A Source Book, which went through several subsequent editions and was adopted by
many other universities. Yet because some sources, especially among ancient
authors, duplicated readings from Humanities A, the change gave rise to concerns
over redundancy in the courses. These concerns would continue among some
elements of the staff throughout the 1960s.
The shift toward primary sources in CC A also altered the course's relationship
with CC B. Before this time, the CC A and B sections of the course shared only
their name. Instructors who taught one rarely if ever continued on for the
second year, and although the instructors clamored for unity, there was little
connection between the two. Consensus eventually developed among staff members
that the B section should examine contemporary society, taking for granted and
in some cases consciously using intellectual foundations which derived from
section A. A primer containing source materials for CC B, Man in Contemporary
Society, was also published in 1955. In this way Contemporary Civilization A
became the prerequisite and basis for B. Yet CC B continued to be unpopular with
students, and more faculty members became convinced that introductory courses in
specific disciplines would be more valuable than CC B's attempt at synthesis. In
the 1960s, CC B was phased out and replaced with distribution requirements in
the social sciences.
These years also saw developments in other Core classes. In 1947, both Humanities
B sequences in art and music became required courses. The College also changed
their structures, doing away with weekly lectures and instead adopting
Humanities A's emphases on the students' encounter with original works and class
discussion. And, in the same year, the first "Oriental Humanities" course was
offered, allowing students to read masterpieces of literature and philosophy
from Asian cultures in translation. In the 1950s, a companion course called
"Oriental Civilizations" was developed.
The early 1960s also saw changes in staffing. While advanced graduate students
had formerly taught some Core sections as "instructors" – a long-term position
that could lead to a full-time appointment – in the fall semester of 1962, the
position of "preceptor" was introduced. Preceptors were advanced graduate
students who could only teach in the Core for two years, meaning they had less
time to master the material of their class before receiving their PhDs and
moving elsewhere. The personnel shift reflected both the College's financial
stresses and the difficulty of finding enough faculty to staff Core positions,
especially after the 1959 requirement that Engineering students take Core
courses. During the '60s, '70s, and '80s, maintaining a balance of senior
faculty, junior faculty, and preceptors became a persistent challenge for Core
1968 to the Present
Humanities and Contemporary Civilization dominated the agenda at the University's
1968 Arden House conference, an annual meeting of a select administrative staff,
professors, and students to discuss the future of the University. The conference
gave staff, students, and the Columbia community an opportunity to reflect on
the structure of the Core Curriculum and its function. Students particularly
addressed the issue of relevance, suggesting that courses be devoted to studying
historic ideologies with relationships to the protests over civil rights and the
Vietnam War. Some professors who advocated the merger of Humanities and
Contemporary Civilization into a single course focused discussion on the
duplication critique, a long standing criticism of the Core Curriculum. Other
professors argued that staff placed too much emphasis on the development of
analytic skills to the detriment of historical context, which, they argued,
would provide a better understanding of the basic ideas presented in the
courses. This last group wanted to enhance the historical readings, placing more
emphasis on context and the development of concepts.
As a result of the Arden House conference, CC dropped its source book and instead
moved to full-length readings, thereby reducing the number of authors read but
deepening students' engagement with authors. Instructors also now had the
opportunity to choose their own texts at the close of the course.
The admission of women to the student body in the fall of 1984 brought new
scrutiny to the all-male Core reading lists. Humanities added its first text by
a woman – Jane Austen's Pride and Prejudice – in 1985, followed in the 1990s by
Woolf's To the Lighthouse, fragments by Sappho, and Mme. de Lafayette's
Princesse de Clèves. In 1985, the Contemporary Civilization staff convened a
committee to investigate the incorporation of women and women's issues into the
Contemporary Civilization class. Members of the committee included Ava
Chamberlain, Alan Divack, Malachi Hacohen, Geoffrey Haywood, and Felice
Lifshitz. The committee found that there were ample opportunities afforded by
the current texts for discussions of women in Western culture. The Committee to
Incorporate "the Women's Question," as it was known, concluded that major
textual alterations were not necessarily required, although they suggested that
female authors such as Mary Wollstonecraft, Virginia Woolf and Simone de
Beauvoir should be added to the reading list.
In the 1980s, in response to junior faculty resistance and student activism, a
commission led by Professor Theodore de Bary discussed possible restructuring of
the Core to make it more reflective of the works and ideas of traditions beyond
Europe. The de Bary Commission 1988 report, "Reaffirming and Renewing the Core
Curriculum," concluded that non-Western traditions should studied in a new
'Extended Core' as opposed to in Contemporary Civilization or Humanities. When
readings in these courses addressed issues of race and racism, Eurocentrism, and
colonialism, the Commission encouraged instructors to address them, but they
rejected changing the nature of CC and Humanities to make it more culturally
pluralistic. Students would now take two distribution requirements from a range
of introductory courses in cultures not represented in CC or Humanities, or
addressing several cultures in a comparative context. The de Bary Commission
also recommended that benefits, including special leave for faculty teaching the
Contemporary Civilization and Humanities classes be extended to graduate
students. Among other incentives, they also proposed financial benefits for
departments tying the number of faculty members teaching Core courses to the
amount of departmental remuneration.
In 1990, the Contemporary Civilization staff asked Nancy Leys Stepan to address
issues of race and racism in the Contemporary Civilization class. In her report,
Stepan argued that Contemporary Civilization had neglected race and racism in
the past. She speculated that the small number of students and faculty of color
might explain the paucity of work regarding these themes, and suggested a
variety of ways race could be addressed without changing the basic reading list.
As the Committee to Incorporate the 'Women Question' had, she stressed the use
of traditional works rather than adding to the already strenuous reading load of
Contemporary Civilization. In 1993, several sections of CC experimented with the
incorporation of non-Western authors, though this experiment did not lead to
general changes in CC.
Faculty review and student feedback, activism, and protest continue to shape the
Core. In the fall of 2007, students held a week-long hunger strike calling for
the diversification of the Core and increased offerings in Ethnic Studies
(itself established after a hunger strike in 1996). The following spring, the
College announced a $50 million dollar initiative to expand multicultural
As of 2018, the Core includes Literature Humanities, Contemporary Civilization,
Art Humanities, Music Humanities, University Writing, the Global Core
requirement, the Science Requirement, and Foreign Language and Physical
Education requirements. Staff continue to revise the readings for both Lit Hum
This historical note was first composed for the original pre-1995 finding aid.
It was updated in 2001 and revised in 2018. It draws heavily on information from
"Reconstruction in the Liberal Arts," by Justus Buchler, in A History of
Columbia College on Morningside (New York: Columbia University Press, 1954);
"Reaffirming and Renewing the Core Curriculum," from the Report of the
Commission on the Core Curriculum, 1988, pp. 48-135; and from Timothy P. Cross'
An Oasis of Order: The Core Curriculum at Columbia College (New York, NY:
Columbia University, 1995). For a timeline and other information on the Core
Curriculum, visit History of the
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